Since I embarked on my cooking adventure, I've noticed several changes in my life. The first being that I started losing weight, which was astonishing to me because I cooked relatively unhealthy things with absurd quantities of butter. The second change was that my cholesterol plummeted. Literally, I went from having the cholesterol of a 60 year old obese chain-smoker to a healthy number in the "low-risk" group.
The third change, and the one that really made the biggest impact, was that I stopped buying and eating so much processed foods. Before I cooked, everything I ate came out of a can, or from the freezer, or from individually wrapped packages. Granted, I still partake in the occasional can of spaghettios, but my consumption of Tyson frozen chicken and Little Debbie snacks has nearly been reduced to zero.
But man, do I miss those Little Debbie snacks. I have so many childhood (ok, and adulthood) memories of eating package after package of oatmeal cream pies, cosmic brownies, and zebra cakes, and then having a stomachache and berating myself for my lack of self control.
When Ken and I started this cooking thing over the summer, when both of us were trying to drop 5-10 pounds and get healthier, we agreed upon a rule:
No junk food unless you make it yourself!
This simple rule has proven itself time and time again. It gives you the freedom to cook and eat what you want, as long as you make it from scratch! Feeling like eating mac and cheese? Make it yourself. Want to eat an entire batch of brownies? No problem, as long as they didn't come from a mix. Craving those Little Debbie snacks? Figure out a way to make them yourself 🙂
You will need:
- Ingredients to make yellow or white cake (we used the white cupcake recipe from my cupcake cookbook, which I'll post if anyone wants to see it. Otherwise, use your favorite go-to recipe, or even a boxed mix. I won't judge you)
- 1/2 cup (8 Tablespoons) butter
- 1/4 cup marshmallow fluff
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 1-2 tablespoons half and half or heavy cream
- 4 cups vanilla candy melts (or roughly 16 oz vanilla almond bark)
- 8 Tablespoons vegetable shortening
- 1/2 cup dark chocolate candy melts (or almond bark) (optional: for drizzling)
Your first step is to bake the cakes. Preheat the oven to 350°, and lightly spray a 10x15x1 inch jelly roll pan (we used a cookie sheet with 1 inch tall sides) with non-stick spray. Prepare the batter as directed and spread evenly in the pan. Bake until top springs back up when you press it lightly in the center, roughly 15-20 minutes.
(We filled the pan too high with batter, and as a result our cake was a little too tall. Still tasted fine, but made the zebra cakes pretty thick)
To make the filling: Beat together the vanilla, butter, and marshmallow until fully combined. Add the powdered sugar and beat on medium-low until just mixed in. Add 1 Tbs of half and half and beat for another minute on high, or until the filling is light and fluffy. You can add more half and half if the filling seems too stiff.
Using a cookie cutter (we used hearts to make them festive for Valentines day), cut out as many shapes as you can fit. Carefully lift out the cakes, eating around them if you have to, and start spreading the filling and making little sandwiches. I recommend using a lot of filling to make them as close to the real zebra cakes as you can. Place the cakes on a baking sheet lined with wax paper and pop in the fridge for 1/2 an hour to harden up a bit.
Melt the white chocolate and shortening in the microwave, stopping every 30 seconds to stir. Once it's fully melted, drop a cake into the bowl and spoon chocolate over the top, careful not to scrape the sides of the cake while you do it*. Then, slide a fork under the cake and lift it out, letting the excess chocolate drip off. Place it back on the wax paper and repeat with all the cakes, remelting the chocolate as needed.
*As we made more and more cakes, our bowl of chocolate started filling up with crumbs from the previous cakes. As a result, our last few were ugly and lumpy. This just meant that we were obligated to eat them quickly before anyone else saw, so I think it all worked out in the end.
After the cakes harden up, melt the dark chocolate (we used more white chocolate and added red food coloring to stick with our Valentine's day theme) and drizzle on top!
And there you go, your very own adorable zebra cakes. They taste fantastic, the filling on the inside and the chocolate shell on the outside make them perfect replicas of the original, but because you make them yourself you don't have to feel guilty about the extra calories.
I'll definitely be making these cute cakes again. Next time, however, I'll make the sheet cake thinner so that the finished product isn't so tall, and I'll work on cleaning it up so it isn't so lumpy.
Fantastic recipe from Confessions of a Cookbook Queen