The Basic Yellow Cake Recipe You Can Memorize in Minutes
Baking just about anything from scratch can be an incredibly intimidating concept for anyone who has never dived into the world of butter and flour without the safety net of a boxed cake mix. That said, I believe in you, and your ability to make a cake (and an awesome cake) from scratch… because I know that it is literally as easy as 1-2-3! OK, well, easy as 1-2-3-4.The 1-2-3-4 Cake is a standard yellow cake that can be memorized easily and conquered with confidence. The ingredient list is straightforward and simple to follow. Associate each number with the correct measurement and ingredient, and you have an excellent go-to cake that you can whip up at a moment’s notice. (How’s that for a party trick?) Once you’ve got the basics down, get creative by adding additional flavorings like citrus zest or experiment with extracts and spice blends like almond extract, hazelnut extract, and pumpkin spice. Point being, if you want to become more comfortable with baking and gradually develop a natural instinct for it, this 1-2-3-4 cake is one of the best places you can start.
The first and really important step is to soften your butter by taking it out of the fridge ahead of time. You want your butter to be soft and pliable, as cold, hard butter is difficult to incorporate into your other ingredients, which leads you towards the risk of overworking it. Just put your butter out on the counter (cut it into smaller pieces to help it soften faster) at least an hour prior to prepping the cake. If you are not familiar with the concept of “creaming” butter, this is simply the process of whipping the butter to incorporate air—this makes for a tender, fluffy cake. As you beat the butter with an electric mixer, you will notice that it slightly lightens in color to a pale, creamy white; this means you’re on the right track! And when you add the sugar, it will become a bit paler. Besides the butter, I also make a habit of going ahead and taking the eggs out of the fridge, as far in advance of prepping the cake as I can, in order to bring them to room temperature. This likewise makes it easier to incorporate them with the mixed butter and sugar, and helps to keep your batter at a more consistent temperature, which makes for more even baking.
The next key step to cake success is sift the flour. Again, this is another way to integrate air into the cake. Plus, sifting the flour prevents clumps in the batter, and it makes it easier to mix into the wet ingredients. You will notice that this is a very thick batter, almost pudding-like. Be sure to use a rubber spatula to scrape the bowl and make sure all of the dry ingredients are incorporated.
Get the Recipe: 1-2-3-4 Cake
The recipe yields one sheet cake or two smaller cakes to layers. I baked with 2 (8x8-inch) square pans—one light and one dark. I would definitely recommend baking in lighter metal cake pans if you have them, as this helps tremendously in preventing the edges of the cake from turning dark too soon (i.e. before the interior of the cake is done). If you discover that the top of the cake begins to brown before the center has had a chance to fully bake, cover the cake with a loosely fitting foil tent to reduce further browning.
When the cake is baked and cool, frost it up with your favorite store-bought frosting (whatever flavor you like) or try your hand at making homemade buttercream. Now that you can flex your baking muscles like a champ, get out there and show this beauty off. A classic 1-2-3-4 cake is perfect for almost any occasion—cookouts, dinner parties, birthdays, showers, etc.—so drop it on the dessert table, step forward, and take a bow, cake boss; you earned it.