I Tried the Homemade Zebra Cakes from TikTok and They Transported Me Right to My Childhood
There was a time in my life that I ate my weight in Little Debbie cakes. I stuffed my face with Oatmeal Creme Pies, Cosmic Brownies, Swiss Rolls, and more while I played Duck Hunt on my NES. Zebra Cakes, however, were always a favorite, with their layers of buttery cake and fluffy cream filling all coated in white chocolate and the signature zig-zag on top. Who could resist?
When I saw that @designeatrepeat posted homemade Zebra Cakes on her TikTok, it transported me back to my Little Debbie days. I clicked through her link in bio and pulled up the recipe. The cute little cakes looked too nostalgic and too tasty not to try. Here’s what happened when I made homemade Zebra Cakes.
How to Make Homemade Zebra Cakes
Start by making the cake. Melissa of Design Eat Repeat doctors up a yellow cake mix as the starting point for this recipe, making it quick and easy. Combine the cake mix, melted butter, milk, eggs and egg yolk, and vanilla in a large bowl and mix. Add to a greased and parchment-lined 9×13 metal pan and tap the pan on the counter several times to prevent bubbles. Bake for about 20 minutes, let cool for several minutes in the pan, then invert onto a cooling rack. Set the pan on top to help flatten the cake and let cool completely. Freeze the cake for an hour.
Next, make the filling. Beat together softened butter and salt until creamy. Add the powdered sugar gradually as well as vanilla, beating in after each addition. Beat for 5 to 8 minutes until light and very fluffy, adding up to 3 teaspoons of milk as needed. I used heavy cream because I had it on hand, and I highly recommend it since it helps the mixture fluff up (you might need up to a tablespoon). Add the frosting to a piping bag and set aside.
Remove the cake from the freezer and cut it into circles using a 2 1/2-inch cutter. Clean the cutter every few circles to keep it from sticking. Use a serrated knife to slice each circle horizontally and pipe the filling into the middle of each sandwich and top with the other half, pressing gently to adhere. Place the cakes in the freezer (I set mine back inside the cooled baking pan) for an hour.
Melt white chocolate melting wafers according to the package directions and scoop out about 1/4 cup into a separate bowl (this is to keep some chocolate crumb-free for the tops). Set a cooling rack over a lined baking sheet before rolling the sides of a frozen cake in the chocolate and set it on the cooling rack. Spoon a little chocolate from the separate bowl on top and smooth it out. Repeat with the remaining cakes. Melt some semi-sweet chocolate chips, add them to a plastic bag, and snip the corner. Drizzle on top to make the signature Zebra Cake look. Let set up and then serve.
My Honest Opinion
I’m of two minds about these Homemade Zebra Cakes. On the one hand, they are incredibly delicious. They are exactly what you’d want from a homemade version of the classic Little Debbie — all of the flavors and textures you’re looking for, only better. I took them to a gathering with a bunch of adults playing board games (I’m cool, I know!) and they went wild over them. If you’re looking to impress some nostalgic adults as well as some hungry kids, then these will do it!
On the other hand, boy are they finicky to make. I made a huge mess and it took me hours. Between cutting the cakes two different ways, piping the filling, two freezing sessions, and coating and decorating them, it was a whole ordeal. No matter how much you freeze, there’s going to be plenty of crumbs, and the latter half of the cakes are not going to look great. There is certainly something to be said for convenience.
I’m not sure if I would make them again, but they were so well-received that I could be persuaded if an occasion called for it. Luckily, I have some ideas on how to make the process a little less painful.
My Top 4 Tips If You Make Homemade Zebra Cakes
- Freeze, freeze, freeze. While the recipe calls for freezing the whole cake and then the individual cakes for 30 minutes to an hour, you’ll want to freeze for a solid hour each time. I also suggest taking just four or so cakes out of the freezer at a time to coat in chocolate. Otherwise, the other cakes will defrost as they sit and get especially crumbly.
- Try dark chocolate. My grocery store only had one bag of white chocolate wafer melts, so I picked up a bag of dark chocolate, too. This was a great move on my part. I thought the white chocolate was overkill and too sweet (although others liked it), and I much preferred the dark. I think everyone enjoyed seeing the mixture of the two on a platter.
- Pour the chocolate. If you want a really clean finish, melt extra chocolate and add a little vegetable shortening so that it is thin enough to pour. Set your cakes over a cooling rack over a lined rimmed baking sheet, and pour the chocolate over the top, getting into the sides. The baking sheet will catch the excess, which you can scoop up and reuse.
- Make it a cake! If you want to skip most of the hard work in this recipe and enjoy the flavors, make it a cake instead. Bake the cake as directed, but don’t bother lining the pan with parchment. Let it cool in the pan and then make the frosting. Make it a bit thinner so it’s easy to spread and spread on top. Use melted dark chocolate candy wafers or chocolate chips melted with a little heavy cream and drizzle a zig-zag pattern over top.