This Classic White Cake Made from Scratch was my grandmother's favorite butter cake recipe which she called a 1-2-3-4 cake. It's filled and frosted with a classic vanilla buttercream frosting and decorated with sprinkles.
My sweet, Southern grandmother was an avid baker and at my granddaddy's request, always provided dessert after supper. She passed away back in 1987 but I'm so thankful that my mom kept her recipes and now they're mine! Going through my grandmother's recipe cards is something I love to do. It's a way to feel connected to her and the wonderful memories I have of sitting down for a meal at her table, saying the blessing and being excited about what was on the dessert menu that evening.
As I pour over her yellowed recipe cards in her barely legible chicken scratch (she had a bad index finger from a childhood accident that made it difficult to write but she could play the piano like nobody's business), I can tell which recipes were her favorite because she would have several copies. This cake recipe was definitely one that she made often because there must be at least 4 or 5 copies of it in her recipe box. She called it a 1-2-3-4 cake because the first four ingredients were 1 cup of butter, 2 cups of sugar, 3 cups of flour and 4 eggs. I've made this recipe many times now myself and it always comes out so well! I've named it a Classic White Cake as that is what it truly is.
What is Classic White Cake?
Although it's not pure white, this Classic White Cake is a butter cake flavored with vanilla and very light in color. It's texture is on the lighter side (not dense) and has a fine crumb. Some folks make white cakes with only egg whites but I prefer to use the whole egg for more depth of flavor and it's also easier to make that way and there's no wasting of egg yolks.
Why is this Classic White Cake also called a 1-2-3-4 Cake
The first four ingredients are:
1) One cup of butter
2) Two cups of sugar
3) Three cups of flour
4) Four large eggs
How to make Classic White Cake from Scratch
1) Grease two (8-inch) pans and line with parchment. Whisk dry ingredients together in medium bowl, set aside.
2) Cream butter and sugar. Mix in eggs. Alternate adding dry ingredients and milk plus vanilla.
3) Pour batter into prepared pans. Bake as directed. Let cool.
4) Make your buttercream (recipe follows). Fill and frost cake.
Pro Tip for Best Cake Results
Weigh your flour using a food scale for the best accuracy in measuring the amount needed for this White Cake recipe.
Scroll down for the complete recipe.
Side note: I made this particular Classic White Cake as part of a cake collaboration I was a part of last week over on Instagram. About a dozen bakers participated and we all made cakes with a Gilmore Girls theme (the popular tv show that originally aired in 2000). Each baker was assigned a character to base their cake on and mine was Logan Huntzberger.
A Gilmore Girls Themed Cake
Here's my caption from my Instagram: My Gilmore Girls cake theme is Logan Huntzberger played by Matt Czuchry - Rory’s boyfriend at Yale. As their first “date”, Logan takes Rory to a secret society event in the woods hosted by the Life and Death brigade of which he is a member as well as many of his family members before him. He comes from a wealthy family loosely based on the real family that owns the New York Times. Rory wants to be a journalist and uses the event as a way to get a story for the school newspaper.
It was a spend the night party where everyone slept in fancy little tents and Logan gave her an evening gown to wear in the morning. He’s in a tuxedo and asks her to climb this giant scaffolding structure to jump off with him (attached to a harness), holding umbrellas. It’s crazy but thrilling and a very cool scene in the show and the inspiration for this cake. In Omnia Paratus is the slogan for the secret society - Ready for anything!
p.s. The New York Times in the photo is actually from September 1992. I kept it because there’s an article about my dad in it, Dr. Jerome Sullivan, pioneer of the iron and heart disease theory.
Four Generations of Southern Women
Since I'm sharing my grandmother's cake recipe, I thought I'd show you a photo of us. Here I am (the little girl in the middle) with my great grandmother, Ammie, on my right. Behind her is my grandmother, Dorothy, and next to her is my mom, Jane (isn't she PRETTY!). The lady to my left was a close friend (can't remember her name). Four generations represented here. Also, there appears to be a lit candle in front of us. There was most likely a cake under that candle. Maybe it was someone's birthday and maybe, just maybe, it was Dorothy's favorite 1-2-3-4 cake.
Tools for success
8-Inch Round Cake Pans (Set of 2)
8-Inch Round Parchment Cake Pan Liners
Note: The above items are affiliate links.
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Classic White Cake Made from Scratch
For the cake
- 1 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
- 2 cups granulated sugar 384g
- 3 cups cake flour 336g
- 4 large eggs at room temperature
- 1 cup whole milk at room temperature
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
For the frosting
- 1 cup unsalted butter softened to room temperature
- 4 cups powdered sugar 16 ounces
- ¼ cup heavy whipping cream
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
For the cake
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Brush 2 (8-inch) round pans with melted butter and line with parchment paper. Brush with more butter. You could also use non-stick cooking spray. Set aside.
- In a medium bowl, measure out flour, baking powder and salt. Whisk together. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, cream butter with an electric mixer until smooth. Add sugar and mix. Add eggs and mix until combined. Add half of the flour mixture and half of the milk, plus the vanilla. Mix on medium low until combined. Repeat with remaining flour and milk. Mix until combined, then continue mixing on medium low for 30 seconds. Divide batter between the two prepared pans. Bake on the middle rack of your oven for 30-35 minutes. At 30 minutes, test one of the cakes by inserting a toothpick. If it comes out clean, they are done. If not, continue to bake for just a few minutes more or until a toothpick inserted into middle comes out clean. Let cool completely,
For the frosting
- Beat softened butter on medium speed with an electric or stand mixer. Beat for 3 minutes until smooth and creamy.
- Add powdered sugar, cream, and vanilla extract with the mixer running on low. Increase to high speed and beat for 3 minutes. Use immediately or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
- Note: If the frosting is too thick, you can add a little more cream. Just add one tablespoon at a time, then mix thoroughly until you get the consistency you like.
- Fill and frost the cooled cake, reserving about 1 ¼ cups of frosting for the decoration (if desired). I used a 103 tip for the flowers and border. I used a 352 tip for the leaves. Add sprinkles.
You might also like this recipe from grandmother, Alabama Lane Cake
Another one of her favorites was this Watergate Cake
You might like Classic Southern Red Velvet Cake
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All text and images © Lise Ode for Mom Loves Baking. Please do not use my images without prior permission. If you want to republish this recipe, please re-write the recipe in your own words, or link back to this post for the recipe. Disclaimer: Nutrition information shown is not guaranteed to be accurate. This post may contain affiliate links.
Can this be made into cupcakes. And if so what is the bake time or is it the same?
Lise Ode says
I've never tried it with cupcakes but baking time should be 20-25 minutes.
I'm really confused. It says 4 ingredients with the measurements:
Then it goes on to say needing milk and vanilla but not how much.
Also states to whisk together dry ingredients (which would be flour and sugar) but you need to cream together the sugar and butter before adding the flour.
But then you add the wet and dry ingredients while alternating them but there's only 1 additional dry ingredient and 3 more wet ingredients. Way too confusing and no clarification. This is not "easy" it's a confusing guessing game.
And then there's still no measurements for milk and vanilla.
Lise Ode says
Hello Chels, This recipe is not confusing. The ingredients WITH THE MEASUREMENTS are stated in the recipe card in the INGREDIENTS section. Standard recipe format. If you look at the full recipe card, you will see it.
Elaine Vitelli says
I made this cake and it came out yellow, not white. The recipe calls for 4 eggs. Shouldn't it be 4 egg whites given it is supposed to be a white cake? I now have to make it again, as I needed a white cake.
Lise Ode says
It is a white cake but not pure white like a piece of paper.
Can I use 1% milk instead of whole? Or anything to substitute whole milk?
Lise Ode says
I would prefer at least 2% milk but I think the 1% would work.
This recipe looks sooo good! & the plus part... is ... there's no Sour cream or Yogurt in it. (I have no problem with oil & Buttermilk, or butter & oil or butter & Buttermilk... just don't like Sour cream or Yogurt in my baked goods.
I know I can substitute Buttermilk for Sour cream... but not in every recipe!
Question, can these be made in any other pan? (I understand I may need to double or quadruple.... but what about cupcakes, stuff like that?
And also can this recipe be "Colored" with Gel coloring?
Thanks! Can't wait to try it.
Lise Ode says
Hello, I'm so glad you like this recipe. I think it would work for cupcakes, although I haven't tested it with cupcakes yet. I always make it the same size. You could definitely use gel coloring if desired.
Beautiful cake!! So special you have your grandmother's recipes & love the photo!
Lise Ode says
Thank you, Sara! xo