1-2-3-4 Layer Cake (“Back of the Box Cake”)
1-2-3-4 Layer Cake (“Back of the Box Cake”)
38 Votes
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Prep: 25 min
Bake: 25 min
Yield: 1 Layer Cake
This classic layer cake is light, airy and so popular we put the recipe on the back of Swans Down Cake Flour boxes. Frost and decorate it to taste – it's the cake for any occasion. Depending on how you wish customize this recipe, it can be baked in 3 (9-inch) round pans, 3 (8-inch) round pans, or 1 (9x13-inch) cake pan.
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 cups sifted Swans Down® Cake Flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup milk, whole or low fat
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Butter and lightly flour 3 (9-inch) layer pans.
  3. Sift flour and then lightly spoon 3 cups of the flour into a large measuring cup. Then sift the already-sifted cake flour with the baking powder and salt into a bowl; set aside.
  4. Cream butter in a large bowl. Gradually add sugar, creaming until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time to creamed mixture, beating well after each addition. Add flour mixture alternately with milk and extracts, blending after each addition until smooth. (Do not over beat as this will yield a dry cake.)
  5. Pour into prepared pans.
  6. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until tester inserted into cake comes out clean.
  7. Cool in pans for 10 minutes, then remove from pans and finish cooling on racks.
  8. Frost and decorate as desired.
    Kitchen Tips:

Depending on how this cake is to be customized, it can be baked in 3 (9-inch) round layer pans, 5 (8-inch) round layer pans, or 1 (9×13-inch) sheet pan.

To make the cake chocolate: Add 1/4 cup cocoa powder to the dry ingredients OR 3 ounces melted baking chocolate, cooled and added when the eggs are added.

To make the cake strawberry: Add a 3-ounce box of strawberry Jell-O to the dry ingredients AND 1 cup mashed strawberries with the eggs.

  • Robin says:

    Would you please convert you recipes to weight (grams) amounts? Thank you.

    • Swans Down says:

      Hi Robin, We are working to have all of Swans Down recipes state both weight and measure. Keep checking back! Happy Baking.

  • Charlotte Cahalan says:

    Hi, how can I make a pumpkin cake using this recipe?

    • Swans Down says:

      Hi Charlotte, The Kitchen is going to test this variation for us and I will come back and post the results. Happy Baking!

      From The Kitchen, To make a pumpkin 1234 Cake they recommend to
      Substitute 1 cup pumpkin puree for the milk
      Add 1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
      Remove the almond extract
      Otherwise the recipe remains the same. Come back and let us know if you try it.

  • Debra says:

    My mother baked this 1-2-3-4 cake in a 9×13 when I was a child, many years ago. She used an icing of coconut, sugar and butter and then put under the broiler. Delicious!

  • Cathie says:

    Using the 1234 recipe, what is the bake time in a 9 x 13 inch pan?

    • Swans Down says:

      Hi Cathie, When making the Swans Down 1234 cake in a 9 x 13 pan we recommend that you bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until tester inserted into cake comes out clean. Happy Baking!

  • Glory says:

    I like your recipe ❤️ I want good frosting recipe to my grandkids. Thanks 🙏

  • Teresa says:

    Is the recipe suppose to have 3 t. baking powder and 1/2 t. salt twice?

    • Swans Down says:

      Hi Teresa, Thank you for bringing this to our attention. The 3t of baking powered and 1/2 t of salt should only be listed once. We will make this correction. Happy Baking!

  • Shaneda says:

    Do you resift the already sifted flour or do you sift the baking powder and salt to add to the sifted flour. I was just correcting my spelling

    • Swans Down says:

      Hi Shaneda,
      The correct method is to put the flour, which has already been sifted once and measured, into sifter along with the baking powder and salt, and sift those three things together into an empty bowl. After that, they will be added to wet ingredients in 3 additions. Sifting them together ahead of time ensures that the flour, salt and baking soda are evenly mixed before they are mixed into the wet ingredients. Happy Baking!

  • Shaneda says:

    Do you resift a flower when it says to sift the baking powder and salt and I already sifted flour or are you sifting the baking soda and salt

    • Swans Down says:

      Hi Shaneda, You should sift and measure, then sift flour again with the baking powder and salt. Happy Baking!

  • Kay Bryant says:

    Hi…Can You Buttermilk instead of Whilr Milk in the 1-2-3-4 Cake? If so,would it be the same amount as the whole milk ? Would it moist and tender?

    • Swans Down says:

      Hi Kay, You absolutely can substitute whole milk with buttermilk, you will just need to reduce baking powder to 1 teaspoon and add 1/2 teaspoon baking soda. Happy Baking!

  • Alexandria Askew says:

    can you make this a chocolate cake?

    • Swans Down says:

      Hi Alexandria, You can definitely make the Swans Down 1-2-3-4 Layer Cake into a chocolate cake. For chocolate, add 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa to the dry ingredients OR 3 ounces melted baking chocolate, cooled and added when the eggs are added. Let us know if you try it. Happy Baking!

  • cheryl J says:

    I tried baking the 1234 cake twice in one week at Christmas. Both times It came out very dry and barely rose at all. I live in the Mountains of western North Carolina and wonder if that affected the recipe. My kitchen never gets above 69 farenheit in winter.

    • Swans Down says:

      Hi Cheryl,
      If you’re in a high altitude location it very well could have affected the outcome of the recipe. In the post below we have the USDA guideline for high altitude baking.
      Also, if your kitchen is staying at a low temperature during the winter it may be advisable to use an oven thermometer to be sure that you are achieving the required oven temperature for a recipe.
      Come back and let us know if you have success, this is a delicious recipe! happy Baking!

  • Hayley says:

    Is there a high-altitude version of this recipe?

    • Swans Down says:

      Hi Hayley, Unfortunately we do not have a high-altitude recipe version for the 1-2-3-4 Layer Cake. We do have general high-altitude guidelines you can review.

      Lower air pressure causes water to boil at a lower temperature which means more evaporation takes place during baking and cakes may become dry. The structure is also affected by the tendency for the cakes to rise too much and then collapse.

      Here is a chart put out by the USDA to use as a guideline.

      High Altitude Baking Guidelines

      Increase oven temperature by 15℉ to 25℉.
      Because you are increasing the oven temperature, you will need to decrease the baking time by 5 to 8 minutes per half hour.

      * These are guidelines. You will need to experiment to see what works best for you and your location.

  • Monika says:

    Can this be used for cupcakes? If so, do you recommend it for cupcakes?

    • Swans Down says:

      Hi Monika, Our 1234 Layer Cakes converts nicely to cupcakes. It will make approx. 30 to 36 cupcakes depending if you fill them 1/2 full or 2/3 full. Happy Baking!

  • Cup&cakez says:

    Perfect cake , I opted to only use 1 1/2 c sugar it still turned out perfectly. Nice moist and fluffy

  • Mary Vargas says:

    Can you use this recipe to make a strawberry or chocolate cake? If so, what needs to be added or changed?

    • Swans Down says:

      Hi Mary, Here’s some recommendations for converting the 1-2-3-4 Layer cake to Chocolate or Strawberry:
      For Chocolate – add 1/4 cup to the dry ingredients OR 3 ounces melted baking chocolate, cooled and added when the eggs are added.

      For Strawberry – add a 3-ounce box of strawberry Jell-O with the dry ingredients AND 1 cup mashed strawberries with the eggs.
      OR 1/4 cup freeze dried strawberries made into a powder in a food processor.

      Thanks and Happy Baking!

  • Antonella says:

    How many servings is one recipe and how well will it bake in a 12 inch round pan?

    • Swans Down says:

      Hi Antonella, One 1-2-3-4 Layer Cake recipe will yield one 3-layer 9″ cake. If served into 1″ slices you would get approximately 30 servings. The recipe should convert well to 2 – 12″ pans and would get approximately 55 1″ servings. It may require additional baking time for a tester inserted into cake comes out clean. Happy Baking!

  • J Joshua says:

    Can I get the frosting recipe for this cake please? Looks delicious

  • Trenia Thomas says:

    Swans Cake Flour has been used in my family for years. My grandmother used to bake the 1-2-3-4 cake and the pound cake all the time and the entire neighborhood would come for a slice. To have that recipe booklet would make my year. How do I get a copy. I love baking and my cream cheese pound cake doesn’t last 4 days.

  • Cindy says:

    I love Swanson cake flour. Can I get the Happy Day cake recipe everyone is talking about!

  • Lisa hadden says:

    Can I get a copy of the happy day cake recipe ,thanks

  • Sheryl says:

    I would like the Happy Day Cake recipe

    • Swans Down says:

      Hi Sheryl, We’ve asked out Consumer Affairs department to send it to you. Looks like we may need to add this one back to our collection. Happy baking!

  • Nadege says:

    Hi can you please email me the recipe fir happy days cake. It’s an older recipe. Thank you.

    • Swans Down says:

      Nadege, I’ve sent your information to our Consumer Affairs Department. Someone will be sending you the recipe. Happy baking!

  • Michelle says:

    How can I adjust ingredient quantities for 8 inch (thickness =3inch) single layer round cake?

    • Swans Down says:

      Michelle, You may not need to adjust the ingredients. This cake bakes nicely in 2 – 8 x 1.5 inch pans so it should work in a 8 x 3 inch. Just make sure not to fill the pan over 2/3 of the way full. Happy baking.

  • Rita says:

    What are the measures of ingredients for a 2layer cake instead of 3layers

    • Swans Down says:

      Hi Rita, I’ve forwarded your information on to our Consumer Affairs department. Someone will be in touch to help with this. Happy baking!

  • Sheila Henderson says:

    I would like to use your flour for my scratch homemade biscuits. I only use non-bromated and unbleached all purpose flour. Do you make an unbleached version? Thank you in advance.

  • Lilian says:

    Hi, I bought your cake flour for the first time. What does 1 cup in your recipe mean? How large is this cup?

    • Swans Down says:

      Hi Lillian, 1 cup Swans Down Cake Flour is 1 standard, 8 fluid ounce measuring cup or = 3.5 ounces sifted cake flour (weight) or 100 grams. Or = 4.5 ounces unsifted cake flour (weight) or 130 grams. If you have additional inquiry’s please contact our Consumer Affairs Department at 1-504-272-2939. Happy baking!

  • Eileen says:

    During the 50’s, 60’s, there was a recipe for Happy Day cake on the Swans Down box. It was delicious…both my brother and I remember it with fondness. Can you share that recipe from your archives?

  • Allyne Holland says:

    My mother always used Swan’s Down cake flour, and I do, too. I am now 86…long time! Do you have a small cook book? Please let me know. Thanks so much for the recipes.

    • Swans Down says:

      Hi Allyne, It’s always nice to hear from our loyal Swans Down users. Especially loyal generations! I will forward your information on to our Consumer Affairs department. They will be in touch in regards to a recipe booklet. Happy baking!

  • April. says:

    My mother made this cake over 60 years ago. I have the recipe written in her own hand writing. She baked this cake from memory. I love it!

  • Vinetta Maynor says:

    I just made this cake for Thanksgiving, and it turned out great. It was so moist, I couldn’t believe how well it turned out. I used 2% milk instead of whole. This is definitely a keeper.

  • Eric says:

    Hi, just wondering what frosting was used in the photo.

  • Lora Walker says:

    Hi Swans, how can I make a lemon pound cake using your swans down cake flour

  • Gethzaida says:

    Today is my son Birthday. I used swam down flour. He is working in Emergency Management. I have many years using it. Am a retired school teacher with 30 years. Please send me more recipes. God bless you. I want to do carrot cake for my husband but I need the recipe.

    • Swans Down says:

      Hi Gethzaida, I forwarded your info to our Consumer Affairs Dept. Someone will be in touch to answer your questions.

  • Gerald Mess says:

    When you do the recipes is there a place I can look up calories and cholesterol contents of the tiems.

  • Sadie Fierce says:

    I ♥️ it & want 2 make it

  • DEANNA Hernandez says:

    can I use two 9inch pans instead of three 9inch pans ?

    • Swans Down says:

      Hi Deanna, We love hearing from our Swans Down consumers! A 9″ pan should hold approx 4 cups of batter. We would not recommend filling a pan over 2/3 of the way full. You can always make 1-2-3-4 Muffins with the left over batter.

  • Myrna Ortiz says:

    How much batter will be needed to make two 12×9.5 triangle cake and two 10×7.5 triangle cake.

  • Sandy Scott says:

    I always have a box in my pantry….you won’t be disappointed!!

  • Jennie says:

    I need a recipe for a 12 x 18 sheet cake that I will remove from pan to decorate. I don’t want a thin cake. Will the 1234 recipe work?

  • Susan says:

    Just made the cake/still in the oven and the batter seemed a little bit thin. I measured the wet and dry ingredients precisely based on 3.5 oz per cup of sifted cake flour. The bulk (measuring cup)flour measurements were slightly over the ounces, so I adjusted down to the 3.5 oz per cup amount. Should I have stayed with the measuring cup amount?

  • Robyn Heflin says:

    Can you substitute the almond extract with coconut or banana extract.

  • andrea clark says:

    Can you make this cake with liquor such as Rum or Brandy. If so how much

  • Donna says:

    I live this flour been using it for many years

  • Idalia Perales says:

    I need the recipe for an 8″ round pan using swans down cake flour.
    Can you help ASAP?
    Thank you

  • Jennie Bowden says:

    What can be substituted for butter as my granddaughter has an allergy.

  • Jo says:

    Can I make this cake in a sheet cake 9×13

    • Swans Down says:

      Hi Jo,
      Yes, you can make this cake in a 9×13 sheet cake pan. In general, a three-layer cake recipe such as this one will have enough batter to fill two 19×13 sheet pans. You might need to make extra frosting as the surface area will be a bit larger. Also, test the center of your sheet cakes before turning off the oven, as they might need a bit more baking time. Happy baking!

  • Amy says:

    Hi! Do you have the weight of sifted flour used in this recipe? Thanks!

    • Swans Down says:

      Hi Amy, the weight of sifted cake flour can vary depending on how (and how much) it’s sifted, but in general, each cup of sifted cake flour weighs about 3.5 ounces.

  • Siri Anne Gomes says:

    I only make my scratch cakes using Swan’s Cake Flour. The cake is always rich and moist with any flour you make! Love it! My children and grandchildren love them!!

    • Swans Down says:

      Hi Siri Anne, we’re so happy to hear that your children and grandchildren love cakes baked with Swans Down. Thank you!

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