Allow me to introduce you to Zebra Cake! If you’ve never heard of it before, homemade vanilla and chocolate cake batters are layered in pans to create a stunning stripe effect, which makes the inside of the cake resemble zebra stripes. I fill and frost it with a silky smooth chocolate frosting that will knock your socks off. I’m going to teach you how to make it (it’s not hard at all!) and share tips for using different colors or flavors – there are so many possibilities! You’re going to LOVE this recipe!
When you hear “zebra cake” do you think of this striped chocolate-and-vanilla cake, or does your mind immediately go to the nostalgic Little Debbie zebra cakes (hello, freshman and sophomore years of high school!)?
Both are delicious, but today I am going to show you how to make this absolutely gorgeous dual-flavored two-layer cake that is perfect for any birthday or celebration (even if you’re celebrating surviving a random Tuesday!).
What is zebra cake?
A zebra cake is a mixture of yellow and chocolate cake that, instead of being marbled, is poured into the pan in such a way so as to create stripes as you would see on a zebra.
The zebra stripe effect is achieved by dropping alternating spoonfuls of batter into the pan. The weight of each additional dollop of batter forces the ones below it to spread out, creating rings of alternating color.
I start with my favorite homemade yellow cake recipe, portion out about half, and add cocoa powder and just a little milk to create the chocolate batter. It’s so much easier than you might think and you’ll wow everyone once you cut into this cake!
How to use a box cake mix
If you prefer to use a box mix for your cake batter, you’ll still use the same method as below for separating the cake batter and layering it into the pan.
Because not all cake mixes are the exact same size, you should prepare the cake mix as instructed on the box, then measure the amount of batter and transfer half of it to a separate bowl. Add the cocoa powder and milk to one of the bowls and then proceed with the recipe as directed, following the baking times indicated on the box you are using.
How to make different colors and flavors
I love this recipe because it’s super versatile and can be adapted in a ton of different ways!
If you want to do different colors and not necessarily chocolate, simply omit the cocoa powder and milk step, and instead use food coloring to tint the cake your desired color(s). I always recommend using gel frosting versus liquid food coloring so that it doesn’t impart too much liquid into the recipe. I use Americolor gel food coloring for cake batters, frosting, everything!
You can play around with different flavors, as well. Simply add different flavored extracts to one batter or the other; the possibilities when it comes to flavors and colors are really limitless.
The best frostings to use
I always opt for a chocolate frosting to pair with the zebra cake; the one I’ve included in the recipe below is the same one I use to fill and frost the original yellow cake recipe. It’s so wonderfully silky smooth and an absolute dream!
However, if you want an alternative, I recommend my classic chocolate buttercream frosting – a simple American-style buttercream that’s more buttery than sugary and only requires butter, vanilla, powdered sugar, and melted chocolate.
Storage tips and freezing instructions
Zebra cake stores like any other layer cake; keep it covered at room temperature for up to 3 days.
If you want to freeze it, wrap individual slices in plastic wrap, then place in a freezer-safe zip-top bag for up to 3 months. Thaw at room temperature. You can also freeze the cake layers before frosting; wrap them in plastic wrap, then aluminum foil, and place in a zip-top bag for up to 3 months. Thaw at room temperature before filling and frosting.
More beautiful layer cakes:
- Hummingbird Cake
- German Chocolate Cake
- The Best Chocolate Cake Recipe
- Carrot Cake
- Traditional Devil’s Food Cake
If you make this recipe and love it, I would so appreciate it if you would take a moment to leave a rating below. Thank you so much! ❤️️
Zebra Cake Recipe
For the Cake:
- 2¼ cup (4) all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons (200 g) baking powder
- 1 teaspoon (244 ml) baking soda
- 1 teaspoon (218 ml) salt
- ½ cup (1 tsp) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1½ cups (0.13 tsp) granulated sugar
- 3 (250 g) eggs, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon (1 tbsp) vanilla extract
- 1¼ cups (0.25 tsp) buttermilk, at room temperature
- 3 tablespoons (2.5 tbsp) unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 tablespoon milk
For the Frosting
- 20 tablespoons unsalted butter, at cool room temperature
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- ¾ cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
- Pinch salt
- ¾ cup light corn syrup
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 8 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted and cooled slightly
- Make the Cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two 8-inch round cake pans; set aside.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.
- Using an electric mixer, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating for 1 minute between each addition. Beat in vanilla extract.
- Add the dry ingredients all at once and beat on low speed until just combined.
- Add the buttermilk and beat on low for 1 minute, then increase the speed to medium and beat for 3 additional minutes.
- Make the Chocolate Batter: Transfer 2 cups of the batter to a separate medium bowl. Gently whisk in the cocoa powder and milk until completely incorporated.
- Drop a large spoonful (I use a medium cookie scoop for this!) of one batter in the center of each pan. Top with a spoonful of the other batter. Alternate spoonfuls on top of each other until you’ve used all of the cake batter. Give each pan a gentle shake to level out the batter.
- Bake for 28 to 32 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out with a few moist crumbs attached. Remove from the oven and cool for 10 minutes in the pans, then turn out onto wire racks and cool completely before frosting.
- Make the Frosting: In a food processor, process the butter, powdered sugar, cocoa powdered, and salt until smooth, about 30 seconds, stopping once to scrape the sides of the bowl. Add the corn syrup and vanilla and process until just combined, 5 to 10 seconds. Scrape the sides of bowl, then add the melted chocolate and pulse until smooth and creamy, 10 to 15 seconds.
- Assemble the Cake: Place one of the cake layers on a serving platter and spread 1 cup of the frosting evenly over the surface. Place the second cake layer on top. Use the remaining frosting to frost the top and sides of the cake. The cake can be kept at room temperature for up to 1 day before serving. Once cut, leftovers should be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 4 days.
Did you make this recipe?
Leave a review below, then snap a picture and tag @thebrowneyedbaker on Instagram so I can see it!
[Photography by Dee of One Sarcastic Baker]
Can you substitute maple syrup for the corn syrup?
I baked this Zebra cake 4 the 1st. time.
When I came across it… I was saw that beside the Buttermilk, there was also Buttermilk in it.
Figuring it would be super moist! I also look @ the pictures, to C texture. & I liked what I saw!
Sooo I went for it… & was very disappointed 😞, as it was dry. (Not sure Y, b/c I checked with a toothpick till it was just done…
I will try 1 more time…
I made a (vanilla) Depression Era cake but used this frosting recipe. I cut the butter to 17 T as I just couldn’t bring myself to use that much butter! It was silky, shiny and smooth and more than enough to frost a 2 layer cake. Very delicious but we all agreed I should probably cut the butter a bit more to get a frosting that is a little less greasy and will have less of a buttery taste. A personal preference for a family that can have some difficulties digesting butter. I loved the food processor method to bring it together – so simple!
Zebra cake is easy to make and so moist and delicious. I bake a lot and this has been one of my better cakes. Can’t wait to bake again with a different icing.
Wish you would make a video of this recipe so I could see you putting the cake batter in the pan. Not sure I really understand it.
My frosting looks nothing like yours. No shine, not very spreadable and terribly sweet
Oops! I don’t think the recipe converter is working to switch to metric.
How did you make those swirls of frosting? It looks beautiful. Do you have any posts or videos that would help me improve my frosting technique? Not my forte so far! Thank you so much!
How super interesting this technique. I’ve never seen this before. So neat. Look forward to reading about other readers who have done this technique and even some other flavor combo/options. Dont get me wrong, chocolate is the bomb in cake but it’s so fun to read about all of the little twists readers do along the way.
Would really like to see your recipe in weights, so much more accurate. Also 20 tablespoons??? Why not 2.5 cubes butter?
We don’t even know what a cube is in the usa
Can you clarify how much milk you add for the chocolate batter ? I only see buttermilk in ingredient list and that is added in final step of making the white batter. Thank you.
I am also puzzled about the buttermilk. Should the.milk be divided in half?
How much milk is added with the cocoa powder?
I made this cake with a friend of mine, she was very impressed:) I was a big hit-thank you!
Zebra cake is so popular right now and this looks fantastic!
Wow, your cake looks amazing! I need to give this a try sometime.
You and my husband would get along fantastically with your “cake should have frosting” mentality.
wow, what a neat method! the stripes really turned out great
Wow! This is so cool! Thanks for showing how to do it :) I’ll be trying this soon.