Zebra Cake

March 15, 2011 (Last Updated: December 30, 2019)

I grew up eating zebra cake for many of my birthdays, along with other relatives’ birthdays, and other cake-eating occasions. It’s a pretty non-discriminatory cake. It works well for just about any cake need. My mom learned this recipe while growing up in Armenia. From an early age, she and her middle sister would make it pretty often, and my mom can’t even remember where they originally got the recipe. It was never written down super accurately, so we’ve done our best to match actual measurements with the ingredients, to make it easier for people to replicate (they didn’t use actual teaspoons and tablespoons there). Not only does the cake match my blog (yeah, I know, pretty groovy, right?) but it has baffled lots of diners over the years who could never quite figure out how it is made. Well, folks, the secret is out!!

**Note** This cake does not contain zebras, nor any other zoo animals for that matter. Don’t come knocking on my door, PETA…

Zebra Cake
Makes 1 (10-inch) cake

7 T. unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
5 eggs
16 oz sour cream
1 T. red wine vinegar
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted

Chocolate Glaze:
1 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1/4 cup + 2 T. unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
1/4 cup milk
7 T. unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Walnut halves, for garnish

Place the oven rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar at medium-high speed. When the mixture is fluffy, add the eggs one at a time, making sure to fully incorporate each egg before adding another. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then gradually add the sour cream and beat to combine.

Pour the vinegar into a very small bowl. Add the baking soda, and once it fizzes quickly add it to the batter. Mix. Add the vanilla extract and mix again. Gradually add the flour and mix until combined. Reserve 3 1/2 cups batter to another bowl (half the batter). To the mixer bowl, add the cocoa powder and mix to combine. You will now have a bowl of yellow cake batter and a bowl of chocolate cake batter.

Grease a 10-inch springform pan. Pour 1/4 cup of chocolate batter into the center of the pan. Pour 1/4 cup of yellow batter directly into the center of the chocolate batter. Repeat, using all of both batters, alternating colors. The layers will spread out on their own, but a gentle rap of the pan onto the table or counter will help the batter even out, if needed.

Bake for 1 hour to 1 hour and 10 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean (the top always cracks a bit, but is easy to cover up with the chocolate glaze later). Let cool for 15 minutes, then remove the sides of the springform pan and cool completely.

Select a serving dish or platter and place 3 pieces of aluminum foil around the perimeter, leaving the center clear. Remove the cake from the springform pan base and place in the center of the pieces of foil. This will make for easy cleanup after you glaze the cake.

To make the glaze, combine the confectioners’ sugar and cocoa powder in a saucepan. Add the milk and place the pan over medium heat. Stir constantly until the mixture is completely dissolved and smooth. Add the butter and continue mixing until smooth. Add the vanilla extract and remove from the heat. Allow the glaze to cool for about 5 to 10 minutes to allow it to slightly thicken.

Spoon the sauce over the center of the top of the cake, and use a rubber spatula to gently smooth it over the surface and sides of the cake. You will likely have a few spoonfuls of glaze leftover, so hold back before adding all of it. Line the perimeter of the top of the cake with walnut halves. Allow the glaze to set a bit, and then gently pull the foil pieces away and discard them. Serve. Let the cutest one at the table have the first piece…

No utensils required 🙂

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