Slice this showstopping Zebra Layer Cake to reveal chocolate and vanilla stripes inside. The marbling technique is surprisingly easy to master, and I’ll show you how!
It was around 2012 when I first saw Zebra Cakes making the rounds on popular food sites and baking blogs. (Not to be confused with these famous Zebra Cakes.) Slice the cake to reveal graphic stripes of chocolate marbled against vanilla. The effect is so eye-popping, it looks something akin to zebra stripes.
More than a decade later, I’m trying it for myself. Back then, there were so many iterations floating around, I just didn’t see the need for one more. It wasn’t until recently that I found familiar inspiration for a new spin on this cake. A sprinkle-tastic, funfetti-fied version made with rainbow confetti sprinkles folded into the vanilla batter.
This was a suuu-uuper fun cake to put together, and the marbling technique is not as complex as it looks. I was really surprised that my first attempt turned out as well as it did. I’m already planning to make another! Be sure to check out the video at the end of this blog post. You may find it to be a helpful guide for making and assembling your own zebra layer cake.
Make the vanilla batter.
Stock up on eggs! Because this cake uses a whole bunch of egg whites. (Not only in the cake batter, but also in the frosting!) This white-vanilla batter comes together quickly and easily. It makes a large volume, so use a big bowl!
Make the chocolate batter.
Whisk up a chocolate batter base with dark cocoa powder, egg yolks, and milk. Then mix in 3 cups of the white vanilla batter. I used black cocoa powder to get the boldest stripe possible. It’s the same cocoa I used for these Oreo Cupcakes, and the flavor is wonderful. Regular dark cocoa powder will also work well.
Mix in some sprinkles!
Mini rainbow confetti sprinkles make this cake so cheerful! You can leave them out of this recipe if you prefer. However, if you’re like me and cannot resist a pop of color against a bold graphic stripe – fold in about 1/2 cup.
Layer the batters together.
Using 1/4 cup measures or trigger ice cream scoops for each batter, portion the vanilla-sprinkle batter in the center of the pan. Continue with 1/4 cup of chocolate batter placed directly on top of the vanilla. Continue, repeating this technique, and occasionally tapping the bottom of the pan on the counter to help spread the batters. The layers should appear as concentric rings. My first attempt is far from perfect, but it still turned out pretty cute at the end. I think my next attempt will look even better, now that I know what to expect.
Bake and level.
Place the pans in a preheated 350° F oven. As the cakes rise they’ll form a dome in the center. After they cool, level the them flat. Doesn’t that look cool? Hypnotizing, even!
Swiss meringue buttercream.
Swiss meringue buttercream adds just the right amount of sweetness to the marbled sponge. If you’re a novice at making this buttercream, then you can view my how-to video in this blog post.
I’ll always love a drip cake! The chocolate ganache drip on vanilla Swiss meringue buttercream really ties together the flavors of the cake layers.
Add a party mascot!
How cute is this zebra topper? It’s just a small figurine that you can find at most discount stores in the toy department (or here). We dressed it with a homemade mini pom-pom necklace and cardstock party hat.
Throw on some additional confetti sprinkles, and you’ve got yourself a fine party cake!
One of my favorite things about this zebra layer cake is that every slice is unique! No two the same! Each serving is like an original piece of edible art.
The cake recipe is adapted from Martha Stewart’s Cake Perfection book (which I love). The cake’s crumb is tight yet still moist. It reminds me a little of pound cake, but slightly lighter. Together with the Swiss meringue buttercream, it slices like a dream! The sponge is lightly chocolaty – the dark chocolate well balanced with its vanilla counterpart. I hope you love it as much as I do!
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Zebra Layer Cake
Zebra cake layers
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 7 egg whites
- 3 egg yolks
- 2 ½ cups granulated sugar
- 2 cups whole milk divided
- ½ cup unsalted butter melted
- 1/3 cup sunflower oil or vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
- ½ cup unsweet black cocoa powder
- ½ cup mini rainbow confetti sprinkles plus more for garnish
Swiss meringue buttercream
- 5 egg whites
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- Pinch of salt
- 1 lb. unsalted butter at room temperature
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Chocolate ganache drip
- 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
- ¼ cup heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon light corn syrup added for shine, this is optional
Zebra cake layers
Preheat the oven to 350F. Coat two 9-inch cake pans with cooking spray, and line the bottoms with parchment circles.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.
In a separate large bowl, beat together the egg whites and granulated sugar. Mix on medium-high until foamy and well incorporated, about 2 minutes. Beat in 1 1 /2 cups of the milk, melted butter, sunflower oil, and vanilla, until smooth. Add the flour mixture and beat until smooth and lump-free, about 2 minutes.
In another large bowl, beat together the egg yolks, remaining ½ cup milk, and the black cocoa powder. Add 3 ¼ cups of the vanilla batter to the cocoa mixture and beat until smooth and uniform in color.
Fold the rainbow sprinkles into the vanilla cake batter using a rubber spatula.
Using ¼ cup measures, or trigger ice cream scoops (2 oz. capacity), portion ¼ cup of vanilla-sprinkle dough into the center of the pans. Next, spoon ¼ cup of chocolate batter into each center, directly on top of the vanilla-sprinkle batter. Continue this process, spooning the batter into the center of the pans and occasionally rapping the bottom of the pan on the countertop to level the batters together. Do this until all the batter is used and they appear as concentric rings in the pans.
Bake the cakes for 35-40 minutes (mine too slightly longer, at 45 minutes) until the centers are domed and puffy. A toothpick tester should come out mostly clean (mine had some color on it due to a melted confetti sprinkle.) Transfer the pans to a wire rack to cool 10 minutes, then turn out to cool completely on wire racks. After cooling the cakes, level them with a serrated knife. They can also be wrapped in plastic film and transferred to the refrigerator to stand overnight. I find that the crust softens and they are easier to level after a night in the refrigerator.
Swiss meringue buttercream
Place a saucepan filled 1/3 full of water over medium heat. Bring to a simmer.
In a large stainless-steel bowl, combine the egg white, sugar, and salt. Set the bowl over the simmering water and cook while whisking intermittently. Cook until the mixture is hot (110°F) and you can no longer feel sugar granules when the mixture is rubbed between your finger and thumb. Transfer the hot mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on high speed for 5-7 minutes or until a thick, shiny meringue forms that holds stiff peaks. The bowl should feel cool to the touch. If it doesn’t, refrigerate the meringue in the bowl for 10 minutes. Return the bowl to the mixer and swap the whisk attachment for the paddle attachment.
Beat the room temperature butter into the meringue one cube at a time on medium-low speed, waiting to add the next cube when the previous cube disappears. The batter will deflate with the butter addition, and may even look curdled (if the butter was the slightest bit cold this happens), but this is normal. When all of the butter is added, beat the mixture on high speed until light in color and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in the vanilla extract.
Place a cake layer on a cake board or serving plate. Fill the cake with about 1 ¼ cups of the buttercream. Top with a second cake. Cover the entire cake with the buttercream, and smooth evenly over the tops and sides. Refrigerate the frosted cake until the buttercream firms, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, make the ganache drip.
Place the chips and cream in a microwave-safe bowl and heat at 100% power for 45 seconds to 1 minute. Allow the mixture to stand 1 minute, then whisk together to create a smooth ganache. Add the corn syrup, if using. Allow the mixture to cool slightly. Remove the cake from the refrigerator and spoon some of the ganache over the sides of the cake. Use the spoon to nudge the chocolate over the edges to drip down the sides. Pour the remaining ganache in the top center of the cake and smooth to cover it completely.
Garnish the top edge of the cake with more rainbow confetti sprinkles. Top with a cute zebra figurine, if you’re so inclined.
Store the cake in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before serving.