How To Make a Chocolate & Vanilla Swirled Marble Cake

updated Jun 8, 2019
How To Make Marble Cake
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(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

I love a good marble cake. How about you? There’s just something so appealing and festive about the beautifully marbled swirl that appears when you cut off a slice. The flavor is not too rich but still satisfying, and I really appreciate how it diplomatically resolves the whole chocolate vs vanilla debate. Read on for a recipe and details on our favorite swirl-making technique.

Growing up, my brother’s favorite choice for his birthday cake was boxed marble cake, and truth be told, he still requests the boxed version from my mom today, which she makes as a sheet cake. But I prefer this loaf version, which doesn’t taste of chemicals like the boxed version and offers a simple, elegant profile. The ganache frosting is optional but a nice touch and helps to keep things moist.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

The swirl process is where many people fail with a marble cake, either under-swirling it so it looks more, well, bovine than marbled, or over-swirling it so that it just looks muddy. One of the fun parts of making a marble cake is the anticipation before cutting your first slice. Will your artistic efforts pay off? Here are a few hints on how to make the best swirl:

  1. Start with a checkerboard. Alternate the light and dark batters to create a rough checkerboard all along the bottom of the pan. Repeat with a second layer, being sure to place the dark batter on top of the first layer’s light and vice-versa.
  2. Forget the knife. I find that the blade of a knife or spatula is too thin, resulting in thin, wispy swirls and lots of clunky, unswirled batter. So I use a thicker, more substantial tool like the end of a wooden spoon.
  3. Big swirls. Moving across the pan in horizontal direction, plunge the end of the wooden spoon into the batter and make big swirls, moving across the pan in one direction. It should take about three big swirls to make it across the pan. Then, moving back over the swirls, make three swirls in the opposite direction. Be sure you are reaching all the way to the bottom of the pan (without scraping it) and pay attention to corners!
  4. “Z”-shaped swirl. Then drag your tool in a large ‘Z’ by moving down the length of the pan and back and back again. You can also do a zig zag or another round of swirls if you feel you need even more swirl. But be careful not to work it too much, or you’ll end up a muddy, overly-blended cake.

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An elegant, beautifully swirled marble cake revealed! (Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

How To Make Marble Cake

Makes 1 (9x5-inch) loaf

Nutritional Info


  • 1/2 cup

    unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for the pan

  • 1 cup


  • 1 3/4 cups


  • 1 1/2 teaspoons

    baking powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon


  • 3

    large eggs

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons


  • 2/3 cup


  • 1/3 cup

    cocoa powder

For the ganache frosting:

  • 2/3 cup

    heavy cream

  • 6 ounces

    dark chocolate, chopped

  • 1 tablespoon

    corn syrup (optional)


  • 9" x 5" loaf pan

  • Pastry brush or folded paper towel

  • Stand mixer or mixing bowl

  • Measuring cups and spoons

  • Three small bowls

  • Spatula

  • Wooden spoon

  • Small sauce pan


  1. Prep.  Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Grease and flour the loaf pan.

  2. Cream the butter and sugar. Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar until light lemon-colored and fluffy, about 5 minutes.  

  3. Measure the flour and crack the eggs.  While the butter and sugar are creaming, measure out the flour, baking powder, and salt into a small bowl and whisk lightly to combine. Crack the eggs into a bowl and add the vanilla.

  4. Add the eggs.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well in between each addition and scraping the bowl as needed.

  5. Add the flour and buttermilk, alternating.  Add 1/3 of the flour to the batter and beat on low speed just until incorporated. Then add 1/2 of the buttermilk and beat.  Add another 1/3 of the flour, and beat, and then the last of the buttermilk and beat.  Finally, beat in the last 1/3 of the flour.

  6. Add the chocolate. Transfer roughly 1/2 of the batter to a separate bowl. In a small bowl or ramekin, mix the cocoa powder with 2 tablespoons of hot tap water until smooth. Add this chocolate mixture to the remaining batter.  Beat to incorporate.

  7. Spoon into the prepared pan, creating a two-layer checkerboard. Beginning with the vanilla mixture, place four spoonfuls of batter into the pan, spacing them far enough apart so that you can create a checkerboard when you add the chocolate batter.  Add the chocolate batter into the empty spaces to fill the bottom of the pan in a checkerboard pattern.  Repeat with the second layer, alternating the vanilla and chocolate batter.

  8. Swirl.  Using the handle of a wooden spoon, swirl the batter to create a marbled effect.

  9. Bake the cake.  Place in the oven and bake for about 40 minutes, rotating the pan half way through.  The cake is done when it has browned slightly and a cake tester comes our clean when inserted into the middle.  Cool on a rack for 10 minutes and then unmold and let cool completely.  
     At this point, the cake can can be wrapped in plastic and stored for a few days or frozen for several months.

  10. Make the ganache.  Bring the cream to a simmer in a small saucepan.  Remove from heat, and add chopped chocolate and corn syrup (if using).  Let sit until chocolate is melted and then stir gently to combine.  Let cool slightly until ganache has thickened to a pourable consistency.

  11. Frost.  Place the cake on a serving platter.  Pour the ganache over the cake and spread lightly as needed.  Allow it to drip down the sides here and there.

Recipe Notes

To save leftover, frosted cake, place the cake in the fridge to harden the ganache before wrapping and storing (or freezing).

The corn syrup is optional in the ganache, but it does help with the silky texture. You can purchase corn syrup that does not contain high-fructous corn syrup at places like Whole Foods and natural food stores.

If you don't have buttermilk, thin some plain yogurt with milk to buttermilk consistency.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

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(Images: Dana Velden)