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  • Writer's pictureBaking with Chickens

Zoetrope Cake

“Come with me and you’ll be in a world of pure imagination.” - Gene Wilder, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

What I love most about this concept cake is that it’s fantastical and weirdly wonderful, just like the first zoetrope. Imagine being the person who looked at one and saw moving image animation for the very first time. Did it blow their mind?

This cake was both a success and a fail at the same time. It was a success in that I made a FREAKIN edible Zoetrope. It was a fail in that the cake inside was dry and not as delicious as I imagined. I historically have a hard time making layer cakes, so I just keep trying and experimenting.

What is a Zoetrope?

Victorian zoetrope
Victorian era zoetrope toy, source: Wikimedia

A Zoetrope is a Victorian era optical illusion toy from the 19th century that was an early form of animation technology. The zoetrope is a cylinder with slits cut vertically in the sides. Inside the cylinder is a band with sequenced images. As you spin the cylinder, you look through the slits at the pictures, the slits keep the pictures from blurring together, and what you see is the illusion of motion.

It works through persistence of vision, like a flipbook, where a set of sequenced images looks like it’s moving. This is because the human eye and brain can only process 10 to 12 separate images per second. Learn more about the history of zoetropes and how it works.

Inspiration for this Cake

My friend Tara Kolla asked me to make a cake to celebrate the 10th anniversary of her urban farming journey from organic flower farm Silver Lake Farms to her new project Mill on the Rock, a creative space and retreat for makers in western France.

She’s a badass lady who is responsible for passing the Food & Flowers Freedom Act in Los Angeles, which overturned an outdated 1946 ordinance and allows people to grow fruit and flowers in their backyard to sell at local farmer’s markets. This paved the way for the passage of the Los Angeles Cottage Food Law, which allows food artisans to make and sell products they make in their home. A lifeline for many individuals right now who have lost their jobs and income due to the COVID-related economic downturn.

I visited Tara at her new farm in France a couple years ago when I was in a state of liminality during my life. I had just left a longtime job and didn’t know what I wanted to do next. She said something that stuck and still resonates with me to this day. “You need time and space to dream new dreams.” As a result of her words of wisdom, Baking With Chickens was born.

edible zoetrope cake
edible zoetrope cake with black cocoa frosting

How I Made a Zoetrope Cake

Making the actual cake was easy-ish. The hard part was figuring out how to make an edible zoetrope, calculating the exact size of each frame, and how to film it so the animation is visible was the hard part. Good thing I wrote it all down for you below!

Step 1: Decide Your Animation

In honor of my friend Tara and the beautiful flowers she’s known for growing, I decided to animate a flower that grows from a seedling, blooms into a flower, withers and dies, and grows again. It represents the cycle of life, death, and regrowth. Just like my career path and what I thought my life would look like, one part of my life blossomed and withered but a new bloom would grow the next spring and the cycle begins anew.

Your Animation Should be Cyclical

Meaning that as your cake spins the animation will repeat smoothly. That could be a bouncing ball, frog hopping, horse running, sun rising and setting, or dancing chicken. Whatever your artistry skills are capable of! I’m not great at drawing and was just barely able to pipe the flowers.

paper test zoetrope
paper cake test

Test Your Animation on a Paper Cake

I drew the sequence out on paper first, cut it out to the exact size calculations, and made a paper cake so I could spin it and test if my flower drawing would work as an animation before committing to making the cookies. Drawing on paper is A LOT easier than piping icing on a cookie.

Step 2: Choose Your Cake Flavors

I made a two-layer cake with chocolate and strawberry marble cake inside, and black chocolate Swiss Meringue Buttercream frosting outside.

You could make any cake flavor and frosting you’d like. The color of the cake frosting and the tuile cookies should match. It’s best if they’re high contrasting colors to get maximum effect. I went with black cake and cookies, with white icing as a nod to the Victorian era black and white zoetrope toy.

Save about a cup of extra frosting to use as the “glue” to affix the tuile rectangles onto the side of the cake.

Step 3: How to Calculate the Frame Size

I used a 10-inch cake pan to create my cake. If you use a different size cake pan, like a 6-inch or 9-inch cake pan, you’ll need to calculate the exact size of your rectangle pieces because it will be different from my 10-inch cake. The larger the cake diameter means you can include more frames. The smaller the cake diameter, you’ll be able to fit less frames or at least have to make narrower rectangles.

Like the hands of a clock as a guide, you can do this by marking lines around the edge of a cake board or on a spinning cake stand.

  • 12 frames minimum

  • 24 frames is ideal for a smoother animation

  • Space between each rectangle should be exactly 1/8-inch for the optical illusion to work optimally

Once you know the size of your rectangular “frames,” Cut the size and shape out of paper to make guides for piping the batter, so you’ll get similar sized cookies.

Step 4: Make Rectangular Frames Out of Cookies

black rectangle cookie batter
unbaked tuile cookie rectangle cookies

For a 10-inch cake, make twenty-four (24) 1-inch by 5-inch tuile cookie rectangle pieces:

1. Make tuile batter using King Arthur Baking Tuile Cookie recipe.

2. Cut paper guides, place under a silicon mat or parchment paper on a baking sheet.

3. Pipe the tuile batter the size of the rectangles.

4. Make extras! Some cookies will not look as nice, they might break, and have extra cookies as backup.

24 rectangular black cookies with white icing flowers
24 rectangular cookie frames with icing flowers

5. Bake for 4-5 minutes, remove from the oven and cool on the baking sheet until the cookies are hard. Lift from the baking sheet and transfer onto a cooling rack.

6. Using a microplane, carefully shave the edges of the tuile rectangles flat so all the cookie looks more uniformly shaped.

7. Measure the height of your cake, calculate how high you’ll need to pipe the flowers onto the cookie in order to see the picture. For example. If your cake is 3-inches tall, you’ll need to pipe the flowers 2-inches from the top so the icing is visible after you affix it to the cake.

8. Pipe flowers onto the flat backside of the tuile cookies with white royal icing. Let dry and harden.

Step 5: Assemble the Zoetrope Cake

1. On your frosted layer cake, affix the tuile cookies onto the side of the cake using a little buttercream as the “glue” and press on lightly. Stick on each rectangular frame in the order of your sequential animation, in a clockwise direction with the icing facing in towards the center of the cake.

2. Leave exactly 1/8-inch gap between each cookie.

3. Chill the cake in the fridge so the buttercream hardens and affixes the rectangles to the side of the cake firmly.

Depending on the humidity in the air, the tuile cookies may bend and warp. The straighter and flatter the cookie, the better the effect. If your tuile bends and droops, you may be able to bend it back into shape without breaking it. Or remake the frame using one of your backup tuile rectangles. 

4. Spin the cake and look through the 1/8-inch slits to see your cake animation go. You did it!


Did you make this?? Tag @bakingwithchickens and hashtag #bakingwithchickens on Instagram.

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Amazon link where I buy so many of my ingredients & cookware:

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