Most baking is an exact science and I confess, that’s why I avoid it.
It’s also why the world of home cooks is split between bakers and non-bakers.
Us non-bakers tend to feel all that precision measuring and sequential adds to an already stressful life.
But bakers tend to feel like precision and sequences are a relief from their stressful lives.
As I say to my kids, the world would be a very boring place if we all liked the same things!
The cake for both bakers and non-bakers
As a non-baker, I’m not too proud to hit up a decent packet mix when I need it – like for a kid’s birthday cake when you know for a fact all the party guests are going to eat is the icing. I’m also one of those instinctive cooks for other kinds of food, which is generally a no-no in baking.
But from time to time even a non-baker likes to really make a cake – and a cake that’s kind of a winging-it, by feel, add a flavour, non-recipe bake is a special kind of bliss!
There’s also just enough science and measurement in this ratio-based recipe to make real bakers feel calm – I’ve asked some, and they promised this works for their precision brains too.
Introducing the 4×4 cake of four quarters
This brings us to the magic of the 4×4 cake, a simple ratio recipe that can be adapted in countless ways.
The 4×4 is my Australian version of quatre-quarts (four-quarters) cake.
Basically, if you’ve got eggs, flour, butter and sugar, you’ve got a classic French quatre-quarts (four-quarters) cake, which means you will never have to hunt for a simple cake recipe once you know how the ratios work.
You take any number of eggs and weigh them in the shell. This is the first ‘quarter’.
You then measure the same weight of the remaining three quarters: flour, butter and sugar, and mix them together in any order.
Add a teaspoon or two of vanilla for the simplest, fastest, one bowl cake you’ll ever find.
I’ve made this cake in four different homes and six different ovens, with dozens of experimental variations and it always works.
The fifth quarter
The real genius of the 4×4 cake is how utterly forgiving it is of adding a fifth quarter.
You can turn it into banana cake, carrot cake, lemon yoghurt cake, chocolate cake, apple tea cake, pear and passionfruit cake, raspberry coconut cake – the possibilities are almost endless and I’ve got some of them posted on this blog.
Generally speaking, the cake ratio can absorb an additional quarter’s weight of fresh or cooked wet ingredients like bananas, carrots or apples.
Dry ingredients like cocoa powder will need a lighter hand and I’ve added a recipe for quick 4×4 chocolate cake to the blog to help you there.
If you just want a flavour without additional content, like a lemon zest cake start small and taste the batter and increase to taste – eg, add a tablespoon of lemon juice and a pinch of zest, mix, taste and add more if it’s not coming through.
Things to know about the 4×4
- Always weigh the eggs first and in the shell – no shells for the actual cake, obviously!
- Scroll down for a guide to the size pan for your mix based on the number of eggs.
- People sometimes think this is a pound cake. It’s SO much easier than pound cake.
- You can use self-raising flour, or plain flour + baking powder.
- You can skip the baking powder component and just use plain flour by separating the eggs and whipping and folding the whites for aeration.
- You can replace the butter with the same weight of coconut milk or yoghurt but the same weight of oil will usually be too oily, so try it but use less.
- You can significantly reduce the weight of sugar, especially if you’re adding fruit, or you can use sugar substitutes.
- You can use a mixer to cream the butter and sugar first if you want, but after many trials I believe you get a better result by hand mixing.
The 4×4 cake is a gift that keeps on giving. You can fool around with all sorts of additions without varying the basic cake batter.
The quantities of flavour variations here are based on a four egg cake with medium eggs. Since the quantities will vary based on the weight and number of eggs, you might want to do some taste testing on your flavoured batter before putting it in the oven.
- The juice and zest of two lemons and a teaspoon of vanilla, drizzling the baked cake with a loose mix of icing sugar and more lemon juice.
- The juice of an orange and a half teaspoon of ground cardamom, using raw sugar instead of caster sugar.
- One cup of cocoa powder or drinking chocolate, a teaspoon of vanilla extract and a good pinch of salt to bring out the chocolate flavours.
- The same weight of grated carrot and a teaspoon of ground cinnamon.
- The same weight of very ripe or cooked apples, and a hefty sprinkle of mixed cinnamon and sugar on top of the batter makes an apple tea cake.
- The same weight of ripe bananas and – hey presto – banana cake and an empty fruit bowl!
- Replace the butter with the same weight of tinned coconut milk and replace ¼ of the flour with desiccated coconut – this is extra good with pears and raspberries.
- Replace the butter with the same weight of Greek or flavoured yoghurt and add some fruit or just lemon juice to make a lemon yoghurt cake.
The Original 4x4 Cake
- IMPORTANT! Follow the method to get your weights for any size cake
- Three egg example
- 3 eggs approx. 60g each weigh and follow your own measurements as in the method
- 180 g sugar
- 180 g butter softened at room temperature
- 180 g self-raising flour or plain with baking powder added at 1 teaspoon per 200g
- Optional – 1 tsp vanilla extract
- Prepare the cake pan with baking paper lining, secured with spray oil.
- Preheat oven to 160C.
- Put the mixing bowl on the digital scales. Press the TARE button to reset weight to zero.
- Put any number of eggs in the bowl and weigh them in the shell.
- Remove the eggs, and add flour to the bowl until it weighs the same as the eggs.
- Press TARE to reset to zero and add the sugar until it weighs the same as the eggs.
- Press TARE to reset to zero and add the soft butter in pieces to the same weight as the eggs.
- Take bowl off scales and break the eggs on top.
- Mix well by hand for a minute or so until you have a fairly smooth batter. There can still be streaks of butter and only a few little flour lumps. If adding vanilla extract, do so now.
- Pour the batter into your cake tin and bake at 160C. For a plain three egg cake, check at 40 minutes, using a skewer to see if the middle is cooked. A 4x4 cake made with four eggs and fruit takes about 55 minutes in my current oven.
- Let the finished cake sit in the pan for five minutes or so before removing the tin and paper and sitting on a wire rack to cool.
- Serving: if you want icing, let it cool completely first. Freshly baked cake works like shark burley at my place, though, and unless I stand guard there will be teenage fins circling it in minutes, and mysterious chunks will go missing when my back is turned.