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Exploring Poke Cake: A Brief History + 30 Recipes!

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Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes, one ingredient at a time.

The Original Jell-O Poke Cake

The Original Jell-O Poke Cake

What Is a Poke Cake?

A poke cake is a cake that is baked in a single layer and then intentionally poked with holes. Those holes are then filled with something creamy or liquidy. That filling seeps into the entire cake, infusing it with flavorful moistness.

A Brief Story About the Poke Cake

Our story begins in the little town of Le Roy, New York, a center for the manufacture of household chemicals, notably mustard plaster (an old-time remedy for coughs and congestion) and rat poison. That changed in 1897 when a gentleman named Pearle Bixby Wait, a journeyman carpenter and amateur cough syrup manufacturer, invented a gelatin dessert. His wife added flavorings (orange, lemon, and strawberry). Mr. Wait obtained a trademark for the name of his invention, “Jell-O.” But that was just the beginning.

Wait sold the recipe to the Genesee Pure Food Company and within three years Jell-O became “America’s Most Favorite Dessert.” In a clever bit of marketing, Genesee printed Jell-O cookbooks and distributed them free of charge. By the 1920s, Jell-O was a staple ingredient in just about every American household.

In the 1930s the new trend was aspic and vegetable salads with cabbage, celery, carrots, and green peppers suspended in orange or lime gelatin. In 1964 we were reminded “There’s always room for Jell-O,” but sales were beginning to lag. The food wizards in the Jell-O kitchens devised yet another way to use their product (and it was far better than cabbage and carrots in lime). The poke cake was born.

A new ad campaign was launched, and sales of the wiggly dessert soared once again. However, fads are just that—a whim of an idea that eventually fades away. Cooks in the 21st century have resurrected the poke cake, expanding the cake and filling flavor combinations. If you can imagine it, it’s probably a poke cake. Here is a sampling—something for every taste.

Original Jell-O Poke Cake

Original Jell-O Poke Cake

The Original Jell-O Poke Cake

1. Our first recipe, the original Jell-O poke cake, is so easy and adaptable. Choose a light-hued cake (vanilla, white, yellow) and then pick your favorite flavor (or color) of gelatin. This recipe uses strawberry for a pretty pink cake presentation.

Fruit-Infused Poke Cakes

2. Banana Pudding: All the flavors of a traditional banana pudding in an easy-to-serve 9x13-inch cake pan.

3. Blueberry Cheesecake: Fluffy vanilla cake is filled with cheesecake pudding and a sweet blueberry sauce and topped with whipped cream frosting.

4. Caramel Apple: This cake is supremely moist and flavorful with apple pie filling stirred into the batter. Jamie uses yellow cake mix, but I suggest using spice cake for even more cinnamon and spice.

5. Cherry: Hands down, this is my husband's absolute favorite. He loves cake and he practically swoons over cherry pie. This recipe is the best of both worlds with cherry pie filling flavoring and topping moist vanilla cake.

6. Lemon Burst: Melissa, the author of this recipe, says that the "bright flavor of lemon is associated with spring and warmer weather. It's a natural progression of thought with fruits like lemons, limes, and oranges being intricate ingredients in many of the warmer weather sweet and savory foods we love."

7. Orange Creamsicle: Creamsicles are one of the best summertime treats from my childhood—sweet orange popsicles filled with vanilla ice cream. This cake has all of those same flavors; orange gelatin and orange juice provide a double-boost of citrus flavor.

8. Peaches and Cream: Peaches and cream—what a winning flavor combination! I love all stone fruits and peaches are near the top of my faves list. If you don't have fresh peaches, you could easily substitute nectarines, pluots, or apricots in this recipe.

9. Pineapple Coconut: Perfect for a summertime barbecue, this cake is a taste of the tropics.

10. Strawberry Crunch: When I was a child, playing with friends in the neighborhood, we couldn't hear mom calling from next door, but we could hear "Go Tell Aunt Rhody" from a mile away. Those calliope notes were the happiest sound in the world—they meant that the ice cream truck was near. The best treat in that truck was, without a doubt the strawberry crunch bar. (A few of you might disagree, but you're wrong). This poke cake has all the flavor and crunch of those beloved ice cream treats.

11. White Chocolate Raspberry: I have no words. The photo of this cake really says it all. Drool-worthy!

Chocolate Poke Cakes

12. Boston Cream Pie: Boston cream pie is actually a cake (did you know that?) This version is so much easier than the original. Instead of filling and stacking layers, one layer is baked, filled with custard, and topped with chocolate ganache.

13. Death By Chocolate: This dessert is for serious chocolate lovers only—dark chocolate cake with dark chocolate pudding, oozy dark chocolate topping, and a layer of chocolate mousse. But wait, there's more. Break up a giant dark chocolate bar and sprinkle the shards on top.

14. German Chocolate: The one thing that sets German chocolate cake apart from all the rest is its signature coconut pecan frosting. It's rich and buttery, almost more candy than frosting. On this poke cake, the frosting blankets the top, giving you a taste of that yummy pecan-coconut confection with every bite.

15. Grasshopper: Here's a chocolate cake that tastes just like Girl Scout thin mints. A layer of moist chocolate cake is covered in hot fudge sauce mixed with thin mint crumbs, mint whipped topping, and Andes Mint chips.

16. Oreo Cookie: Milk's favorite cookie is made even better when it's crushed and folded into marshmallow fluff to fill and cover a dense chocolate cake.

17. Reese's Peanut Butter Cup: Here's the dessert for dedicated peanut butter cup fans (my absolute favorite candy!) Chocolate cake is slathered with peanut butter pudding, chocolate frosting, and peanut butter whipped topping, then sprinkled with Reese’s peanut butter cups.

Kahlua Poke Cake

Kahlua Poke Cake

Boozy Poke Cake

18. Kahlua Chocolate: This poke cake is boozy—Kahlua is baked in, soaked in, and even swirled in the frosting. It's rich and moist and oh, so good, but don't serve it to the kids.

Tastes Like Your Favorite Cake, Pie, or Cookie

19. Apple Pie: Homemade apple pie filling imparts fresh, tart, not-to-sweet flavor to this apple pie cake. Sweetened condensed milk makes it moist and rich.

20. Carrot Cake: Here's a different spin on the traditional carrot cake. This delicious, gooey cake is loaded with carrots, coconut, and pineapple. Then it's topped with a buttermilk glaze and cinnamon cream cheese frosting. This is the dessert for my Easter brunch.

21. Coconut Cream Pie: On my birthday I will bake this cake. It is moist with cream of coconut and sweetened condensed milk. It's liberally sprinkled with coconut flakes and garnished with bright red maraschino cherries. It tastes just like a coconut cream pie. I am the only person in my house who likes loves coconut cream pie. Happy Birthday to me!

22. Gingerbread: Gingerbread brings to mind baking Christmas cookies and all the wonderful spicy aromas of the kitchen during the holidays.

23. Key Lime Pie: Isn't this a pretty cake? I love the punchy tart flavor of Key limes and that flavor is front and center in the filling and garnish for this lovely summertime dessert.

24. Pumpkin Pie: Imagine all the flavors of Thanksgiving pumpkin pie in cake form.

25. Red Velvet Cake: Red velvet cake was a fad of the 1960s; it disappeared from the food scene for a while but has slowly made its way back into the dessert course. Look on the internet and you'll find an ample supply of red velvet everything (cookies, pancakes, waffles, truffles, brownies, churros, and even cinnamon rolls). This poke cake version is truer to the original concept.

26. Samoa: Are you in need of a Girl Scout cookie fix? This Samoa-inspired poke cake will satisfy your chocolate, caramel, and coconut cravings.

27. Tiramisu: Tiramisu (the name is an Italian word which loosely translated means “pick me up” or “cheer me up”) is a layered, coffee-flavored dessert, somewhat like an English trifle. It differs from the trifle in several ways—crisp ladyfingers stand in for the pound cake and custard is replaced with a fluffy mixture of whipped eggs, sugar, and mascarpone cheese.

My first taste of tiramisu was on a sunny summer afternoon in Venice. It's an amazing treat but sometimes it simply requires more time than I have available. This poke cake version tastes almost like the real thing, and with much less labor.

Inspired by Breakfast and Lunch

28. Cinnamon Roll: My husband loves cinnamon rolls, and I love to bake them for him (I'm talking about real baking, not popping open a can of dough from the grocery store refrigerator case). But, baking cinnamon rolls is an investment of time—a true labor of love. When I consider how much cream cheese frosting he slathers on top of those rolls, they cease to be a healthy breakfast dish. Let's face it—they become dessert. So, why not just bake a cinnamon roll poke cake? This one is loaded to the brim with cinnamon flavor and has that great cream cheese frosting Mr. Carb Diva loves so much.

29. Peanut Butter and Jelly: Your favorite lunchtime sandwich is now a cake.

Chili Cheese Cornbread Poke Cake

Chili Cheese Cornbread Poke Cake

Savory Poke Cake

30. Chili Cheese Corn Bread: Here's a poke cake for dinner. Sweet and moist cornbread is "poked" and those spaces are filled with a savory chili meat mixture you can whip up in 15 minutes while the cornbread bakes. Top with cheese, garnish with sour cream and you have a great meal in a dish.

© 2021 Linda Lum

Comments

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on September 08, 2021:

Thelma, it was my pleasure. When you do make one of those poke cakes I hope you'll let me know how it turns out. I appreciate your support.

Thelma Alberts from Germany on September 08, 2021:

I have heard of poke cake before but I have not tried it, yet. I will surely do it in the near future. Thank you for sharing the history of poke cake.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on September 06, 2021:

Denise, I love doing the history lesson. In fact, that's my favorite part of writing these articles. The rest is just icing on the (poke) cake.

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on September 06, 2021:

I always love the history lesson in these. My husband even enjoyed the references. He was intrigued by the chilli cheese cornbread poke cake. How can you go wrong!

Blessings,

Denise

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on September 05, 2021:

Manatita, if I was responsible for introducing you to the blessing of tiramisu I am happy and humbled. It is indeed a wonder of creation, don't you think?

So sorry you were not able to enjoy on your most recent travel.

Stay safe and well my dear friend.

manatita44 from london on September 05, 2021:

Delicioso!

I think it was because of you that I had my first piece of tiramisu. Well, I was in Germany last week and I visited a famous Italian restaurant, looking forward to a decent Pizza and the above for dessert. Alas! They wanted a negative Covid -19 test first. I, as a foreigner had it done, but my Germany friend didn't. So ... the rest is history.

The poke cake is a visionary piece of culinary expertise. Seems it was in the hands of savvy Americans too. Sweett!! For once my rather charming word is correct. Ha'ha.

I think I have had the cake a few times. I buy from the Poles at least twice a year and it's quite similar photos.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on September 05, 2021:

Audrey, yes the original was also known as a Jello cake, but thank goodness some more creative minds have come up with so many more possibilities.

Audrey Hunt from Pahrump NV on September 05, 2021:

So, I remember being served Poke Cake way back when. I think it went by the name "Jello Cake." I love the recipes you've shared, especially the chocolate. Great history, Linda.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on September 05, 2021:

Thank you Kalpana.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on September 05, 2021:

Peggy, I haven't had a poke cake in years, and I have no excuse.

Kalpana Iyer from India on September 05, 2021:

Never had poke cakes before. They look and sound so delicious! Thanks for sharing.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on September 05, 2021:

Poke cakes are a nostalgic look back at earlier times. I can see by the sheer assortment of ones you included here, that they have not disappeared. Some of these recipes look really good.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on September 05, 2021:

Bill, ah yes, breathe. I had forgotten. My goodness, purging and packing (equal amounts of each) 40 years of togetherness is a tough job.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on September 05, 2021:

I've seen them. I've eaten them. I had no idea they had a special name. Color me educated! Thanks for the information, my friend. I will dazzle someone soon with my newfound knowledge, and I will remember to give you credit for it.

I hope you aren't too overwhelmed by the upcoming move. Remember to breathe.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on September 05, 2021:

Adrienne if you have some old cookbooks I'm certain you will find a poke cake recipe in there. I hope I've inspired you to give one of these a try. Thanks for stopping by.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on September 05, 2021:

Misbah, as I just wrote to Pamela, I seldom bake anymore, but that's only when it comes to dessert. Savory dishes (such as the chili and cornbread) is an entirely different subject. I think I'll have to make that one in the near future. Our weather is turning cold, so a comforting spicing dish is what we need.

Thank you for your kind words. Love and blessings to you as well my dear.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on September 05, 2021:

Pamela, believe it or not, I rarely bake anymore--there are only 3 of us. If we ever have a potluck again at church, I'm definitely taking one of these (but not the Kahlua one).

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on September 05, 2021:

John, I think the poke cake never ventured outside of the USA. You have to admit it's a pretty neat idea though. Yes, the Kahlua one is definitely a keeper and one you should try out.

Adrienne Farricelli on September 05, 2021:

The term poke cake is new to me, but after reading the definition I understood what it was, and now that I recall, I think we have some old cookbooks with poke cake recipes.

Misbah Sheikh from The World of Poets on September 05, 2021:

Yummy!! All of these version are fantastic. I am a huge fan of chocolate. So, aside from the fact that it contains dark chocolate, I can enjoy death by chocolate as well. I also liked the last version, the chili one, because I enjoy spicy foods. Thank you so much for sharing. Happy Sunday. Take care and stay happy and healthy.

Many Blessings and Love to you!!

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on September 05, 2021:

I have made so many of those cakes over the years, Linda. This is a wonderful article, but unfortunately I seldom make any dessert any more. I never used Kalua, but that sounds good too. The number of flavors is fantastic if you are the creative type. Thanks for presenting all of these wonderful cakes.

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on September 05, 2021:

I have never heard of a "poke cake" but they look and sound great especially Kahlua and Tiramasu. Yummy! This was very interesting, Linda.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on September 04, 2021:

Hi Flourish. Just to be clear--the chili version does not include Jello. It's just a riff on the original concept (take a cake (cornbread), poke some holes, and pour in chili.

FlourishAnyway from USA on September 04, 2021:

I have seen these a number of places recently and they've made me so nostalgic. I love the sheer variety you offer here! Gosh, it's so hard to pick a favorite! I liked the story of how this began. That original green pepper stuff with the Jello is a real head turner (or should I say stomach turmer).

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