Hey Smithsonian - What is the recipe for a panda's birthday cake?

The life milestones of America’s favorite pandas at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, DC seem to fascinate the world. Mei Xiang turned 20 in July and enjoyed a cake in front of many, many cameras. As we celebrate her son Bei Bei’s 4th birthday…this got us wondering, what’s in a panda’s birthday cake anyway? We went straight to the experts at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo to find out.


  • Frozen Diluted Juice
  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Carrots
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Leaf-eater Biscuits (we’re pretty sure you can find these at your local Whole Foods)
  • Sugar cane
  • Honey


  • Fill two large, one medium and one small container with frozen diluted juice. Place in freezer for at least 24 hours.
  • Soften leaf-eater biscuits with water until they have turned into a puree. Fill flower or heart molds with the puree and freeze.
  • Remove one large, the medium and the small container from the freezer. Turn out the ice blocks and stack them as tiers brushing water between the stacked layers to help them stick together. Return the stacked tier to the freezer for at least 24 hours.
  • Cut apples, carrots, sweet potatoes and pears into desired shapes.
  • After tiers have frozen together, attach the pureed leaf-eater biscuit and fruit appliques by brushing water on the tiers. Return to freezer for at least 24 hours.
  • Turn out the remaining large container of frozen diluted juice. Cut the block of ice into the number “3” with a band saw.
  • Carefully attach the number to the top of the tiered frozen cake with water. Return to the freezer for at least 24 hours.
  • Decorate with arrow bamboo.
  • Deliver to the panda house and place in yard with a drizzle of honey to the panda’s taste.

“The cakes are bigger versions of one of the pandas’ favorite frozen treats—fruitsicles,” said Brian Cannon, commissary keeper and cake designer. “I make sure to use all of their favorite foods.” To celebrate in true National Zoo panda style, you will want to enjoy your cake with a birthday-themed enrichment box and several new puzzle feeders to play with. Now, who wants a panda cake for their next party?

In 2018, WorldStrides became the approved domestic educational travel provider of the Smithsonian. This blog is part of a series, “Hey Smithsonian!” where we ask our friends at the venerable institution questions that dig deeper into this special place and all it has to offer!