Take a walk on the wild side: Zebra Cake

Do you remember the first time you made a marble cake? I do. I remember thinking it was the coolest thing in the world to blob the chocolate batter into the vanilla batter like the 5 pips on a die. Two at the top, two at the bottom and one right in the center, symmetry at its best. Then taking a butter knife and swirling the batters together, it was magical. Of course, being young I just had to…

…over-swirl. Yes, over-swirling the batter so that you lose most of the marbling is a common mistake among marble cake newbies, but once you have that under control, there are few things as satisfying as a well-marbled cake. Except maybe for a fun, flirty, funky Zebra Cake, that is!

Believe it or not, the  snappy intricate stripes in the Zebra Cake are so easy to achieve, you’ll wonder just how hard I “work” in the kitchen. Well, you’ll have to take my word for it that some recipes do require me to bust my buns more than others, but some are so easy and produce such beautiful results they must be sent by those angels who watch over hardworking bakers, and I’ll take one any day of the week. Especially if it means I get to pass it along to all of you, to boot.

I’ve always had an affinity for black and white. I love the high contrast of the stark white and the solid black. My poor mother complained more than once when I was a teen about the profusion of black clothing in my closet, and I still buy several white shirts for each season. Right now I own no less than four white tank tops, and an equal number of white T-shirts, with several white turtlenecks now safely tucked away in SpaceBags until next fall. Hey, white does go with everything!

While studying art in college, my favorite medium was pen and ink. You guessed it, fine black lines on white paper just drew me in (no pun intended) and I felt at home. I think that’s one reason why I love Pysanky so much. Most of my work is bold contrasts of colors and black is a big favorite for my final color. Come to think of it, I now remember my parents having to go talk to my kindergarten teacher about my coloring pages. Apparently in Catholic kindergarten in the 1970s, coloring the snowman on the paper all black was NOT the thing to do. I’m not sure why I did it, but I think it had something to do with a book I used to read about a witch who made black snow. That would definitely be my kind of winter, and I drew what I liked.

As you can imagine, I’ve always loved zebra stripes as a motif. I’ve owned zebra socks, shirts, and hairbands. I never did get a pair of zebra stretch pants in the 1980s, but I would have loved them. I’ve doodled zebra stripes, painted zebra stripes, and I prefer to think of my stretch marks as zebra stripes. (TMI? Sorry!). And now I get to cap off a lifetime of zebramania with BAKING zebra stripes. Man, life is good.

Ready to stripe up your life? Let’s make Zebra Cake!

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Combine the milk, oil and vanilla in a 2-cup liquid measure. If you’re baking with school-aged kids, this is a great way to show them about different densities of liquids, as the milk and oil will separate into distinct layers, and the vanilla will suspend. Hey, baking is science!

Preheat the oven to 350°F . Spritz one 9” x 2” round cake pan with cooking spray. Line with a parchment circle and spritz again.

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In the bowl of your stand mixer blend the sugar and eggs until well combined and lightened, about 2 minutes. Add the oil/milk/vanilla and blend until smooth.

In a separate bowl combine the flour, baking powder and salt, and whisk well. Add to the liquids in the mixer and beat for 1 to 2 minutes. Don’t forget to scrape the bowl down partway through the mixing.

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Pour 2 cups of the vanilla batter into the liquid measure you used before. The batter is on the thinner side, but this is important to the final outcome of the cake.

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Sift the cocoa over the remaining batter in the bowl. It’s important to sift rather than sprinkle to avoid lumps. (Go ahead, ask me how I know.) Remember, you’re using baking powder in the recipe, so you should use Dutch-process cocoa. Powder and process both begin with a “P”, that’s how I remember.

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Blend in the cocoa until the batter is smooth and lump-free. This batter is just a tiny bit thicker than the vanilla batter, but still on the thinner side. You’ll see why this is important soon.

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Place about 3 tablespoons of the vanilla batter into the center of your parchment-lined pan. The thin batter will begin to spread out. This is just what you’re looking for.

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Next, pour about 3 tablespoons of the chocolate batter in the center of the vanilla batter, like a bulls-eye.

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Continue to add 3 tablespoons of batter to the center of the last batter circle, alternating vanilla and chocolate batters.

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When both batters are finished you’ll have a pan full of lovely rings. It doesn’t look much like zebra stripes yet but just wait, the magic is coming.

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Bake the cake for 35-45 minutes, or until the vanilla stripes are golden brown and a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Allow to cool for 5 to 8 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely. Peel off the parchment circle.

When the cake is completely cool, ice as desired (this cake is great plain, too) and prepare for  “The Big Reveal” as my fellow blogger Susan says.

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How COOL is that!?! As the batter bakes it rises up in the rings and when those rings are sliced vertically, you get ZEBRA stripes!

I like to serve the cake already sliced, like a herd of zebra on the savannah. Susan likes to cut the first piece in front of the guests for the full ohhh and ahhh effect. The choice is yours.

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Add some of our whimsical jungle animal sugar decos, grab your pith helmet and your wild cake adventure begins.  Extra points for anyone who lets out a Tarzan yell before digging in!

Please bake, rate, and review our recipe for Zebra Cake.

Many thanks to the great bloggers and bakers online who inspire us. Zebra cakes have galloped over the Internet in the last few years, causing quite the stir (pun intended). Be sure to check out http://www.azcookbook.com/zebra-cake/. This may just be where it all started~

MaryJane Robbins
About

MaryJane Robbins grew up in Massachusetts and moved to Vermont 20 years ago. After teaching young children for 15 years, she changed careers and joined King Arthur Flour in 2005. MaryJane began working on King Arthur Flour's baker’s hotline in 2006, and the blog team ...

comments

  1. JT

    How well would this work in a bundt pan (I use the Anniversary pan from Nordic Ware). Other than doubling (or tripling) the recipe, what adjustments would I need to make to the time and temperature?

    Reply
    1. MaryJane Robbins, post author

      Yes, you can double this recipe and make in a bundt pan. Baking temp would be 350°F and baking time would be in the 50 minute range. Enjoy! ~ MJ

  2. Lisa B

    What could you do to make the stripes wider and more pronouced?
    Do fewer rings by pouring more batter each time. That may be just the trick! Elisabeth

    Reply

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