Posted by: A Part of the Solution | September 16, 2010

1-2-3-4 Cake

When I was growing up and a birthday rolled around, my mother took the Henry Ford approach to celebratory baked goods. We could have any kind of cake we wanted, so long as it was 1-2-3-4 cake. Other kids might get chocolate cupcakes, or orange sponge cake jelly roll, or coconut layer cake with coconut frosting. Not in my family. We had 1-2-3-4 cake, whether we wanted it or not. Given that it was synonymous in our minds with birthdays, we wanted it more than we didn’t. As our home was a 1-2-3-4 cake or bust kind of place, if we wanted any cake, we’d better want 1-2-3-4 cake.

So what exactly is a 1-2-3-4 cake? And why have dear friends, the world over, attempted producing these for me and my siblings if we should find ourselves far from home on the day of days? This cake is not a difficult cake to make. 1-2-3-4 cake is–in point of fact–a pound cake. One is one pound of butter. Two is two cups of sugar (14 oz by the scale–but hey). Three is three cups of flour (15 oz by the scale). Four is four eggs, though they would scale at only ten ounces if they were extra large. Don’t forget a pinch of salt and maybe some vanilla extract or freshly grated nutmeg. However, with use and custom, the cake shifted away from the full pound model and towards a model more proportional to the eggs.

1-2-3-4 cake has no milk in it to lighten up its essential density. This was a uniform cause for concern whenever first-time makers baked one for a member of our family. They would present the cake tentatively. “I did what you said, but it’s kind of heavy, and there’s a really thick crust on it, too. I hope you like it, but I think I must have done something wrong.” We always smiled and shook our heads. No, really, it’s supposed to be dense and thick crusted. These are virtues in a 1-2-3-4 cake. They are the principle virtues of such a cake. It holds up well with the addition of fruit toppings and ice cream. It’s firm character gives you something to chew on and think about. And it’s simplicity rewards thoughtful consumption.

1-2-3-4 Cake

You’ll have a lot more success if all ingredients are at room temperature when you start. A stand mixer makes this easy.

3 sticks of butter

1 2/3 cups sugar (here’s a nice place for vanilla sugar, or lemon sugar)

5 extra large eggs, or six large, or whatever gets you to about 12 ounces

2 1/2 cups flour

1 pinch of salt

1 1/2 tsp vanilla, or lemon zest, or 1 tsp nutmeg or mace, or 2 TBSP rum or Grand Marnier–you get the idea

Preheat the oven to 325°. Carefully grease and flour a large bundt pan. Cream the butter fully. Add the sugar and beat until very fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, and incorporate them fully as you go. Add the salt and any flavoring you may be using. Fold in the flour with a spatula, by hand. Dollop the very thick batter into the prepared bundt pan. Bang the pan on the counter to settle the batter. Bake for 1 1/4 hours. It will be a deep, golden brown on top. A straw/skewer/knife inserted into the middle will come out clean.

Let it cool ten minutes, then depan it onto a wire rack to finish cooling. Sift half a box (8 oz) of confectioners sugar. Stir in 2 TBSP lemon juice or strong coffee, or rum, or Grand Marnier (you get the idea) and glaze the cooled cake with this. 1-2-3-4 cake keeps well and isn’t too sweet.


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