Bake from Scratch

1-2-3-4 Holiday Cakes

Easy to remember and a cinch to pull together, the beauty of the 1-2-3-4 cake lies not in only its simplicity but also in its versatility. Bakers looking for a foolproof recipe to use as their platform for revolutionary flavors return to this formula again and again. We, too, used this magic arithmetic to create four uniquely festive cakes, from a meringue-topped Hot Chocolate Marshmallow Cake to a four-layered white and red velvet showstopper. Out of the tried-and-true comes something brand-new.


Makes 1 (8-inch) cake

For this cake take on hot chocolate, we envisioned a cake packed with cocoa flavor in the form of rich chocolate cake layers and even richer Chocolate Meringue Buttercream. In order to do this, we had to adjust the 1-2-3-4 formula slightly, decreasing the flour to 2½ cups and making up the ½-cup deficit with cocoa powder. The final touches—a marshmallow-like Italian Meringue blanket and warming dose of coffee liqueur brushed onto the baked cake layers—bring the comfort of a cup of cocoa to the cake stand.

¾ cup (180 grams) whole milk, room temperature
3 tablespoons (30 grams) hot chocolate cocoa powder*
½ cup (120 grams) plus 3 tablespoons (45 grams) coffee liqueur*, divided
1 cup (227 grams) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups (400 grams) granulated sugar
4 large eggs (200 grams), room temperature
2 teaspoons (8 grams) vanilla extract
2½ cups (313 grams) cake flour
½ cup (43 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon (15 grams) baking powder
½ teaspoon (1.5 grams) kosher salt
Chocolate Meringue Buttercream (recipe

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