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My Five-Layer Zebra Cake Recipe

Jeff Linamen

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My FIve-Layer Zebra Cake garnished with dark, white and milk chocolate chips.

My FIve-Layer Zebra Cake garnished with dark, white and milk chocolate chips.

I am, by no means, a professional baker but I do like to cook and experiment with recipes whenever I get a chance. I made two Red Velvet cakes last week so for my birthday I thought I’d try something different.

If you’re looking for a ‘healthy‘ cake recipe– this is NOT the one. Even though we live a primarily, low carb lifestyle, we do allow cheating around holidays and special occasions. This cake is NOT sugar-free, fat-free, gluten free or low carb. This is a fully-leaded, rich, moist, dense cake loaded with flavor and about a million calories.
  • There are five alternating layers of chocolate and white cake, sandwiched between alternating layers of chocolate and buttercream frosting.
  • I found the original buttercream recipe too small.  So in addition to the changes I made, I doubled the ingredients to allow for generous layers of buttercream and a little extra if you decide you might want to decorate with it. (maybe swirl it in with the chocolate.
  • This cake only takes three hours from start to finish, including cooling and frosting time. The finished product is a tall cake, comprised of five full-sized layers.
White Cake Ingredients
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • ½ cup vegetable shortening
  • 3 cups granulated sugar
  • 5 eggs, room temperature
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk, room temperature
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Chocolate Cake Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup cocoa
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon espresso powder or (one Starbuck Via packet)
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup hot coffee or (1 cup boiling water)
 Buttercream Frosting Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsalted butter (2 stick), softened
  • 5 cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted
  • 5-8 tablespoons heavy whipping cream  (you can substitute half-and-half or milk)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Chocolate Frosting Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter (3 sticks), softened
  • 1 cup cocoa
  • 5 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon espresso powder or (1/2 Starbuck Via packet)


  • 1/4 cup each of dark, white and milk chocolate chips (add more or less as desired)
White Cake Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350º F. Prepare three 9-inch round cake pans coated well with shortening (or butter) and flour them,  removing all excess flour. (Do not coat with nonstick baking spray.)
  2. Cream together the butter and shortening with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Slowly add sugar about a cup at a time, making sure to fully incorporate each cup before adding the next. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well before adding another.
  3. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Slowly add it to the butter and shortening, alternating with the buttermilk, until completely combined Next, add the vanilla extract and mix the batter on high until combined. Scrape the bowl as you go, making sure everything is mixed well.
  4. Batter will be extremely thick (stiff). Evenly distribute cake batter between the three cake pans and place pans into oven. Bake for approximately 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out dry. Remove from the oven and let cool briefly in cake pans, then cool completely on a baking rack.
Chocolate Cake Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350º F. Prepare two 9-inch cake pans by greasing and flouring. Do not coat with nonstick baking spray.
  2. Add flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, salt and espresso powder to a large bowl for mixing. Mix well to combine. (I could not find espresso powder but found a Starbucks Via packet worked perfectly in its place.)
  3. Add milk, vegetable oil, eggs, and vanilla to flour mixture and mix well until well combined. On low speed, carefully add the hot coffee to the batter. Mix on high speed briefly to make the batter fluffy.
  4. Distribute cake batter evenly between the two cake pans. Bake for approximately 35 minutes, or until a toothpick  inserted in the center comes out dry.
  5. Remove and allow to cool for 5 to 10 minutes, then remove from the pan and cool on a bakers rack.

 Buttercream Frosting Instructions

  1. Place softened butter into the bowl and using a mixer, cream the butter until it is smooth and fluffy.
  2. Add confectioner’s sugar, small amounts at a time and periodically mix on high to keep it light.
  3. Add vanilla and salt and mix well.
  4. Add heavy whipping cream  until the frosting is smooth, fluffy and workable. If you like firm frosting, add more confectioner’s sugar. Just remember if it is too firm it will be more difficult to apply to the cake. For a soft cream frosting, add more heavy whipping cream.

 Chocolate Frosting Instructions

  1. Pour cocoa in a large bowl for mixing.
  2. Cream together butter and cocoa powder until blended. Scrape well throughout the process as the cocoa will tend to stick to the bowl.
  3. Alternate adding sugar and heavy whipping cream to the cocoa mixture in small amounts. Periodically, turn mixer on high speed briefly to keep frosting light. Repeat until all the sugar and cream have been blended.
  4. Last, add the vanilla extract and espresso powder and mix well.
  5. If frosting seems too dry, add more heavy whipping cream, a little at a time until it reaches a smooth consistency. If it appears too moist, add more confectioner’s sugar, a little at a time until it’s smooth and creamy.

Assembling the Cake

  1. Place the first layer of white cake on you cake platter and then frost the top with a generous amount of buttercream frosting.
  2. The second layer should be chocolate, topping with chocolate frosting.
  3. Continue alternating white- chocolate- white with a layer of frosting between each until all five layers are assembled.
  4. Frost the entire cake with the remaining chocolate frosting and you can blend in the remaining buttercream, or use it for more precise decorating.
  5. Use the chocolate chips for decoration by sprinkling them on top of the finished cake and carefully pressing them individually into the sides of the cake as desired.

Now cut yourself a big hunk of cake and enjoy!



I hope you enjoy this tasty treat! You can also make just the chocolate cake or the white cake with your choice of frosting.

  • The coffee and espresso powder are barely noticeable and add a richness, not really a coffee flavor to the chocolate cake and frosting.

I promise the next recipe I share will be especially for those health-conscious people out there looking for delicious alternatives to mundane cooking. I’d love to hear to comments!

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