Slow Cooker

1-2-3-4 Cake with Raspberry Swiss Meringue Buttercream

April  7, 2021
8 Ratings
Photo by Posie Harwood
  • Makes one three-layer 8-inch cake
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

What You'll Need
  • 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
  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!

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Vinod
  • Robyn Vandewalle
    Robyn Vandewalle
  • Barbara
  • Joan - Downstairs
    Joan - Downstairs
  • Rita Pacheco
    Rita Pacheco

43 Reviews

MacGuffin June 26, 2022
How hot should the heat be? Hot water? Boiling water? Near-boiling water?
Alyson C. September 19, 2020
The cake turned out well. It’s a matter of following the recipe exactly. The frosting, however was another matter entirely and required various methods of trying to save it to come up with something remotely desirable. Not a win, though it was really pretty with roses in top! I may try the cake again with a different frosting.

Vinod May 11, 2019
This is the first buttercream-frosted cake I have made and it was wonderful. I was stunned by the presentation with the roses, so I did the same, and added a drop of rose essence to the frosting. Roses and raspberries, and vanilla. Heavenly.
Hanna August 14, 2017
Hi Posie-- can I double the raspberries and have pink buttercream on inside and outside? Dumb question but I am intrigued that this was not discussed as an option... Thank you!
Posie (. August 14, 2017
Sure! Read the end of step 9 to see how to make enough pink for the inside and out :)
Hanna August 15, 2017
OK, awesome. Step 9 says you can have a pale pink inside and out if you use the raspberries for the entire batch of buttercream. But I figure you must be able to double berries for a bright pink inside and out. Thanks for your quick reply as always!
christine November 4, 2015
Disappointing cake, no tvery flavorful and frosting was a nightmare
Sunny September 27, 2015
Hi, I made this cake the other day. I think I followed everything correctly but my cake turned out like a shortcake than a spongy cake. Like when you take a bite of a regular cake, its a little lighter spongier airier than like cookies brownies or any other forms. But the dough on my cake turned out like a shortcake - it was thick in consistency, the taste. I don't know how to describe it but it was dense. Anyone have any idea why that might be? Thank you
Kassie T. September 29, 2015
Hi sunny i made this today and i think my cake turned out more towards the texture of a pound cake rather than a sponge cake too. I wonder if this is the correct texture that we shld get!
katy August 26, 2015
could this be made into a champagne cake by replacing the milk with champagne?
Robyn V. August 7, 2015
I just made this today and have ended up with a gushing of cake batter all over my oven floor. This has never happened to me before--any ideas?
Posie (. September 29, 2015
Oh no! How tall are your pans, and what size pans did you use?
cc August 5, 2015
I'm looking to make a Gluten free version. Any thoughts?
Posie (. August 5, 2015
I haven't tried this -- I'd recommend first trying it with the recipe as is, but swapping the flour for Cup4Flour gluten-free flour. It may turn out that you need more adjustments (xanthan gum, etc.) but I think that might work. Good luck!
Barbara August 3, 2015
If wanting to add a flavoring to the cake (Chocolate or Strawberry) how much should be added? Have not made that many cakes to know about such things.
Posie (. August 3, 2015
Barbara, if you want to change the flavor of the cake itself (not just add chocolate or strawberry frosting) I'd suggest trying a recipe geared towards those flavors, like this chocolate cake

You could however add a chocolate or strawberry filling easily! I'd search for that online, or chop fresh strawberries and layer them into the filling. Hope that helps!
Joan -. August 2, 2015
I've used the 1-2-3-4 recipe from James Beard's American Cookery (1972). He includes a nice headnote and mentions that because the recipe is proportional, you can use any available "cup" measure. He has a nice tip about separating the eggs if you are mixing the batter by hand.
He has notes for orange and lemon Sundae versions in a tube pan as well as a spice cake option and buttermilk version.
I find the recipe very easy to scale. Half the recipe makes 18 perfect cupcakes.
Now, I'm going to take your frosting recipe for a spin. I think I'll try peaches keeping in mind your liquid-y precaution.
cindi L. August 2, 2015
this sounds yummy! could you omit the yolks for a white cake? if so, are any adjustments necessary?
Vic July 31, 2015
Can you use different fruits?
Posie (. August 1, 2015
Any berry would work well, you could try a different fruit puree but I wouldn't choose anything too liquid-y for fear of changing the texture of the frosting.
Vic August 2, 2015
Good to know for next time! I made this cake yesterday for my daughters birthday and I thought it was great! I'm a novice baker and this was my first cake and I loved it. I only had 2 9" pans and made this recipe twice for 4 layers (made more frost too) I did cut the sugar to 1 1/3 for the cake portion. It was yummy! Thank you for the recipe.
Elaine July 31, 2015
How would I turn this into a chocolate cake?
Posie (. July 31, 2015
oddly enough, this cake doesn't really adapt to a chocolate version easily. You could certainly use a chocolate filling and frosting, but if you're looking for a basic chocolate layer cake (the equivalent of this vanilla one), I'd strongly recommend this classic recipe from the Hershey's cocoa box:
Vic July 30, 2015
How would this bake in 9" pans?
Rita P. July 29, 2015
What a lovely cake! I will definitely try it!
Allison July 28, 2015
Hi! Thank you for the recipe! Can this be made with all-purpose flour, instead of cake flour?
Posie (. July 28, 2015
Absolutely -- but I'd recommend weighing your flour to make sure you don't use too much and risk the cake being too dense and heavy (cake flour helps to keep it light). Use 3 cups of sifted all-purpose flour (sift first and then measure), which is about 360 grams. If you don't have a scale, just measure the cups by spooning the sifted flour into the measuring cup and not packing it down at all -- this will ensure that you don't use too much flour. Good luck!
Maggie July 28, 2015
hi Posie

Excellent!, Thank you so much. just what I needed. v v comprehensive. The sites I found here were all a bit different, and if u trust this site, I will use it. So many delic recipes that I want to try .... This one of your particularly. Thank you for your trouble. Xx
Maggie July 28, 2015
dear Posie, thank you for such a lovely cake recipe. I would dearly love to try it, but because I live in UK we don't have cups, either metric or imperial (well we do have cups, but different to American/Canadian). I have had such expensive disasters trying to use UK conversion sites ..... So it would be great if you had the time to convert the weights for me. Thank you, hopefully Maggie
Posie (. July 28, 2015
Hi Maggie! I'd recommend using this conversion site which is very reliable and I use it often:

Good luck!
MacGuffin June 26, 2022
You can always try to get your hands on a set of U.S. dry measure cups, as well as a U.S. standard + metric liquid measuring cup.
Kim July 28, 2015
My frosting became very thin/liquid after adding the butter. Do I need to set it aside to let it firm up?
Posie (. July 28, 2015
It sounds like it may have broken. Try beating it for awhile longer (even up to 10 minutes) and it should come back together! If that doesn't work, try sticking it in the fridge for 15 minutes and then beating again for a few more minutes.
Kim July 29, 2015
Ok I will try that! Thank you.
JenHngo August 4, 2015
How did it turn out Kim? Mine turned liquid too..maybe I didn't get it super stiff peaks and added too much butter at once. I thought it was small enough, guess not. Try again! :-(
Kim August 5, 2015
Hi Jen, I tried it again, from another recipe, but the method was the same. And it worked! You have to be persistent is what I learned. When you whisk the egg whites and sugar over the heat, make sure ALL sugar has dissolved. Stick in thumb and index finger and rub to feel if there's any grains left. If this is the case, keep whisking. Then, when you start mixing in the standmixer (of I actually did it with hand held), you have to mix it for about 7 minutes on high speed! I did that way too short the first time. Add butter tablespoon size at the time, mixer on medium speed. The first half of the butter you will think the cream is breaking, but it will come toghether and get firmer. Just as long as you make sure each bit of butter is well incorporated before adding a new one. Once all butter is incorporated, mix for about 1-2 minutes on low speed to knock any air bubbles out. Hope this helps, let me know how it works out! :)
JenHngo August 5, 2015
Thanks! Will definitely try AGAIN today!
KrisKachirisky August 12, 2015
Sometimes the frosting doesn't want to come together if the butter is too cold. Let it get as soft as the room temp will allow--I find that takes care of it most of the time. And if not, just as Posie says, keep beating--walk away if you have to! It will come together!