Take a Stab at Poke Cake
Holy moly! These colorful whipped cream-covered cakes use a special method to make sure they’re moist and flavorful inside. Hint: Finally, you can stab your cake and eat it, too.
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So much of baking is about precision. Measuring or even weighing ingredients, careful trimming and timing, using rulers and pre-cut shapes to get the size just right. What happens in the oven is essentially Chemistry 101, a careful balance of rise and lift that can go wrong by simply opening an oven door at the wrong moment. Sure, on the stovetop you can be a sloppy painter with a dash of this and a soupçon of that, but in the oven? A chemist’s deft hand is the ideal … except for poke cake. Every poke cake recipe bakes up a lovely dessert — and then instructs you to ruin it.
Though the idea isn’t new. The Italians (and then the French) have been piercing their Genovese sponge and pouring delicious syrup over it for several hundred years, all the better to make a stale cake taste fresh and moist once more. Tres Leches cake recipes have been passed around in Nicaragua and Mexico since the 19th century, and U.K. citizens have been tucking into sticky toffee pudding — a date cake poked and then drenched in a luscious butterscotch sauce — since the second World War. Poking and piercing a cake is not news.
But America can thank the Jell-O company for creating a hole-filled cake of our own: In the 1970s, attempting to revive its waning brands, the company developed an easy and artful cake that called for a white cake mix that was repeatedly impaled after baking, then drizzled with a dramatically colored Jell-O (strawberry flavor quickly became the favorite) to fill the holes, popped in the fridge to set, and finally blanketed with a layer of Cool Whip. The poke cake recipe was so simple that harried new working women could still deliver an easy dessert with minimal fuss to their families, and the color contrast was so striking, with bright saturated shades worthy of a Warhol, that flavor fell by the wayside and the neon Jell-O flavors were often chosen for their color alone, to suit a season or a mood.
Today poke cake is making a comeback, with its cheerful look, easy preparation, and — let’s be honest, the last year and a half has demanded a lot from home cooks — it might feel good to stop scrolling through perfect sourdough loaves on the ‘gram and get to stab a cake at home … you know, for flavor. The filling options have expanded too: Pudding mix, sweetened condensed milk, syrups, jam and melted butter, and even a cheesecake-inspired mixture are all customizable choices now. So get thee to the kitchen, pick a poke cake recipe below, and have some well-deserved fun.
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Poke cake tips and tricks
Follow these simple suggestions for perfect poke cakes every time
What’s the best kind of cake to use for poke cake?
Most of the time, a white cake, yellow cake, or butter cake mix can be used — choose your favorite type (Trader Joe’s vanilla cake mix is quite delicious) and get baking! Though for certain poke cake recipes, the type will matter: If you’re making a coconut poke cake, grab the coconut cream cake mix. For a chocolate poke cake extravaganza, stick with the theme and bake a deep dark chocolate cake.
What’s the right way to poke a cake?
Fortunately, there is no one right way to poke holes. A clean wooden spoon handle is the best tool and gives you nice big holes to fill with liquid gelatin, but in a pinch a chopstick or even a fork could work. Holes about 1½ inches apart in a grid pattern are ideal, but poke cakes are forgiving; it’ll be delicious regardless of the spacing. What does matter is not to poke a hole all the way to the bottom of the cake; stop a bit past the halfway point so the filling doesn’t run all the way through.
Classic poke cake recipes
Jell-O infused poke cake, decadent chocolate, and red velvet are all-time favorites. The poke cake recipes below offer the finest versions of these well-loved desserts.
The flashes of black cherry Jell-O glisten like rubies in this striking two-layer white poke cake, and provide a dark and flavorful contrast to the pure white frosting on top.
This six-ingredient poke cake is simplicity at its finest. Double chocolate flavor from the cake and the pudding ensure a decadent experience.
Red velvet, as legend goes, began in the South when a harried cook accidentally spilled an entire bottle of food coloring into a bowl of chocolate cake batter, and boldly decided to find out what would happen. This modern version drizzles a from-scratch chocolate cake (that gets a little tang from buttermilk) with sweetened condensed milk while it’s still warm, then covers it with a whipped cream and cream cheese frosting before serving. Y’all grab another slice now, ya hear?
Why should sheet cake have all the fun? These cute little cupcakes get six holes each, and while the recipe calls for strawberry Jell-O, you could swap it out for whichever flavor you like best. Instant vanilla pudding mix and some whipped topping come together for a lush frosting. These are perfect to serve at a birthday party or bring them to your next potluck.
Inspired by the traditional Southern Hummingbird Cake, this recipe contains all the classic elements — pecans, banana, and pineapple — but is elevated in poke cake form to soak up sweetened condensed milk mixed with vanilla pudding. A cream cheese frosting and one last sprinkle of pecans, and dessert is served. This is a nice one to make ahead.
Fruit-forward poke cake recipes
These poke cakes take advantage of luscious fruit, bright citrus, and tropical delicacies — and fall’s favorite vegetable!
Sliced strawberries and a homemade jello (made easy with reserved strawberry juices and some gelatin) provide a double berry experience in this birthday-worthy cake! A whipped topping makes quick work of frosting this beautiful dessert. And of course, garnish with more fresh strawberries, stems left on for color.
Key lime juice will naturally cause the filling for this cake to thicken like a pudding — all without having to turn on the stove. Added lime zest adds a soft citrus note, and a quick whipped cream topping turns it into a sweet-tart citrus dream.
Soft and sweet with a slightly crunchy crust, this lemon poke cake tastes of fresh citrus and stays moist with sour cream and fresh lemon juice (and zest if you like). Instead of a frosting, it has a lemon glaze that soaks into the cake, for the best bite in every bite.
Forget your pie and take that latte back, this fabulous fall dessert entails an easy, from-scratch pumpkin cake, a quick and simple homemade caramel sauce to drench the warm cake, and a five-minute whipped cream frosting sprinkled with pecans. All your sweet autumn dreams can come true.
The sweetness of this banana poke cake is the perfect foil for the crunchy bits of toffee and drizzle of caramel on top. Bananas Foster inspired the cake recipe, so brown sugar is stirred into the cake mix, along with some sour cream to provide a little tang against the sweetness of the fruit.
This quick, from-scratch pineapple poke cake takes advantage of the juices in a can of crushed pineapple to create a moist, egg-free poke cake that’s topped with an easy-to-make sauce that’s reminiscent of a lush Crème Anglaise (but also sans egg yolks).
People who love coconut tend to reeeeeally love coconut, so why settle for just one note of this island flavor? The cheerful white poke cake uses coconut extract in both the cake and the topping, coconut pudding mix in the filling, and freshly toasted shredded coconut sprinkled on top. All that’s missing is a palm tree …
Reimagined poke cake recipes
These cakes, with their multiple flavors, can embrace inspiration from a variety of sources. Whether it’s a Boston Cream Pie Poke Cake, or dessert inspired by a candy bar or cocktail, there’s excellent creativity on display in the poke cake recipes below.
Ricotta and mascarpone cheese come together to deliver classic and beloved Italian dessert flavors, but instead of hiding the filling and chocolate chips inside a hard shell, they shine atop this sweet, moist poke cake as a luscious frosting sprinkled with mini chocolate chips and a dusting of powdered sugar. Mangia!
Refrigerated cinnamon roll dough stands in for cake batter in this fast and easy poke cake; the dough is folded into the pan (and left unsliced), then a melted butter, raspberry jam, and liqueur mixture is drizzled into the holes. The included cinnamon roll glaze gets piped across the top to create a gorgeous cake, great for brunch or any time of day or night.
And it’s Butterfinger poke cake for the win! Peanut butter, chocolate pudding mix, chocolate syrup, and chopped candy bar pieces round the bases together to make this cake a real home run.
With only five ingredients, this cake still manages to deliver classic Boston cream flavors with an easy, from-scratch chocolate ganache on top. Vanilla pudding makes quick work of recreating the traditional custard, for a poke cake that makes it easy for everyone to enjoy their favorite doughnut.
Who doesn’t love a cookies and cream dessert? Oreos make it easy to indulge in this crowd pleaser — rich chocolate cake with a layer of crushed Oreos baked in, filled with sweetened condensed milk, then topped with a vanilla pudding and whipped topping mixture — and sprinkled with more crushed Oreos. Heaven on a plate: unlocked!
Be prepared to show some ID before you take a slice of this luscious, boozy poke cake! Kahlua adds nuance to the dark chocolate cake itself, then is mixed with sweetened condensed milk to be soaked into the cake, and is whipped into the frosting for good measure. Have a ball, but remember: Don’t cake and drive. At least not this one.
Macerated berries are mixed with cream cheese to make a decadent strawberry cheesecake filling for this moist vanilla poke cake. A buttery, crunchy graham cracker topping sprinkled across the top of the cake completes the cheesecake experience.
More easy desserts
There’s no shortage of yummy, low-effort desserts you can make at home. Check out these Yummly articles for ideas: