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Swirly Cake (aka My Birthday Cake)

Have you ever seen one of those old black-and-white Western movies? You know, the ones with all the sand and the tumbleweeds blowing across the screen? The movies set in desolate, uninhabitable, once-thriving-now-ghost-town towns? I’m sure you have, it’s the type of movie where the bad guy swings open the doors to the saloon so that they crash on the adjacent wall, silence befalls the bar as the patrons put down their beers and slowly turn to face the stranger and figure out his business. Get the idea? Now imagine that same movie, but set in a kitchen, my kitchen. The scene was somber as I walked in, cobwebs draped the stand mixer, pieces of the food processor were strewn about the counter in a pattern that indicated it was trying to make a break for a bigger and better things. The kitchen was silent except for a slight creaking noise made as one of the drawers fell open, I’m pretty sure I saw a tumbleweed brush across the dusty tile floor. I only wish I had some of those swinging saloon doors to kick open as I stepped back into my kitchen for the first time in weeks. Unfortunately (well unfortunately for this post, but fortunately for the lay out of my house), my open floor plan doesn’t really allow for those types of doors. Anyway, I may be being a bit dramatic (me?? No…) but I’m trying to convey an image, an image of a poor neglected, lonely, forsaken kitchen. It wasn’t by choice, and it wasn’t because I was doing anything more fun or interesting. Instead of cooking and spending time with my beloved kitchen, I have been studying for finals. Ugh. Definitely not more fun than being in the kitchen. But there is good news! The semester (and my first year of PA school) is over – cheer!!

Due to finals week, we have been taking out way too much and eating out far too often, so I decided to make dinner at home instead of going out yet again. My birthday was during finals week and I hadn’t had a chance to celebrate with the hubby until last night, so I also decided that I needed a birthday cake. After looking through blogs and cookbooks, I settled on making myself a red velvet cake. And then I settled on white cake. And then I settled on anything with cream cheese frosting – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I’m pretty sure I would eat just about anything as long as it was covered in cream cheese frosting. Basically, I couldn’t make up my mind as to what would be the perfect birthday cake. I finally had an idea, I could put all of my choices into one cake! I remembered finding this cake and thought that with the right flavors, I could make one pretty awesome birthday cake. So while all of the rest of my classmates went home and took naps or lounged on the couch and watched tv (at least that’s the image I had in my head), I went straight to the kitchen and made myself this birthday cake.

Can you see the stripes?!? I think there’s about 4…

As you can see, this cake does not really look like the zebra cake. I figured I would need to call it something other than zebra cake. The hubby suggested “trauma cake” while I thought a more appropriate (and more appealing) name would be “swirly cake”. I’m pretty sure that only my classmates, and maybe not even them, would appreciate me naming a delicious cake after a terrible injury. So I think I will just stick with calling it swirly cake. This was the perfect birthday cake, all red velvety and moist and cream cheese icing-y. It made me happy, it made the hubby happy, and most importantly, it made my poor neglected kitchen happy. Oh, and it will make you happy when you make it too!

Swirly Cake
Yield: 1 double layer cake
printer friendly version

Red Velvet Cake

1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 Tablespoon cocoa
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 egg
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup buttermilk, lightly shaken
1/2 Tablespoon white vinegar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 oz. red food coloring


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large bowl, combine all of the dry ingredients and mix well with a whisk.

In another bowl, lightly whisk the egg. Add the remaining liquid ingredients and stir together well with the whisk.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients  and stir with the whisk until completely combined.

White Cake

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter – at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 eggs – at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sifted self-rising flour
1/2 cup whole milk – at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon butter flavoring extract


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

With an electric mixer, cream the butter until fluffy. Add the sugar and continue to cream until very fluffy and white, about 7 minutes. Add eggs one at a time and beat well after each egg is added.

Alternate adding flour and milk, beginning and ending with flour and making sure to mix until incorporated with each addition. Add vanilla and butter flavoring and mix very briefly.

Cream cheese frosting

2 (8 oz) packages cream cheese – at room temperature
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter – at room temperature
2 cups confectioner’s sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract


In a medium bowl, cream together the cream cheese and butter until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla. Gradually stir in the confectioners’ sugar.

Store in the refrigerator after use.

To assemble the cake

Grease and flour 2 8-inch round cake pans. Cut out circles of parchment paper and place in the bottom of the cake pans, then spray the paper lightly with cooking spray. Even if your pans are non stick, make sure you don’t skip this step or your cakes will not come out easily. TRUST me on this!

Using a 1/4 measuring cup as a scoop, place 1/4 cup white cake batter into the center of the pan and let it spread slightly on its own.  Put 1/4 cup red velvet cake batter in the center of the vanilla.  It will push out the other and, as it sits for a moment, will also spread itself.  Alternating spoonfuls of the two batters, repeat the technique until all the batter has been used up. The cakes are different densities, so if you are having trouble making the stripes, gently tap the bottom of the cake pan against the counter. Use half of the batter in each cake pan to make sure the layers will be even. I basically filled the cake pan until the stripes reached the edge of the cake pan, and then I switched to the other cake pan.

This is the general idea.

When you are finished filling both cake pans, hold the pan a few inches above the counter and carefully drop to release the air levels out. This helps the cake be more level.

Bake for 25-30 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pans for about 5-10 minutes. Remove the cakes from the pans and wrap each layer in plastic wrap to seal in moisture. Cool completely on wire racks.

Once cooled, unwrap the cake layers from the plastic wrap. Spread the top of the first layer with the cream cheese icing. Place the second layer on top and frost the top and sides of the cake.

Sources: Bakerella (this one, and this one too),, and inspiration from Annie’s Eats


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