Slow Cook

1-2-3-4 Cake with Raspberry Buttercream

Photo by Posie Harwood
Author Notes

The classic, old-fashioned 1-2-3-4 cake never lets me down and is perfectly adaptable to any frosting and filling flavor you like.

The recipe comes from the back of the Swans Down cake flour box. —Posie (Harwood) Brien

  • Makes one three-layer 8-inch cake
  • For the cake:
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups sifted cake flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • For the frosting:
  • 4 egg whites
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 4 ounces raspberries
In This Recipe
  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F.
  2. Butter and flour the bottom and sides of three 8-inch cake pans and tap out the excess flour.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer or beating vigorously with a wooden spoon, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
  4. Continue to beat on medium speed, adding eggs one at a time until each is incorporated.
  5. In a separate bowl, whisk together the salt, flour, and baking powder. Mix together the milk and vanilla and set aside. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the butter/sugar/egg mixture, alternating with the milk/extract. Mix until just combined.
  6. Divide the batter equally among prepared pans. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
  7. Let the cakes cool for 20 minutes on a rack before inverting them. Once fully cooled, stick them in the freezer while you make the frosting (this is optional but makes them easier to frost).
  8. For the frosting: Pour the egg whites and sugar into a bowl of a double boiler. Use a whisk to beat the mixture over the heat until the sugar has entirely dissolved. Remove from the heat and either transfer to a stand mixer or get out an electric hand mixer. Beat until the egg whites form stiff peaks. Slowly add the butter in tiny pieces. If the frosting starts to separate or curdle, keep beating! It should smooth out.
  9. Purée the raspberries in a blender until smooth. Press the mixture through a strainer to remove the seeds and mix the purée into the frosting to tint it pink. (Note: I used plain buttercream in my filling, then added the raspberries to the frosting just for the outside so it would look extra pink. You can do the same; you can use plain buttercream and skip the raspberries; or you can add the raspberries in the beginning, as these recipes instruct, for a pale pink frosting to use on both the inside and the outside of the cake.)
  10. Remove the cake from the freezer. Place one layer on a cake stand or serving plate and spread a thin layer of frosting on top. Top with the second layer (it doesn't matter whether you stack them right side up or upside down as long as you add enough frosting in between each layer to make the cake sit evenly; you shouldn't need to trim the cake layers unless yours came out of the oven very domed), add another layer of frosting, and top with the final layer. My cake looks a little different because I sliced one of my layers in half to get four uneven layers. I'd suggest sticking with the original three even layers.
  11. Next, make a very thin layer of frosting over the cake (this is called a crumb coat). Refrigerate for about 20 minutes. Remove from the refrigerator and add the final thick layer of frosting over the entire cake. To make my design, use an offset spatula to make small smudges all over the surface and sides of the frosting. Top with fresh flowers, fresh fruit, or candles!

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I like warm homemade bread slathered with fresh raw milk butter, ice cream in all seasons, the smell of garlic in olive oil, and sugar snap peas fresh off the vine.