This classic 1234 cake (also written 1-2-3-4 cake) is a great cake recipe to commit to memory. And to my palate, it also gives me the classic flavor and texture of The Perfect Birthday Cake.

This old-fashioned yellow cake recipe has the added benefit of being easy to remember.

Enjoy this 1 2 3 4 cake recipe with pretty much any frosting you can think of like melted chocolate bar frosting or caramel frosting.

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A 3/4 angle view of a whole 1-2-3-4 yellow cake frosted with beige frosting with one large slice cut out of it. Two layers of yellow cake with beige frosting in between are visible on the cut side of the cake.

Find all my cake recipes in one place for easy browsing. Enjoy!

See my old-fashioned yellow cake (1-2-3-4 Cake) web story here.

✔️Skill Level: Beginner
✔️Skills: The Creaming Method (linked)
✔️Type: Yellow Butter Cake
✔️Number of Ingredients: 8
✔️Prep Time: 15 minutes
✔️Cook Time: 40 minutes
✔️Yield: 12-16 servings

Jump Straight to the Recipe

This is SUCH a good recipe: Simple ingredients, great results. It’s easy to adapt to different flavours too. Thanks Jenni. You’re the best!

Reader Beth

The Best Birthday Cake Recipe

As I said in the introduction, a 1234 cake is my idea of the best kind of birthday cake.

Moist and flavorful, the cake rises high, resulting in two tall layers (or four, if you torte them) that have a lot of “presence.”

Since the cake has 4 eggs in it, it is fairly rich and a beautiful buttery yellow color.

Compared to a modern “standard” yellow cake, it’s also sweeter and contains a bit more flour.

The extra flour makes it pretty “sturdy,” but not in a bad way.

It’s the kind of cake you could easily carve or sculpt if you needed/wanted to.

If this type of old-fashioned cake appeals to you and you decide to make it, I have a favor to ask:

When you do make this recipe, it will help me and other readers if you:
✅Rate the recipes using the stars in the recipe card⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
✅Leave a review when prompted in the recipe card✍️
✅Leave a comment on the post📝
Thank you!😘

How to Remember the Formula

A 1 2 3 4 cake is an old-fashioned yellow cake recipe.

Versions of this cake have been around for decades.

This is an old, old recipe.

The amounts of the four main ingredients are easy to remember, making this an excellent cake formula to keep in your head in case you find yourself in Dire Need of Cake with nary a cookbook or Hinternets to be found.

Here’s all you have to remember:

  • 1 cup of butter (2 sticks/8 oz)
  • 2 cups of sugar (14 oz)
  • 3 cups of cake flour or all-purpose flour (13-14 oz)
  • 4 eggs (about 7 oz)

You’ll also need

  • 1 level teaspoon of fine salt (or a slightly rounded teaspoon of kosher salt)
  • 1 Tablespoon baking powder (3 teaspoons, 1 teaspoon per cup of flour)
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 1 Tablespoon of vanilla

Another thing about the batter for this cake: it tastes exactly the way cake batter ice cream wishes it tasted but doesn’t.

How to Make This Old-Fashioned Yellow Cake

In this section, I’ll go over the ingredients you will need, offer substitutions where applicable, and walk you through the mixing method.

If you don’t need the refresher, feel free to jump straight to the recipe.

Ingredients and Substitutions

A collage of labeled ingredients needed for making 1 2 3 4 cake on a white background.
  • butter: Adds richness, tenderness, assists in browning, and carries flavor. I use unsalted. If you have salted, go ahead and use that. You will probably be able to cut down the additional salt by half. You may also use a plant-based butter
  • sugar: Adds sweetness, tenderness, helps to retain moisture, and assists with browning. Regular granulated sugar is called for. You may also use the cup for cup granulated sweetener of your choice such as Lakanto Monkfruit or Swerve.
  • salt: Enhances the flavor, especially of the butter and egg. Use fine salt or kosher. If using kosher salt, you will want to use a slightly rounded teaspoon instead of a level teaspoon.
  • vanilla: Rounds out the flavor and adds some woody and floral notes. Use the vanilla you have. No need to go out and buy the primo kind
  • eggs: Provides structure, moisture, some additional fat and emulsifiers, and promotes browning. I use large eggs. For a no-egg version, you can use an egg replacer such as JUST Eggs or your favorite egg substitute. (That link shares 4 different substitutes you can try)
  • flour: Adds bulk and structure, holds onto some moisture as well. You can use all-purpose or cake flour. If you use cake flour, the cake will be a bit more tender and may not rise quite as high, so it comes down to personal preference
  • baking powder: chemical leavener. I use Rumford brand.
  • milk: Lightens the cake, keeping the batter from being too dense. You may use whole milk or 2% or any plant-based milk you prefer.

The Mixing Method

This cake is made using The Creaming Method. This is arguably the most widely-used mixing method for American butter cakes.

In short:

  1. Cream butter, sugar, salt, and vanilla together until light and fluffy.
  2. Drizzle in the eggs, a bit at a time, until completely combined. Scrape bowl as necessary.
  3. Alternate adding dry ingredients and milk beginning and ending with dry.

Jenni Says: For best results, make sure all your ingredients are at cool room temperature, or around 68F.

Tips on Making a 1234 Cake

This recipe makes a Rather Lot of batter.

The original recipe, slightly adapted from Carole Walter’s Great Cakes cookbook calls for this to be baked in a 10″ tube pan.

If you’re going to bake layers, you’ll have enough batter to make 2 8″ or 9″ x 2″ layers.

Make sure you’re baking in pans with 2″ sides. Those 1 1/2″ jobbies from the grocery store won’t hold it. I love the Fat Daddio cake pans with 2″, straight sides.

Jenni's Pick
Fat Daddio's Anodized Aluminum Round Cake Pan, 9 x 2 Inch

Lightweight and non-warping, these pans are also easy to clean and will last for years. Hand wash to maintain their like-new finish, but you can also run them through the dishwasher.

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03/03/2024 04:47 pm GMT

Fill your pans only half full. Trust me. As added insurance, put your cake pans on a sheetpan before baking, just in case there’s any spillover.

You can also bake this cake as a yellow sheet cake or as 3 6″ rounds for a nice and tall layer cake.

Separate the batter into different bowls, tint each a different color,and use it as the base for my Halloween Monster Cake.

Since a 1234 cake has more of a pound cake texture, it’s a great cake for carving and decorating. You can use it as the base for my Easter Bunny Hill Cake or my Graveyard cake.


A floral plate with a slice of yellow cake on it with the rest of the cake in the background.

One of the great things about a 1234 cake is that it is pretty easy to vary the flavor profile. Here are some ideas:

  • Spice Cake: Use 1/2 brown sugar and 1/2 white sugar, and flavor the batter with a mixture of cinnamon (2 teaspoons), ginger (1 teaspoon), and allspice (1/2 teaspoon). Or use a pumpkin spice blend. Some finely chopped, toasted pecans would be a great addition.
  • Chocolate Cake: Use 1/2 brown sugar and 1/2 white sugar. Substitute 3 oz of the all-purpose flour for 3 oz cocoa powder. Use strong coffee instead of milk as the liquid. Whisk the cocoa powder into the hot coffee and add that to the mix, alternating with dry as per the standard instructions.
  • Chocolate Chip Cake: Mix in 1-1 1/2 cups mini chocolate chips into the batter during the last few moments of mixing.
  • Lemon Cake: Crush the zest of 2 lemons together with the sugar thoroughly before creaming. Substitute buttermilk for whole milk, and add 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract to the batter


If you have any questions about this post or recipe, I am happy to help.

Simply leave a comment here and I will get back to you soon. I also invite you to ask question in my Facebook group, Fearless Kitchen Fun.

If your question is more pressing, please feel free to email me. I should be back in touch ASAP, as long as I’m not asleep.

A Note on Measurements

The majority of my recipes are written by weight rather than volume, although by its nature, a 1234 cake is designed to be made by volume.

Still, I implore you to buy a scale, both for accuracy and consistency. This is the scale I use, love, and highly recommend:

Best for Home Use
Escali Primo Digital Food Scale

Don't let its small price and small size fool you. The Escali Primo is an accurate and easy-to-use food scale that I have used for years. It's easy to store, easy to use, has a tare function, and easily switches between grams and ounces/pounds for accurate measurements.

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03/07/2024 05:03 pm GMT

Love This Recipe? Please Rate and Review!

5 golden stars for rating recipes
A head-on view of a slice of yellow 1-2-3-4 cake on a plate. The point of the wedge of cake is pointed straight ahead.

1234 Cake Recipe

Jennifer Field
The Birthday cake childhood dreams are made of, if childhood dreams of birthday cakes include the best yellow cake in the world. 1234 cake should be your go-to old-fashioned yellow cake recipe.
4.67 from 24 votes
Tried this recipe?Please give it a star rating!
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Total Time 55 minutes
Course Cake Recipes
Cuisine American
Servings 12 servings
Calories 426 kcal


For the Cake

  • 1 cup butter (2 sticks/8oz)
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 Tablespoon best quality vanilla
  • 2 cups granulated sugar (14oz)
  • 3 cups sifted cake flour (13oz)
  • 4 large eggs , lightly beaten
  • 1 Tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 cup milk (I used whole milk)


For the Cake

  • For the best and most stable emulsion, make sure all your ingredients are at cool room temperature.
  • Preheat the oven to 350F.
  • Spray 2 9"x2" cake pans with pan spray.
  • Line the bottoms with parchment circles and set aside.
  • Whisk together the flour and baking powder. Set aside.
  • In a bowl, whisk the eggs together until uniform. Set aside.
  • Cream the butter until smooth.
  • Add the salt, vanilla, and sugar and continue to cream until very light and fluffy. Scrape the bowl and beater as necessary.
  • With the mixer running, slowly drizzle the eggs in, a bit at a time, until completely incorporated. This should take about 5-6 minutes. Scrape the bowl as necessary.
  • Add the dry ingredients alternately with the milk: 3 additions for the dry and 2 for the milk, beginning and ending with dry.
    Do this on low speed and don't take longer than a minute for the whole process. Scrape the bowl as necessary. You may have to finish mixing by folding with a spatula, but that's okay. Better that than over-mixing your batter.
  • Scrape into the prepared pans. Do not fill them more than half full. If you have extra batter, make a few cupcakes.
  • Bake the pans in the center of the oven until they are well risen, firm to the touch and and a lovely golden brown. A tester inserted into the center of the cake should come out clean. Depending on your oven and pan size, this could take anywhere from 35-45 minutes or longer, so keep an eye on them.
  • When done, remove from the oven and let sit on racks for 10-15 minutes.
  • Turn out on racks, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and either let come to room temperature or put them in the refrigerator or freezer for more rapid cooling.
  • Once cooled, serve plain with some whipped cream or ice cream, or fill and frost as desired.

Did You Make Any Changes?



Since this cake is more pound cake-ish, the outer crust can be a bit crisp if you let it cool at room temperature without wrapping it in plastic wrap. Use a serrated knife to slice off the crisp bit on the top. This will also let you level the cake if it has domed slightly in the oven.


Please watch the video in the recipe card to see the creaming method in action, especially the modified way I make it, beating the eggs before slowly adding them into the batter.


This recipe makes a Rather Lot of batter.
The original recipe, slightly adapted from Carole Walter’s Great Cakes cookbook calls for this to be baked in a 10″ tube pan.
If you’re going to bake layers, you’ll have enough batter to make 2 9″x2″ layers.
Make sure you’re baking in pans with 2″ sides. Those 1 1/2″ jobbies from the grocery store won’t hold it. And if you have any question about whether all the batter will fit into your pans, err on the side of caution and bake a couple of cupcakes, too.
Fill your pans only half full. As long as you are using fresh baking powder, this cake rises really nicely, and you don’t want your cake to end up rising up and spilling over.
Storing: Store the frosted cake at room temperature for up to 5 days. For longer storage, freeze individual slices and allow them to stand at room temperature for about an hour before serving.

NOTE that the calculated calories are for cake plus frosting.


Serving: 1gCalories: 426kcalCarbohydrates: 62gProtein: 6gFat: 18gSaturated Fat: 11gPolyunsaturated Fat: 6gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 104mgSodium: 454mgFiber: 1gSugar: 35g
Keyword 1234 cake, cake, dessert
Did you make this recipe?Please tell us what you loved!

Enjoy the cake, friends, and thanks for spending some time with me today.

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    1. Hi, Shirl! Yes, you can absolutely make this in a 9 x 13. Baking time will probably be a bit longer, but it’s really oven-dependent, so start checking for doneness at around 40 minutes or so. Enjoy!

  1. 5 stars
    This is SUCH a good recipe: Simple ingredients, great results. It’s easy to adapt to different flavours too. Thanks Jenni. You’re the best!

  2. 5 stars
    I’ve been making this cake all my life. Actually, the only yellow cake I ever make for chocolate, caramel, lemon cheese icings.
    It is an ample amount of batter to make three 9” layers with no worry of overflow. Layers are not as tall, but you have a higher ratio of icing/frosting to cake, and it is a beautiful, impressive and foolproof cake. Adjust cooking time if making three layers.

    1. I’m leery of doubling cake recipes for this exact reason, the question of how to scale the leavening. Honestly I would consider making 2 batches and then combining the batter. Since the cake is leavened with baking powder rather than soda, the wait will not be enough to disrupt the rise in the oven. For a really good discussion of how to scale cake recipes and leavening, I highly recommend Rise3 Levy Beranbaum’s The Cake Bible.

  3. This Cake was the Standard Cake in our house when i wX growing up! 70 years ago!
    Mom would vary it by tweeking the flavor ingredients a bit , coming up with a Spice Cake, Orange Cake, Rum Cake, Jello Poke Cake, Coconut Cake, Lemon Coconut cake, Almond Cake, and Strawberry Cake! Baked in either a Tube pan or 9” layers ( more yummy icing and fillings with the layer version : ) !
    So easy a Kid can do it! I took over bakinv this when I was 8 yrs old : ) ( Mom lit the Oven )
    i even added my own version whe i added Vanilla and Rose Water for flavor!
    This 1234 Cake is a Timeless Treasure !

    1. Vanilla and rose water sounds like an especially lovely combination, Kathleen. I appreciate your taking the time to comment! So many ways to vary it, and thank you so much for pointing it out. I take for granted that you can make tweaks, but not everyone does. Makes it so much easier than having to remember 12 recipes. Just memorize the base for 1-2-3-4 cake and have at it! I love this cake for birthdays. So very good!

  4. I saw a few similar recipes only difference is that they have about 2oz vegetable oil in it. can u explaind the difference?

    1. Oil in both the cake and the frosting, Grace? I’m not sure, but I can make some educated guesses. In the cake, subbing in liquid fat for part or all of the solid fat mean that the texture, expecially when chilled, will be softer and the cake will “read” as moister. I am not sure about in the frosting, but now I want to try it out and see what happens!

  5. 4 stars
    looking for a new chocolate cake recipe to make for tonight – and of course, been stuck on your blog for over an hour now. THIS is exactly the type of post that I was referring to in the survey – I learned couple of things just from this one – I now know how to trim up a cake after overflow disaster! ok – back to the chocolate cake search. . .

  6. Delicious is the only word necessary to describe this cake. Oh, Easy might be another for making it. Can’t wait for my guests to try it on Saturday.

  7. Oh my goodness, you made this cake sound so easy to bake. And it is gorgeous-looking, too. Yep, I wasn’t fooled by the photos in the middle. I knew the results would be fantastic. And yes, I was right. You rock, Pastry Chef Online! Thanks for sharing. And thanks for the heartwarming blog-visit ~ from you, it is always a treat 🙂
    PS: If this were my cake, I’d have 2 wishes as I blow the candles: 1) I wish it were June, my birthday and 2) I wish I lived next door to you !

    1. Aw, BA! Thanks for your always-lovely comments, and thanks too for sharing this post! I am hoping to be the standing baker for the monthly order from the senior center, so I will be sure to think of you when then June cake rolls around! 🙂

  8. I have a birthday coming up and will be making this cake. Question, will I find sea salt at the grocery store or do I process it in the food processor?

    1. Oh yay! I hope you enjoy it! You should be able to find it in the regular grocery store or at BJs Wholesale up at White Oak. I was mainly trying to differentiate from kosher salt. If you can’t find the sea salt, try to find a salt w/o iodine in it–it’ll just taste better:) @1af154acc766090d086bf2275d60da56:disqus

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