How to Make: One Two Three Four Cake

1234 Cake feature picture (with chocolate

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Welcome back to Tenacious Genealogy and another historical recipe post! Today, I’m going to explore making another recipe from the early 20th century – One Two Three Four Cake. But first, I want to delve a little bit more into why I love trying out historical recipes.

Part of what makes genealogy and history engaging is being able to experience (for the most part) what your ancestors experienced or may have experience. That’s why I’ve always been a fan of historical sites, re-enactments, and the like. Unfortunately, going to these places are not always convenient or something that you can do on a regular basis (at least, I haven’t been able to). Which is why I love trying and experimenting with historical recipes. Something that everyone can say their ancestors have done is eat.

Some families have entire cookbooks that have been passed to future generations. Other, a few favorite family recipes. But other times, there really wasn’t anything in the way of cookery that was handed down. With technology and modernization, fast and processed food making meals quick and on the go, many, once cherished, recipes have gone by the wayside.

Which is why I LOVE finding old historical cookbooks. Flipping through some of them is like opening a time capsule into another world, another culture, another place where things weren’t so hectic or expensive. Thankfully, you can usually find these kinds of books at Friends of the Library sales or even online. In fact, for people like me who love cookbooks (okay, books in general), but don’t have the space to have an enormous collection, sites like Amazon’s Kindle store are a godsend. It gives me the opportunity to flip through old recipes in my spare time and not have to worry about ruining an old cookbook when I do attempt the recipe. I’ve been able to find dozens of old cookbooks from as far back as the 18th century.

As for today, I’m going to try an old-timey recipe that is simple and has a fascinating name: One, Two, Three, Four Cake.

It’s a fairly simple recipe and if you’ve been following this blog over the last few weeks, you notice that it has pretty much all of the same ingredients as Breakfast Sally Lunn and the Jenny Lind Tea Cakes. The only difference is the amount. For example, whereas the former two recipes called for either a few tablespoons or a half cup of sugar, this recipe calls for two full cups, which makes it a sweeter baked good.

That said, on to the recipe!

 Cookbook: Things Mother Used to Make: A Collection of Old Time Recipes, Some Nearly One Hundred Years Old and Never Published Before
Author: Lydia Maria Gurney

Published: 1914

Original Recipe:

1 cupful of Butter
2 cupfuls of Sugar
3 cupfuls of Flour
4 eggs
2/3 cupful of Milk
2 teaspoonful of Cream of Tartar

1 teaspoonful of Soda

Cream the butter and the sugar together and add the well-beaten eggs;
Beat all and add milk:
Beat again:
Sift the cream of tartar and the soda into the flour;
Stir all together.
Bake in a slow oven

This will make two loaves.

My translation of the recipe:

1 cup of Butter
2 cups of Sugar
3 cups of Flour
4 eggs
2/3 cup of Milk
2 teaspoons of Cream of Tartar
1 teaspoons of Baking Soda

1234 Cake Ingredients

Cream the butter and the sugar together and add the well-beaten eggs;
Fully mix it in an electric mixer (I love my KitchenAid) and add milk;
Let the concoction blend together.
In another bowl, sift the cream of tartar and the soda into the flour;
Slowly spoon the flour mixture into the bowl and let it mix together.

Meanwhile, grease up two glass pans with oil, butter, or cooking spray.
The dough should be a little thicker than cake batter (the kind you get in a box), but still pourable.

Divide the dough into the two glass pans about as equally as you can.

Bake in a slow oven (AKA 300 to 325 degrees F or 150 to 160 degrees C – Thank you, Wikipedia!) for about 45 minutes.

Check the cakes at 30 minutes and then every 5 minutes after that until the cakes are golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean.

 Final result and taste test:

As you can tell, this cake came out a little crispy on the edges. But it was still delicious. Especially with yummy German milk chocolate! (It was a winner with both my husband and my co-workers.)

The crispiness came partially from an error on my part and partially from figuring out a new oven. When I initially put the cakes in, I thought I had heard the timer go off noting that the oven was preheated. (It didn’t.) The oven was at 250° F, so I ended up raising the temperature to 350°F from 325°F. At 30 minutes, the cake was still not fully cooked, so I set it for another 30 minutes (facepalm). So 60 minutes at higher temperatures than noted in the recipe = crispy edges.

But like I said, the cake was still delicious and it was certainly golden-brown, but in the future, I’ll probably double check the oven temperature (especially if it is a new oven) and check on the cakes more regularly after 30 minutes.

Notwithstanding the crispiness factor, the cake was definitely sweet enough. It was a little bit drier than most box mix cakes I’ve had, but when I added some melted German chocolate I had on hand – it was divine.

Tips for Making this Cake:

  • This is a great recipe to make with kids. Simple and only requires minimal supervision. (Just make sure all the flour doesn’t get dumped in at once!) It’s also a great way to show them what a historical cake recipe might have looked (and tasted) like.
  • If you want to make cupcakes with this recipe, it is certainly worth a try. Given that this is a simple recipe, that shouldn’t be an issue. I would probably keep the temperature the same and decrease the baking time by half (depending on your oven).
  • Definitely, make sure the pans are well greased before baking. The lack of oil in this recipe makes it less fluffy and moist and having a well-greased pan will help with clean up.

Comments? Questions?

Any comments or questions about One Two Three Four Cake? Any other recipes you’d like to see me try? Let me know down in the comments.


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