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Zebra Cake

This week I’m continuing my animal cake series with a zebra cake!!

I really have fallen in love with using cake decorating-friendly rice krispies in sculpted or larger shaped cakes like this. They make challenging cake designs feel so much more approachable.

image of cute zebra cake made for a birthday party

Making this Zebra’s Little Face

While I’m always team buttercream, sometimes using a bit of fondant just makes sense.

For example, with this cake we’ve already put so much energy into making the cake layers and buttercream from scratch, a tiny but of fondant never hurt anyone.

I used a little bit of black, pink and white fondant to make this zebra’s little face.

image of a cute fondant face made for a zebra cake

Small circle cutters can help you to get the shape of the eyes just right, and I love the adorable expression they give this cake.

I used a heart shaped cutter to make the ears, and trimmed of the tops! You could also use a triangle or square cutter to make them.

Making this Zebra Cake with Rice Krispie Treats

Like I mentioned above, using a batch of cake decorating-friendly rice krispies makes this challenging cake shape so much more manageable.

image of cake decorating rice krispies being added to a zebra cake to make it's legs and arms

By omitting the butter that is in most rice krispie treats, these rice krispies set quite firmly once they’ve cooled.

This allows you to creatively and easily shape your cake. I used the same technique to make my Patrick Star cake I highly recommend if for larger shaped cake like this.

I made the Zebra’s hind legs and front legs quit thick, to make it look just like an adorable stuffed animal.

Substitutions and Swaps – Zebra Cake Layers

This zebra birthday cake uses quite a few ingredients and I know you might not have all of them on hand. Or if you have food allergies or restrictions, I’ve got you covered.

Below are some swaps and substitutions that can be made in this marble cake recipe.

image of a cake layer that's been trimmed to make a zebra cake
  • All Purpose Flour – This recipe turns out best with AP flour, but you can use a gluten free flour blend or cake flour if that’s all you have on hand. I don’t recommend using straight almond flour though!
  • Granulated Sugar – I do not recommend reducing the amount of sugar or changing the type of sugar, as it will change the texture of the cake layers.
  • Unsalted Butter – If you only have salted butter on hand you can use it in place of the unsalted butter in this recipe. Just be sure to omit the salt that this cake recipe calls for. You can also use vegan butter in its place!
  • Egg whites – You can use 4 whole eggs in place of the egg whites in this recipe if needed. Or if you have an egg allergy you can use flaxseed eggs or an egg replacer.
  • Buttermilk – You can also use full fat yogurt, sour cream, whole milk, or an alternative yogurt or milk (almond, soy, oat) if you’re dairy free.
  • Vegetable Oil – You can use any flavorless oil in this recipe. Canola or even sunflower oil would work great!
  • Vanilla Extract – Other extracts can also be used in place of the vanilla extract. Feel free to use almond, coconut, or even pistachio extract.
  • Gel food coloring – Natural food coloring (either liquid or powder) or liquid food coloring can be used if needed.
  • Cocoa Powder – I used unsweetened baking cocoa in this recipe, but you can use dutch-processed or dark cocoa powder if needed.
image of a cake layer that's been trimmed to make a zebra cake

Substitutions and Swaps – Vanilla & Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

  • Unsalted Butter – If you only have salted butter on hand you can use it in place of the unsalted butter. Just be sure to omit the salt that this frosting recipe calls for. You can also use vegan butter in its place!
  • Heavy Cream – Whole milk or alternative milk (soy, almond, oat) will work fine in this frosting recipe if that’s what you have on hand.
  • Vanilla Extract – Other extracts can also be used in place of the vanilla extract. Feel free to use coconut extracthazelnut extract, or even pistachio extract.
  • Dark Chocolate – To make the zebra’s stripes and hooves we turn a small portion of the buttercream black using melted dark chocolate and food coloring. You can also use milk or semi-sweet chocolate if you prefer.
  • Gel food coloring – Natural food coloring (either liquid or powder) or liquid food coloring can be used if needed.
image of black buttercream frosting stripes being piped onto an adorable baby zebra cake made for a birthday party

Making those Classic Zebra Cake Layers

Making zebra cake layers is totally optional, but it creates a fun surprise when you cut into the cake.

I used regular baking cocoa powder to color these cake layers, but you could also use black cocoa or add in black gel food coloring to make the stripes in the cake layers darker.

image of a cake slice from a zebra cake

Liquid food coloring can work too, but it can throw off the consistency of the cake batter and frosting if you add too much. Sometimes it can also give your frosting a bitter taste!

highly recommend using gel food coloring. Gel food coloring is concentrated so it allows you to use less. A couple squirts will create a beautiful, dark shade of black.

Gel food coloring is also thicker so it won’t change the consistency of the frosting or cake batter.  Americolor and Chef Master are my go-to brands of gel food coloring and I order them on amazon.

Natural food coloring (either liquid or powder) can be used in place of the gel food coloring! The colors won’t be quite the same, but it will still be beautiful.

Tips for Making the Best Zebra Cake:

  • Be sure to properly measure your flour (spoon into the cup measure then level) or use a kitchen scale to measure your dry ingredients.
  • Use gel food coloring to create deep black frosting without throwing off the consistency of the frosting or giving it a bitter taste.
  • Ingredients at room temp mix together better, so be sure you set out any cold ingredients ahead of time.
  • Mix your cake batter just until the ingredients are incorporated. This will ensure your cake layers are tender and soft.
  • Use an acetate sheet to help you get your final coat of frosting super smooth.
  • Chill your cake layers in the freezer for about 20 minutes before assembling the cake. This makes it easier to stack and frost.
  • Make this zebra cake vegan or dairy free if needed! Use your favorite type of dairy free milk to replace the buttermilk and heavy cream, and use vegan butter sticks in place of the butter. For the eggs I recommend using an egg replacer like this.
  • Be patient and give yourself lots of time! Sculpted cakes like this can be challenging. Take your time smoothing the frosting and adding on the details to this cake.
  • If you want to make a standard / non-sculpted zebra layer cake, you can bake 4, 8-inch cake layers and frost them with half batch of the frosting recipe included below.
image of cute zebra cake made with zebra patterned cake layers

Making This Zebra Cake in Advance & Storage Tips:

  • Make your cake layers in advance and freeze them. It breaks the process up and make it more approachable.
  • Make your frosting ahead of time too or save any leftover frosting. It can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a month. Or store it in the freezer for up to 3 months! Be sure to give it a good stir once it thaws to get the consistency smooth again.
  • A frosted cake can last in the fridge for up to a week. The buttercream locks in all the moisture, keeping the cake fresh and delicious.
  • If you cut into the cake and have leftovers, use any remaining frosting to cover the cut section to keep it moist. It can be stored in the fridge like this for up to a week.
image of an adorable baby zebra cake made for a birthday party

Let Me Know What You Think!

If you try this zebra birthday cake recipe, I’d love to hear what think of it! Let me know by leaving a rating below.

If you plan to share on social media, you can tag me @chelsweets! Also use the #chelsweets so that I can see your amazing creations on social media.

Other Recipes You Might Like:

Yield: 24

Zebra Cake

image of cute zebra cake made for a birthday party

This zebra cake is just fun to make as it is eat! It's made with delicious marble cake layers and frosted with homemade buttercream frosting.

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 34 minutes
Additional Time 2 hours
Total Time 2 hours 49 minutes

Ingredients

Vanilla Cake Recipe*

Additional Ingredients: (to be added after the vanilla cake batter is made, to change it into chocolate batter)

  • 1/3 cup unsweetened baking cocoa (33 grams)
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar (50 grams)
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder (2 grams)
  • 1/4 tsp salt (1 gram)
  • 1/4 cup egg whites (60 grams, or 2 egg whites)
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk (45 grams)

Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

  • 3 cups unsalted butter, room temperature (678 grams)
  • 1 Tbsp vanilla extract (12 grams)
  • 1 tsp salt (6 grams)
  • 11 cups powdered sugar (1375 grams)
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream (or whipping cream) (75 grams)
  • 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips, melted and cooled - to be added later (85 grams)
  • 1 Tbsp heavy cream - to be added later (15 grams)
  • black gel food coloring

Rice Krispie Treats - Zebra Legs and Head

  • 3 cups mini marshmallows (150 grams)
  • 4 1/2 cups puffed rice cereal (68 grams)

Zebra Face

Suggested Tools / Equipment

Instructions

Step 1: Make the Marble Cake Layers

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F / 175 C. Grease and line three 5-inch cake pans, and two 4-inch cake pans and set aside.
  2. Begin by making the vanilla cake batter. Mix together the dry ingredients (3 cups flour, 3 cups sugar, 2 1/2 tsp baking powder, and 1 tsp salt) in a stand mixer with a paddle until fully combined.
  3. Mix 1 cup of room-temperature butter into the dry ingredients on a low speed. Continue to mix until no large chunks of butter remain and the mixture looks like moist sand.
  4. Pour in 1 cup of egg whites and mix on low until just incorporated. Mix in 1 1/2 cups of buttermilk on a low speed.
  5. Add in 2 tsp vanilla extract and 1/8 cup oil, and mix at a low speed until fully incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula, then beat on medium-low speed for about 30 seconds.
  6. Pour half of the batter into a separate bowl (roughly 950 grams) and set aside.
  7. In the other bowl, convert the vanilla cake batter into chocolate cake batter. Mix in the additional 1/3 cup baking cocoa, 1/4 sugar, 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1/4 tsp salt, 1/4 cup egg whites and 1/4 cup buttermilk on a low speed until smooth.
  8. Alternate spoonfuls of chocolate and vanilla cake batter into the prepared cake pans, filling them each to a similar height.
  9. Bake for 32-35 minutes (or until a toothpick comes out with a few moist crumbs). Check on the 4-inch cake pans after 25 minutes, as they'll bake up faster.
  10. Once the cake layers are out of the oven, run a small offset spatula around the edges of the pans to help separate the cake layer from the pan.
  11. Allow the layers to cool in the pan for about 15 minutes, then flip them onto a wire rack to finish cooling.
  12. Once the cake layers have finished cooling use a serrated knife to level the tops and trim one of 3 of the 6-inch cake layers to have tapered sides like in the photos above. This will make it easier to give the zebra a curved head and shoulders.
  13. If you're making these cake layers in advance, wrap and freeze them like this. When you're ready to assemble the cake, unwrap the frozen layers and allow them to thaw for about 30 minutes before you plan to frost the cake.

Step 2: Make the Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

  1. While the cake layers bake and cool, make the buttercream frosting.
  2. Beat 3 cups of butter on a medium speed for 30 seconds with a paddle attachment or hand mixer until smooth.
  3. Add in 1 Tbsp of vanilla extract and 1 tsp of salt and mix on a low speed.
  4. Slowly add in 11 cups of powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time. Add 1/3 cup of heavy cream half way through to make it easier to mix.
  5. Once fully mixed and has reached the desired consistency, beat on low until for a couple extra minutes to make the frosting super smooth and to push any extra air out of the frosting.
  6. If the frosting is too thick, add in additional cream (1 Tablespoon at a time). If the frosting is too thin, add in more powdered sugar (quarter of a cup at a time).
  7. Wait to color some of the frosting black until the cake is fully frosted. Cover the buttercream with plastic wrap to prevent crusting, then set aside.

Step 3: Assemble this Zebra Cake

  1. Stack and frost cake layers on a 10-inch greaseproof cake board or cake drum using a dab of frosting to help stick the first cake layer to the board.
  2. Add an even layer of buttercream between each cake layer with a large offset spatula, and stack them in the following order: 6-inch, 6-inch, tapered 6-inch, 4-inch, 4-inch, tapered 6-inch, 6-inch, tapered 6-inch.
  3. Once the cake layers are stacked, insert a wooden dowel or bubble tea straw through them to give the cake stability as you frost it.
  4. Spread a thin coat of frosting around the the cake to fully cover the cake layers. Smooth using a bench scraper and/or acetate sheet, then chill the cake in the fridge (20 minutes) or freezer (10 minutes) until the frosting is firm to the touch.

Step 4: Make the Zebra's Legs and Head with Rice Krispies

  1. While the crumb coat chills, make the cake-decorating friendly rice krispies to create our zebra's limbs and head.
  2. Place 3 cups of mini marshmallows in a heatproof bowl and heat in the microwave for 45-60 seconds at full power until the marshmallows are melted (mine usually take about 1 minute to melt fully).
  3. Pour in 4 1/2 cups of rice krispies or puffed rice cereal and stir until the cereal is fully coated in melted marshmallows.
  4. Grease your hands with cooking spray then shape 2 hind legs, 2 thin front legs and a head by compacting the rice krispies firmly in your hands.
  5. Place the legs against the cake as you make them to make sure they're proportionate, shaped properly, and fit around the cake.

Step 5: Decorate this Zebra Cake

  1. Add a second, thicker layer of white buttercream around the cake then chill the cake again in the fridge (20 minutes) or freezer (10 minutes) until the second coat of frosting firms up.
  2. Place 1/2 cup of buttercream in a small bowl and color grey with a small squirt of black gel food coloring. Place in a small piping bag and pipe two large ovals on the zebra's body and face to make its tummy and snout.
  3. Press the rice krispie treat legs into place. They should still be slightly warm and should stick in place with a bit of pressure. If they're not sticking, use a little extra buttercream to keep them in place.
  4. Cover the rice krispies in a thick layer of white buttercream. Smooth using a small offset spatula and an acetate sheet.
  5. Color the remaining buttercream black by adding 1/2 cup of melted and cooled dark chocolate chips, a Tbsp of heavy cream and a generous squirt of black gel food coloring. Place this frosting a small piping bag fit with a round frosting tip and set aside.
  6. Chill the cake again in the fridge (20 minutes) or freezer (10 minutes) until the second coat of frosting firms up.
  7. Pipe black buttercream stripes all over the cake, and on the zebra's feet to look like hooves. Use the same buttercream to pipe a mane of black butter cream fur down the back of the zebra's head.
  8. Roll out the black, white and pink fondant and use circle cutters to cut out the eyes, ears, nostrils, and cheeks. Place the fondant facial features and ears on the chilled cake with a small dab of buttercream and/or toothpicks.
  9. Let the cake sit out at room temperature for 1-2 hours before serving to make it easier to cut.

Notes

Tips for Making The Best Zebra Cake

  • Try to be patient and give yourself lots of time! Sculpted cakes like this can be challenging. Take your time smoothing the frosting and adding on the details to this cake.
  • Be sure to properly measure your flour (spoon into the cup measure then level) or use a kitchen scale to measure your dry ingredients.
  • Use gel food coloring to create truly black frosting without throwing off the consistency of the frosting or giving it a bitter taste.
  • Ingredients at room temp mix together better, so be sure you set out any cold ingredients ahead of time.
  • Mix your cake batter just until the ingredients are incorporated. This will ensure your cake layers are tender and fluffy.
  • Chill your cake layers in the freezer for about 20 minutes before assembling the cake. This makes it easier to stack and frost.
  • Make this zebra cake vegan or dairy free if needed! Use your favorite type of dairy free milk to replace the buttermilk and heavy cream, and use vegan butter sticks in place of the butter. For the eggs I recommend using an egg replacer like this.
  • Insert a thick bubble tea straw or wooden dowel through the layers once they're stacked to help keep the cake stable as you decorate it.
  • Shape the fondant ears before you start assembling the cake and press toothpicks into them to allow you to easily add them to the cake later.
  • Use an acetate sheet to help you get your final coat of frosting super smooth.
  • If you want to make a standard / non-sculpted zebra layer cake, you can bake 4, 8-inch cake layers and frost them with half batch of the frosting recipe included above.

Making this Cake in Advance

Make your cake layers in advance and freeze them. It breaks the process up and make it more approachable.

Make your frosting ahead of time too or save any leftover frosting! It can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a month or in the freezer for up to 3 months. Be sure to give it a good stir once it thaws to get the consistency nice and smooth again.

A frosted cake can last in the fridge for up to a week, or in the freezer for up to a month. The buttercream locks in all the moisture, keeping the cake fresh and delicious!

If you cut into the cake and have leftovers, use any remaining frosting to cover the cut section to keep it moist and store in the fridge for up to a week.

Nutrition Information

Yield

24

Serving Size

1

Amount Per Serving Calories 439Total Fat 20gSaturated Fat 11gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 8gCholesterol 81mgSodium 272mgCarbohydrates 60gFiber 1gSugar 39gProtein 5g

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