From the kitchen of One Perfect Bite...I've decided to make this summer sweets week on the blog and the first recipe I want to share with you is James Beard's 1-2-3-4 Cake. While there are boatloads of recipes for this cake, I've zeroed in on his because it has a spare elegance that is lacking in most of the others. This is an heirloom cake that your grandmother probably made. While its popularity and longevity can be attributed to the basic goodness of the cake, the fact that its recipe formula is so easy to remember hasn't hurt its standing either. That formula, which includes 1 cup butter, 2 cups sugar, 3 cups flour and 4 eggs, is what gives the cake its name. Beard's version of the cake uses a mix of citrus juice, rather than frosting, to glaze the cake, and that fresh fruity flavor makes it wonderful to serve with macerated berries and a dollop of cream at this time of year. The glaze also makes a wonderful base for a bittersweet chocolate ganache, should you prefer a more traditional icing. I like to make this cake a day or two before I plan to serve it. That gives the flavors a chance to ripen and permeate the cake. If you are looking for a yellow cake that is tender and has outstanding flavor, I hope you'll give this one a try. Its appearance is deceiving. It is plain looking, to be sure, but it is delicious and has an elegance all its own. Here is how the cake is made.
James Beard's 1-2-3-4 Cake with Citrus Glaze...from the kitchen of One Perfect Bite courtesy of The Essential James Beard Cookbook
Softened butter and flour, for the pans
3 cups sifted cake flour (not self-rising)
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon plain salt
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
1 cup whole milk, at room temperature
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest
1) Butter and flour the bottom and sides of three 8 by 1-1/2-inch cake pans with softened butter. Heat oven to 350 degrees F.
2) Sift flour, baking powder, and salt together.
3) Beat 1/2 pound butter in a large bowl with an electric mixer on high speed until it is light, creamy, and fluffy, about 1 minute. Gradually add sugar and beat until mixture is very light and fluffy, about 2 minutes more.
4) Whisk egg yolks in a small bowl until they are well blended. Gradually beat egg yolks into butter mixture, mixing well after each addition. With mixer on low speed, starting with flour mixture, add flour mixture in thirds, alternating with two equal additions of milk, scraping down sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in vanilla.
5) In a clean bowl using clean beaters beat egg whites until they form firm, glossy peaks. Do not overbeat. Fold whites into the batter.
6) Pour and scrape batter into prepared pans, dividing it equally among them. Bake in center of oven for 25 minutes, or until each cake springs back when touched in center. Remove pans from oven and put them on wire cake racks to cool for a few minutes, then loosen layers by running flat side of a knife blade around the sides of pans, put a rack on top of each pan, and invert so cake comes out onto rack, top side down. Then reverse the layers so they are top side up.
7) To make citrus glaze: Mix orange juice, lemon juice, sugar, and orange rind together and drizzle e mixture over the still warm cake layers, being careful not to let it all soak into one spot; then pile the layers on top of each other. Let the cake cool. Yield: 12 servings.
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