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zebra torte

Recipe: zebra torte

It’s a battle for time, energy, and daylight hours. I haven’t endeavored on many of the more involved baking projects since I’ve been well enough to ski. After my initial ski whore phase where I was willing to tele any thin veneer barely covering grass and rocks, I have now reached the picky phase – only if there are freshies. We had no such freshies yesterday and so you get the recipe for Zebra Torte.

slice layers from the vanilla chiffon cake

I made this once before in my pastry skills course last spring. Problem with that course was that we crammed as much as we could into each 5.5 hour class and wound up divvying duties between partners which meant I didn’t get my hands on each step of the torte.

folding in the dry ingredients for the chocolate roulade

Being the control freak that I am, I figured it was high time to go through the steps myself. I have a love-hate relationship with these multi-stage desserts. I like the complexity, but they don’t lend themselves to a carefree afternoon project. They require you to commit from the start and see it through to the end – NO QUITTERS.

spread whipped cream over the roulade

In essence, the recipe calls for a vanilla chiffon round cake, a chocolate roulade sheet cake, simple syrup, and two batches of whipped cream. Sounds easy enough. The vanilla chiffon needs to yield two 1/2-inch layers (I use the dome top for other things – stay tuned).

measure out 1.5 inch wide strips on the frosted roulade

The base of the cake is one layer of vanilla chiffon cake, brushed in vanilla simple syrup. What comes next is the Swear Like a Sailor step. I suppose I underbaked my roulade because of my elevation. It’s amazing what two minutes’ difference can make. After brushing the roulade with vanilla simple syrup and spreading one batch of whipped cream over it (I used Amaretto instead of rum to flavor my whipped cream), I cut it into 1.5 inch strips with a sharp knife. Here’s where it gets messy. Starting with one strip, roll the strip up like a ho-ho. The base of the cake stuck like nobody’s business to the parchment, so it required some encouragement from a spatula. Rolling the first strip was simple.

rollin’ rollin’ rollin’, keep em doggies rollin’

Place the end of the strip you just rolled flush with the next strip and continue rolling to make an even bigger, more unwieldy, and fabulously messy ho-ho. Do this with the whole damn roulade. I know if the roulade has greater structural integrity, it doesn’t come out looking like such an abomination. Of course, you don’t want to bake it too dry because it will crack. In anycase, it’s fairly forgiving as long as you concentrate on maintaining the spiral. After the second one, I have to place the roll on its side and wrap the strips.

set the giant ho-ho on the base layer, as centered as possible

Instead of trying to manhandle the ho-ho and place it on the vanilla cake base, I set the base on the spiral (which was on a plate) and flipped the whole enchilada over. Worked like a charm. Then the second vanilla chiffon layer is soaked in syrup and set atop the ho-ho. Everything should fit snuggly into a 9-inch cake ring, which I didn’t have, so I used my 9-inch springform ring.

get in there and stay in there

To frost, whip up the second batch of whipping cream and be sure to apply a crumb coat to the sides of the torte lest ye want random chocolate crumbs swimming about the frosting.

crumb coating fills in those unsightly gaps too

Frost the rest of the cake with the whipped cream and decorate as desired. You can pipe whipped cream flourishes, make chocolate decorations, adorn with fruit – your choice. I fancied me some raspberries.

who would guess what lies beneath


It wasn’t quite the zebra I was expecting, more like a drunken wildabeast. I’ll nail that down next time, but the texture and taste was quite to my liking. Light and moist. You’d never guess the calories you were scarfing down… I wouldn’t mind inserting several horizontal layers of the roulade and whipped cream in place of the verticals, but then it wouldn’t be a zebra anymore, eh?

Zebra Torte
[print recipe]
adapted from CSR Pastry Skills Course

1 9-inch round vanilla chiffon cake
8 oz. simple syrup flavored with 2.5 tsps vanilla
1 chocolate roulade sheet (11.5×17-inches)
24 oz. heavy whipping cream
3/4 oz. confectioners sugar
3 oz. brandy, rum, etc. (I used Amaretto)
fruit or chocolate for decoration

vanilla chiffon cake
makes 2 11×17-inch sheets or 2 9×3-inch rounds (you only need 1 round)
this recipe originally intended for baking at 5300 ft.

14.5 oz. cake flour
8.75 oz. confectioners sugar
6.75 oz. whole milk
6 oz. canola oil
3.25 oz. eggs
0.5 oz. baking powder (omitted at 8500 ft.)
13 oz. egg whites
9.5 oz. granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Oven 375°F. Prep pan by buttering bottom and sides. Place parchment in pan and butter the parchment. Sift dry ingredients (except granulated sugar) into a large bowl. Mix all ingredients (except the 13 ounces of egg whites and granulated sugar) in the large bowl until combined. Whip whites and granulated sugar to medium peaks. Fold into batter gently. Bake until set, about 20-25 minutes. Remove from oven and remove from pan. Let cool completely on a rack.

simple syrup

4 oz. sugar
4 oz. water

Heat water and sugar in a pot until sugar is dissolved. Bring to boil and turn off heat. Let cool. [Add the vanilla to the cooled syrup.]

chocolate roulade
makes one half-sheet pan (11.5×17-inches)

1/4 cup sifted cake flour
1/4 cup sifted cocoa powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder (omitted at 8500 ft.)
6 large eggs, separated, room temperature
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
6 tbsps granulated sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 375°F. Line half sheet pan with parchment and spray with non-stick spray or brush with butter. Sift dry ingredients (except the sugar and cream of tartar) together. Set aside. Whip together the egg yolks, 1/2 of the sugar, the salt and the vanilla extract on high speed for 5 minutes or until it ribbons. The color should be a pale yellow and the volume should triple. Whip the egg whites and cream of tartar in a clean bowl with a clean whip attachment to just soft peaks. Slowly add the rest of the sugar while whipping the egg whites on a higher speed. Whip to medium peaks. Sacrifice one-third of the egg whites into the egg yolks. Once that is mixed in, add the rest of the whites and gently fold them in. Sift the dry ingredients again over the eggs and gently fold them in. Quickly, but gently spread the batter in the prepared pan. Bake until cake springs back when lightly pressed, about 6-10 minutes. Remove from the oven and cover with parchment. Invert the cake onto a cool half sheet pan. Cool completely. Remove parchment paper.

To make Zebra Torte: Place a 9-inch cake circle on a half-sheet pan and place a 9-inch ring mold on top of the cake circle. Slice the vanilla chiffon into two even layers no more than 1/2-inch thick. Place one layer on the cake circle and brush with vanilla syrup. Moisten the chocolate roulade with vanilla syrup. Combine 12 ounces of the heavy cream with the confectioners sugar and 2 ounces of booze. Whip to medium peaks. Spread the whipped cream over the moistened roulade and cut into strips 1.5 inches wide. Begin rolling one strip, cream side in, into a spiral. Join the end of another strip to the end of the spiral and continue rolling the spiral. Repeat with remaining strips to create a spiral about 9 inches in diameter. Carefully place the spiral into the cake ring on top of the vanilla chiffon base. Moisten the remaining vanilla chiffon layer with vanilla syrup and place it on top of the spiral. Wrap the cake in the ring in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 2 hours until the whipped cream layers have set. Remove the plastic wrap and gently lift away the cake ring. Combine the remaining 12 ounces of heavy cream and 1 oz of booze and whip to medium firm peaks. Crumb coat the sides and frost the entire cake. Decorate as desired.

49 nibbles at “zebra torte”

  1. manggy says:

    Hi Jen, I have to say the picture of the whipping cream is worth the price of admission. I’ve never seen cream behave that way. We only have crappy UHT 24% cream pumped full of stabilizers here (okay, we have the 35% stuff too, but it’s imported and expensive). I don’t know what a ho-ho is, though…
    The Zebra Torte is something I keep reading but I’ve realized only now that this is the first time I’ve seen it. It looks like a wow-the-crowd kind of project, really beautiful. I wonder what we can do to make the chocolate roulade really black. Like maybe Valrhona cocoa (which is Dutch-processed), but I don’t know how it will affect the rising of the cake. Black gel coloring (ugh)? Soaking it with deep dark chocolate syrup? (The color would leach into the whipped cream though.)

  2. peabody says:

    It’s gorgeous. I am with you though. I love the complexity of multi-stage desserts but time usually eludes me to make them very often.
    I forgot what an impact this dessert makes.
    Glad you are getting lots of skiing in though!

  3. Ashley says:

    Wow that looks really great! This cake does seem like quite the challenge, maybe something I’ll want to take on one day (and regret while I’m doing it but hopefully not once it’s all done!) Love how you tell the story about the process of making it.

  4. Francesco says:

    Gorgeous! I wish I had time to try …. but, as much as I hate to admit, baking is not my strong point!
    Still, if I have time one of these week-ends I shall give it a try.

  5. Gretchen Noelle says:

    Although there is some complexity, it turned out very nice. I would like to try this sometime.

  6. MariannaF says:

    ha! this is amazing! i was both amused and impressed when reading/seeing the steps…bc the idea is really quite original and unique!! btw, i check your blog quite often and absolutely love it!

  7. Shawnda says:

    Now *that* is impressive!

  8. Graeme says:

    This is great. I’m always disappointed by Desserts that take their names from animals, but then don’t deliver. I’ve been looking forward to this since you mentioned it in a recent post; And this animal reference didn’t let me down.

    Could you substitue actual Zebra if you didn’t want to make the Roulade? :)

  9. Cindy says:

    I don’t know if I’ll ever get a chance to make this cake at home,
    I’m afraid that I gonna mess it up!
    But it looks so good,
    Arghhh I need to sharpen my baking skills here!

  10. fanny says:

    Jen this is simply gorgeous. Your pictures look great, so does the cake. Yum…

    Love xxx
    – fanny

  11. Bridget says:

    Awesome! I saw that from your pastry course posts, and I was wondering how it was made.

  12. Mansi says:

    This is brilliant!!! I loved your recipe, and the measuring scale:) simply fabulous! I am dying to try a roll cake, so this might be just the thing!:D

  13. brilynn says:

    This is such a clever cake! Very fun.

  14. megan says:

    What a fun cake! I never heard of a zebra cake but this is bookmarked for some afternoon. You made it look so easy!!!

  15. Hannah says:

    Wow, what an incredible cake…! This is truly a work of art, I can’t imagine that it could be made even better.

  16. Kevin says:

    This sounds like a nice baking challenge. It looks great! The whipped cream looks nice and thick.

  17. Christine says:

    Jen – you have a great deal of talent, spatience and guts to make such elaborate desserts. It amazes me every time! While I’m no commitment-phobe, I’m intimidated by the steps and careful measuring. I would be the one man-handling the cake, and then some.

  18. jenyu says:

    Mark – oh, I think I’d be very sad without access to a good and fatty whipping cream. A ho-ho is also known as a swiss-roll here in the states. It’s just chocolate cake layered with fake sugary cream filling that is rolled up like a carpet and then dipped in a chocolate glaze that probably wouldn’t taste like chocolate glaze if you closed your eyes when you ate it (hint: it tastes like sweet paraffin!). I could try dutch process cocoa (I have some), but this cake will not orbit this way again for a while ;) It’s lighter than the chocolate roulade we made in class.

    Peabody – yup, more skiing this morning :)

    Ashley – thanks. I hope you do give it a go. May the force be with you :)

    Francesco – good on ya!

    Gretchen – I think it would have been less complex if I had baked the roulade a little firmer.

    Marianna – thanks so much, I’m really glad you enjoy the blog.

    Shawnda – it would have been even more impressive if I had gotten the spiral right ;)

    Graeme – you cheeky thing, that sounds narsty ;) I too was intrigued by the name of the recipe (which is why my partner and I chose this torte in class). Reading the instructions without pictures, we were utterly baffled with the rolling of the roulade. I’m really glad we made it though – it’s a fun one.

    Cindy – hon, we’re all sharpening our skills here – so don’t you fret. I’m sure you’d do a fab job on it!

    Fanny – awww, thanks! You are always the sweetest :)

    Bridget – I left swearing out of the recipe. It requires 4 hours of non-stop swearing ;)

    Mansi – go for it!! I hope you’ll post how it turns out!

    Brilynn – yup, it’s definitely fun when 1) it works and 2) you’re done making it!

    Megan – ha ha ha! Thanks :) That’s a huge compliment!

    Hannah – oh, I know for a fact it can be made better – hee hee.

    Kevin – yeah, that would have been a good one for the DBers, no?

    Christine – you are too kind. I think I have a lot of stubbornness and a really good dishwasher (Jeremy) to get me through these random baking adventures. In a parallel universe, the anti-Jen grabs the roulade spiral and just eats it outright ;)

  19. Michelle says:

    I am SERIOUSLY impressed, Jen! It’s gorgeous!

  20. jenyu says:

    Michelle – awww, don’t be seriously impressed ;) It doesn’t require talent so much as patience (not sure which one I have more of… almost certainly not patience!)

  21. Susan says:

    You are too modest. If not for patience, how else does one handle all the “details” of being a perfectionist all the while making it look easy?! This one took a lot of love too :)

  22. ashley says:

    impressive! it looks great!

  23. jenyu says:

    Susan – ha ha! far from perfectionist, my dear – but you DO flatter me :) xxoo

    Ashley – thank you!

  24. Lynn says:

    Gorgeous! I am amazed at how lovely your cake is.

  25. jenyu says:

    Lynn – you are too sweet :)

  26. Erica says:

    Wow this looks amazing! I am about to try it. Fast probably stupid question… were you using an ounce measuring cup or did you convert into cups / tablespoons?

  27. jenyu says:

    Erica – if the recipe says ounces, then i weighed it with a kitchen scale.

  28. Erica says:

    I made this last night and its amazing. Thanks for the awesome recipe!

  29. Culinary Concoctions by Peabody » A little ray of sunshine…. says:

    […] bloggers and all round spectacular person, Jen of Use Real Butter made a gorgeous and involved Zebra Torte that she had made at a pastry skills course she took. Now, I am not one usually to run out and do […]

  30. kellypea says:

    Found you at Peabody’s and it was worth the trip. It’s beautiful! I love desserts that are involved and get all worked up over looking forward to making them and then don’t always plan my time well. I’d love to give this a try. The “giant ho-ho” would most likely disappear before I could finish the cake, though!

  31. victoriag says:

    This is an amazing cake! I was “sent” to your wonderful blog by Peabody and I love it. I have added you to my daily blog reads because I love your photos, set up and food! Good job. I am new to blogging and aspire to have something as wonderful as this! Thanks for sharing!

  32. Mary says:

    This looks so delicious and yummy! I am just going to have to make it!

  33. jenyu says:

    Erica – terrific! I hope it was a resounded success!

    Kellypea – there were times I wanted to eat the ho-ho just to punish it for being so ornery ;)

    Victoriag – Thanks! Isn’t Peabody The Best?!

    Mary – good for you! I hope it works out for you.

  34. katy says:

    this looks amazing. please let this be a daring baker challenge sometime soon!!!!

  35. jenyu says:

    Katy – that’s up to the DB host each month! :)

  36. Katie B. says:

    I had never heard of a zebra cake before – but now I see it to be the most cleverly deliciously awesome looking cake I’ve seen in ages! I love your step-by-step photos!!!

  37. jenyu says:

    Katie – thanks! I hope you’ll give it a try!

  38. Pat C says:

    This might interest you. I was doing a little research of my own on TasteSpotting’s prolific Ginger one…

  39. jenyu says:

    Pat – ha, that’s funny. At least she posted something that SHE made instead of someone else’s this time ;)

  40. Pat C says:

    Doesn’t look as good as yours :) More like a zebra crossing than a zebra…

  41. Meika says:

    This is very great recipe and all,saw it on the net while browsing for a recipe to get my practical done.I LOVE IT!!

  42. jenyu says:

    Meika – thanks!

  43. Kristi says:

    First, let me say that I love your blog – as a native Coloradoan exiled to Houston, Tx, it does my soul good to see your photos of the beautiful mountains, seasons, and recreation! Also, my husband is half Chinese and I appreciate that you have so many Asian recipes written out. I have never been able to duplicate my mother-in-law’s “a little of this, a little of that” kind of recipe!
    I’d been waiting for an excuse to make your zebra torte and found one in a Valentine party last Friday. It was fun to make and such a hit with everyone there. Well worth the effort, both for taste and presentation! Thank you for all your great work!

  44. jenyu says:

    Kristi – Awesome, so glad you attempted it and met with success. The zebra torte is a really cool cake, no? Thanks for reading and commenting :)

  45. Angie says:

    Jen- I think your website is so awesome! I’m currently making my husband this zebra torte for his birthday tomorrow. I’ve been checking back to make sure I’ve done everything correctly. So far, your directions have been spot on. Thanks for the incredibly unique idea. You rule.

  46. jenyu says:

    Angie – what a lucky guy :) I can’t take credit for this, I learned it in my pastry class, but it is a TOTALLY cool cake, isn’t it? Happy bday to your hubs.

  47. nuri says:

    you are SO talented. I’ve been following your blog intermittently for a couple of years now. I’ve started some of your recipes, with slight variations of course as I like to put my own spin on things. You are such an inspiration and I love visiting your blog.

    Boulder resident.

  48. Charlie says:

    Hello Jen: This is my first time on your website and I like what I see.

    You have so many recipes I would like to try.

    However when I try to right click so I can open them in different tabs, it doesn’t work.

    Is this my computer, or aren’t you set up for it?

    I will be subscribing for email and will be dropping in again.

  49. jenyu says:

    Charlie – hi there! Yes, I have right-click menu disabled on this site. However, if you’d like to copy a recipe you can: highlight the text you want to copy, hit CTRL-C or Apple-C to copy the content, then paste it into your favorite text editor or word processor. If you want to open in different tabs, you can hit CTRL-C or Apple-C and click on the link with a left mouse click. That should work! Welcome to use real butter :)

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