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Zebra Cake

Zebra Cake

Visually, I believe that this zebra-striped cake is one of the most impressive looking cakes I’ve ever made. Especially because I have a soft spot in my heart for animal prints. I’ve seen this cake online for a while now, on various blogs and in various forms, but haven’t actually gotten around to trying it myself until now. It has a huge WOW factor for a relatively simple cake and it provides a good mix of chocolate and vanilla flavors in one package.

The pattern looks very intricate, but it is actually very easy to create. The cake starts with one vanilla batter that is divided in half and has cocoa powder added to a portion. The batters are alternately spooned into the center of a prepared baking pan to form a bullseye design. The trick to getting the design is all in how you lay the batters. Put a spoonful of vanilla batter (about 3 tbsp, for this particular cake) into the center of the pan and let it spread slightly on its own. Put a spoonful of chocolate in the center of the vanilla. It will push out the other batter and, as it sits for a moment, will spread itself. Alternating spoonfuls of the two batters, you simply repeat the technique until all the batter has been used up. You can tap the pan on the counter gently to help it spread and eliminate air bubbles, but the batter really must be allowed to spread on its own. Don’t worry about the colors mixing as you continue to add batter; unless you’re really rough with the pan, the lines will stay clean on their own.

My layers were actually a touch less than 3 tbsp of batter each and, as a result, it took quite a long time to get all the batter in the pan. I think I spent 10-15 minutes doing it, although repetition certainly will help your speed if you start to make these cakes on a regular basis. To save time, you could also cut down the number of stripes by using 1/4 or 1/3 cup of batter for each ring.

This is a fairly plain cake and, while it does have a good chocolate and vanilla flavor to it, it isn’t too sweet. Normally, I might consider putting a glaze on a cake like this one, but I didn’t want to cover up the pattern on the top of the cake. The cake is also very moist and keeps well, thanks to the generous amount of oil used. It is important for the batter to be fairly liquidy, so I wouldn’t play too much with the amount of oil and just keep this as an indulgent treat.

If you accidentally mess up the design at some point – your hand slips and you add too much batter, you get distracted and loose the circle pattern for some reason – don’t worry. In a worst-case situation, you can always stick a butter knife into the cake batter, give it a turn and call it a marble cake, then try for the zebra the next time.

Zebra Cake slice, up close

Zebra Cake
4 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1 cup milk (low fat is fine)
1 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp almond extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 1/2 tbsp cocoa powder

Preheat oven to 350F. Line a 9-inch round cake pan with a circle of parchment paper and lightly grease the bottom and sides of the pan.
In a large bowl, mix together eggs and sugar until mixture is light and creamy and the sugar has mostly been dissolved. Stir in milk, vegetable oil, vanilla and almond extracts.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. Pour into wet ingredients and whisk to combine. Measure out just over two cups of vanilla batter and place it back in the medium bowl. Sift cocoa powder over the bowl and whisk until fully incorporated.
Put 3 tbsp of vanilla batter into the center of the pan and let it spread slightly on its own. Put 3 tbsp of chocolate batter in the center of the vanilla. It will push out the other batter and, as it sits for a moment, will also spread itself. Alternating spoonfuls of the two batters, repeat the technique until all the batter has been used up.
Bake for 38-42 minutes, until the cake is light gold and a tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
Let the cake cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes, then turn out the cake and remove the parchment paper. Reinvert on to a wire rack and let cool before slicing.

Serves 10.

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  • Eve
    October 9, 2009

    Hiya Nicole,

    Thanks so much for posting up this recipe. I made it last night for my partner’s charity morning tea at work today and it was really pretty (besides the big crack on top).

    I have no idea what it tasted like but I am told that it was a bit dry. I baked my cake at 150 degrees celsius because of my temperamental (crazy) oven but I think my oven was still too hot. My cake did not rise evenly (had a high dome in the middle, but the sides did not really rise). I really need to go and read up on the science of baking.

    Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that I had a lot of fun making this cake. I have been following your blog for quite a while and your posts are always a great read. I also like the layout of your blog because it is so simple and appealing. When I finally make a cake that’s really good, I’ll let you know. 🙂

    October 10, 2009

    amazing post ! I will bookmark your blog . thanks

  • Alicia
    November 1, 2009

    Just made this cake in the form of 20 cupcakes and it was fantastic! Thanks for the recipe.


  • naomi
    November 14, 2009

    I doubled the almond extract & added a thin chocolate glaze after baking & cooling–it was delicious!
    @Eve: Mine domed too, it’s not a big deal. If it really bothers you, cut off the dome after cooling & frost or glaze the top.

  • cookie
    December 13, 2009

    so awsome something reall different

  • ali
    July 20, 2010

    i just made this, and something strange happened. going into the oven the design was perfect rings, but after it baked, the rings disappeared! it’s just a blob/mess of color now. do you have any idea what went wrong? (there’s a small circle in the center where the rings came out perfect, but the rest of the cake is just greyish from the colors mixing)

    hopefully the rings will still show when it’s cut, but i guess i’ll have to frost it now!

  • Heather
    September 1, 2010

    That looks completely delicious and fun! Thanks so much for posting this wonderful recipe.

  • shashikala
    November 29, 2010

    hi, i enjoyed making this piece of art,but was dissappointed when i cut the cahe the the stripes had merged,and wasnt sweet enough.I also found it too oily ,can i reduce the oil next time i make the zebra cake?thanx .

  • poppy
    February 27, 2011

    Hi, I’ve just made this cake and it has sunken around the edges, I have never seen a cake sink in such a way. I am an experienced baker and cannot think of any reason this may have happened. Any ideas? I’m very disappointed 🙁

  • Nicole
    April 22, 2011

    Poppy – I can’t think of a reason that it happened, either, as I’ve never had anything like that happen. I’m actually having a difficult time picturing a cake that has sunken edges as opposed to a sunken center. Sorry I don’t have more advice!

  • Jade
    April 29, 2011

    This cake turned out beautifully! The taste was very simple but still delicious. I used 2 tsp of baking powder by accident but it was still great. Thanks!

  • Lizzie
    May 14, 2011

    Thank you so much for this recipe! I hid the zebra stripes under swirls of buttercream, so it was a surprise for the whole family when we cut into the cake. I have also used the batter prior to adding cocoa powder – for many, many cupcakes… it’s a moist cake that never lets me down. Thank you a gazillion times over.

  • Fatima
    July 16, 2011

    Thank you for a perfect recipe, it came out beautiful, evryone was so impressssssed… Thanks again.

  • Darla
    August 21, 2011

    I’m hoping to try this in cupcakes .. I’ve been asked to do them for a little girl’s birthday … She’s getting the new Hawaiian American Girl doll … I found zebra liners .. thought this would be a fun surprise … ….

  • buna
    September 3, 2011

    my cake turned out tasty but no zebra stripes to speak of when i added the cocoa to half the batter it became thick and stopped spreading so i had to add more milk to let it spread what do i do please let me know what could have gone wrong?

  • shashikala
    September 18, 2011

    My cake turned out to be too oily and the stripes merged
    with each other, inspite of following the recipe carefully. what could have gone wrong?

  • CeeCee
    October 16, 2011

    I made this cake for my friends’ birthdays and it was a raging success! After I iced it with chocolate frosting it looked like a normal birthday cake, but their minds were totally blown when they saw the stripes. The cake sunk a little bit right in the middle, but I just filled the hole with more frosting. Thanks for the great recipe!

  • Amar
    January 11, 2012

    @ Poppy

    Hi Poppy, did you try to bake cake in Mircrowave. It does sometimes happens to with normal vanilla cake or even other cakes which I baked sometime ago. When baking cake in Microwave the top layer of the cake get completely exposed to heat while the inner part is still uncooked. So when you keep on baking till the inner part is cooked, the upper layer of the cake gets almost burnt. But anyway my family and I likes to eat, as it tastes better with the upper layer is crispy due to slightly burnt layer.

  • Daisy
    December 18, 2012

    I was just curious…would I be able to use melted butter instead of the oil to add more flavour?


  • Daisy
    December 18, 2012

    Also, would I just be able to use a regular chocolate cake recipe and a white cake recipe and use the same method?

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