Tuesday, February 8, 2011

How to Make People Think You Are a Cake Genius!

*tiptoes in, sheepishly looks around, clears throat*
I'm back. 
Sorry for the absence. 
Things have been a little, well, nuts. 
The gory details aren't really relevant but let's just say I've been saving asses and my ass got a little saving as well.  It seems things have evened out, at least for the short term so I'm going to keep chugging along here with this little ol' blog.


You may be asking yourself, "Self?  What the h-e-double-hockey-sticks is a zebra cake?"
A:  It is a chocolate and vanilla striped cake of magical powers. 

What's so damn magical about it? 

Well, how about it looks super complicated to make and thusly makes you look like the Albus Dumbledore of the kitchen... but it is no harder than making a cake from a box.  How's that you say?  Read on.

I pulled this recipe because of all the recipes I found, most of them were adapted from it.  Apparently, this Farida lady is the Holy Mistress Of Zebra Cake out there in the intarwebs.  After making the cake, I have to agree.  The recipe I'm sharing is my own modified version of hers and I'll note where my recipe deviates from the original. 

FARIDA'S FAMOUS ZEBRA CAKE (Modified by Christina Boykin)

Preparation time: 10 minutes (It took me 25 minutes but I'm anal retentive.)
Cooking time: 40 minutes
Makes one 9-inch (23 cm) cake


 4 large eggs, at room temperature

(Mine were straight from the fridge and extra-large.  Didn't have time to wait for them to warm to room temperature.)

1 cup (8 oz / 250 g) granulated sugar

1 cup (8 fl oz / 250 ml) milk, at room temperature

(This, like the eggs, was cold too.  Also, I think next time I will use at least 2% or whole milk.  The skim made the batter too thin.)

1 cup (8 fl oz / 250 ml) oil (corn, vegetable or canola is fine)


2 cups (10 oz / 300 g) all-purpose flour
1/3 teaspoon vanilla powder 

(I didn't have vanilla powder so I used the liquid extract.  Other than possibly adding to the thinness of the batter, I don't think the change made much of a difference.)

1 tablespoon (equals 3 teaspoons) baking powder
(if not available, substitute with 1 teaspoon baking soda)

2 tablespoons dark cocoa powder (make sure it is not very bitter) such as Dutch-processed.
A word of caution: Sometimes I use Hershey’s natural unsweetened cocoa, but since it is BITTER it takes away from the sweetness of the cake, so it may not be your best choice if you want a sweeter cake. Also Remember! Dark zebra patterns won’t stand out with light cocoa powder. 

(The cocoa I used was semi-sweet like their Special Dark chocolate bars.  It has Dutch-processed cocoa in it blended with other cocoas.  It was the only one on the shelf that said anything about being Dutch-processed -- whatever that means.  Also, I was worried it wouldn't get dark enough to get the good contrast the stripes needed so I added another ingredient to help with that.  Keep reading to find out what it is.)

 ***Also, DO NOT spill this cocoa powder like I did. It is super fine and needs to be wiped up with a wet paper towel to get it all off the counter/floor/etc.  Super fine chocolate powder + water = chocolate-mud-napalm that adheres to EVERYTHING.***


Extra Ingredient 1 of 3:
Non-stick cooking spray

I used this instead of straight oil to grease my pan before pouring in the batter.

Extra Ingredient 2 of 3: 
Duncan Hines Amazing Glazes in Chocolate (Optional)

I had never tried this before and worried it would taste too sweet or plasticky but it was actually really good!  It is similar to the thick chocolate glaze on Boston Creme Pies.  You have to microwave it 10 seconds at a time, shaking it in between, to make it thin enough to pour.  Otherwise, it just comes out like gloppy brown toothpaste and doesn't look pretty.

Gloppy is too a word.

Extra Ingredient 3 of 3: 
Black Liquid Food Coloring 
(A-HA!  The secret to dark zebra stripes!) 

You can find this either in the baking section or the spices section of your grocery store.  A word of caution:  A little goes a looooong way.  Use too much and your food will taste inky and will stain your teeth, clothes and children.  The secret is to let the cocoa powder do 97% of the darkening of the batter and then add a few drops of this stuff to really give it a POW!

I got so excited to start working on this cake that I forgot to take pictures until I had completely finished the batter striping process.  If you need to get a visual on that you can see it here.

You’ll also need: mixing bowls, electric mixer or wire whisk, 9 inch (23 cm) non-stick round cake pan.

1. In a large mixing bowl, combine eggs and sugar. Using a hand-held electric mixer or wire whisk beat until the mixture is creamy and light in color.
2. Add milk and oil, and continue beating until well blended.

3. In a separate bowl, combine and mix flour, vanilla powder and baking powder. Gradually add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients and beat just until the batter is smooth and the dry ingredients are thoroughly incorporated.  DO NOT OVERBEAT to prevent air pockets from forming in the batter. If the mixture is too thin, add a little more flour.  (I think I overbeat it and that contributed to the thinness.)

4. Divide the mixture into 2 equal portions.  Use a large liquid measuring bowl to be sure the portions are equal.  Keep one portion plain. Add cocoa powder and a drop or three of black food coloring into another and mix until blended.  Do not overmix.

Empty bowl of vanilla batter.  It was too thin, even after adding a little more flour.  I think the room temperature milk and eggs would have made a difference and I will be sure to try it that way next time I make this.

The not-so-equal portion of chocolate batter left over after completing the striping process. Again, it was too thin.  Also, I used too much food coloring in my desire to get very black stripes.  I didn't taste the batter until the end and it had a slightly unpleasant aftertaste.  Fortunately, it tasted fine after baking.
But doesn't it LOOK like divine chocolatey goodness? 

5. Preheat the oven to 350F (180C).

This is what an oven dial looks like.  It's round with temperature numbers on it and you can turn it.


I don't know why I took a picture of my oven dial.  I think I was just gleefully frolicking in my tiny apartment kitchen making cake and snapping pictures.  I'll give you a moment to take that visual in.

6. Lightly grease the pan with oil. If you don’t have non-stick baking pan, grease whatever pan you have then line it with parchment paper (baking paper).
(I used canola oil in the recipe so I figured the canola non-stick spray would be just as good to grease the pan with.  I was worried the liquid oil would make the cake too oily. But I think that was the point because my end result was a bit dry. I will be greasing the pan with liquid oil next time around.) 

(I should just stop thinking I know everything and follow the damn directions, huh?)

7. The most important part is assembling the cake batter in a baking pan. This is what you do (pictures here). Scoop three  tablespoons of plain batter (you can also use a ladle that would hold three tablespoons) into the middle of the baking pan. Then scoop three tablespoons of cocoa batter and pour it in the center on top of the plain batter.

IMPORTANT! Do not stop and wait until the previous batter spreads - KEEP GOING!
Do not spread the batter or tilt the pan to distribute the mixture.
It will spread by itself and fill the pan gradually.
Continue alternating the batters until you finish them.
This is how the cake will look before it goes in the oven.
The rare Chefbird's-eye view.

8. Bake in the oven for about 40 minutes. Do not open the oven door at least the first 20 minutes or the cake will shrink and will not rise.

Look at the glory of the risen!

To check if the cake is ready, insert a toothpick into the center. It should come out clean when ready. Remove from the oven.


Immediately run a small thin knife around the inside of the pan to loosen the cake, then invert the cake onto a cooking rack. Turn the cake back over and let cool. You can sprinkle the top of the cake with some powdered (confectioner’s) sugar or leave it plain.

You can drizzle amazing chocolate glaze all over it.
Candles not necessary.  But FIRE always good.

And now, for THE BIG REVEAL!
Wah, wah, waaaaahhhh....
It's kinda meh.

My batter was too thin and made the layers blend during the first part of the striping process.  Or maybe the chocolate batter was too heavy because of the cocoa in it and it sunk to the bottom.  Either way, I got the stripes on the top half and had I ACTUALLY FOLLOWED THE DAMN DIRECTIONS this maybe would have turned out perfectly.

I made this cake for my boss for his office birthday party.  Even though it didn't turn out exactly perfect, everyone got the idea and were pretty impressed by my culinary wizardry.  I even got called a kiss-ass because I "slaved away on a cake for my boss." 

Heh heh.

Even though this is a good recipe, I'm still a single working mother with zero time.  I think the next Zebra Cake I make will be with a box of vanilla cake mix and a box of chocolate cake mix (with only a few DROPS of black food coloring for that contrast that gives me zings of artistic excitement)!

Let me know if you try this recipe and how it turned out for you.  I would love to see pictures and hear about your experience -- whether you followed the directions or not!  Bon Appetit!
P.S.  Formatting this blog post SUCKED.  My OCD is making me itchy with all the spacing, alignment, font size, hyperlink and font color issues.  But I've been working on it for six hours and this is the best it's going to get.  Note to self:  LEARN HTML!