Heather Rode enjoys photography, baking, antiques, and hair care.
Gelatin Poke Cake
Depending on where you're from or where you grew up, you might call this easy dessert recipe "poke cake" or "Jell-O cake." Whatever you call it, it's always delicious. My mom taught me how to make Jell-O cakes, and I make them all year long. They taste incredible on a hot Arizona summer day. You can experiment with different flavors and combinations and really have fun with this idea. If it looks like it's hard or takes too long—it doesn't. If you can follow a standard box cake recipe and boil water, then you'll do just fine.
What Kind of Cake Should I Bake Today?
The cake pictures in the majority of this tutorial are a yellow Betty Crocker cake that I made. I like the contrast of color between a white cake mix and a dark gelatin. The cake on the right is a more recent dessert I made with a strawberry Pillsbury cake. The steps are exactly the same. See the bottom of the page for info on making this dessert as cupcakes and for more pictures of the triple strawberry cake.
- 1 cake mix
- 2 small packages (or 1 large) Jell-O gelatin mix
- 1 (8-ounce) container Cool Whip
- fresh strawberries (optional)
|Prep time||Cook time||Ready in||Yields|
2 hours 15 min
2 hours 45 min
Approximately 12 servings
- Prepare and bake your cake mix according to the packaging. I usually use a white or yellow cake mix. See the bottom of the page for the strawberry cake mix version. I like to bake my cake in a clear Pyrex cake pan because I enjoy seeing this cake from every angle.
- Once the cake is 100% cool, use the handle/tip of a wooden cooking spoon to "drill" holes into your cake. Pierce the cake, holding the spoon end, and spin 360 degrees. Gently pull the spoon out and repeat this step until your cake is full of holes. TIP: Don't try this step unless your cake is cool. Doing this to a warm cake will make mush out of it. Also, make sure your holes aren't too close together as this will also ruin the structural integrity of your cake. If your spoon is becoming clumped with cake residue, your cake is still too warm for this step.
- Prepare your Jell-O mix using the powder and only half of the water needed as described on the box. For example, if the Jell-O calls for one cup of hot water and one cup of cold, just use the hot water (it helps dissolve your powder). The larger boxes of Jell-O call for 2 cups hot and 2 cups cold. I used a large box for this cake and used 2 cups of hot water. Stir with a fork until the mix is completely dissolved. I like to prepare mine in a large pyrex measuring cup to make the next step easier.
- Pour your colorful Jell-O liquid into the cake holes. I like to pour a little in each hole, to ensure coverage and if I have any left over, I repeat this step.
- Return your cake to the fridge to chill. Allow at least 2 hours. Eating it too early will result in a soggy mess. The cake needs time to absorb the liquid Jell-O and the Jell-O needs time to cool off and gel.
- Frost your cake with Cool Whip or freshly whipped cream. Evenly frost your cake, taking care to cover any holes from the previous steps.
- Decorate with fresh strawberries and serve immediately or return to the fridge to keep cold. Keep refrigerated and cover leftovers to prevent drying out.
Pour Into Holes
Helpful Tips and Ideas
Can I frost my Jell-O Cake a Little Early?
- For best results, you should let your cake fully chill. Even though you allowed your cake to cool between baking and poking, you also poured the hot liquid into it right after. It needs to be cold and it will take a little while to get there. I've frosted a Jell-O cake or two before her time and it was not pretty. Your cool whip or freshly whipped cream topping will melt and get watery if your cake is not ready. Don't mess up all your hard work.
- For holidays, I like to do two colors (so two small boxes of Jell-O instead of a large one). For Christmas, I have done strawberry (red) and lime (green). A 4th of July Jell-O cake uses a white cake mix with a red gelatin of your choice and blue berry-flavored Jell-O.
- If doing two colors, prepare the warm Jell-O liquid separately each time. Pour one color into your cake holes, alternating every other hole. Repeat this step with your second color (flavor) filling the empty holes you skipped in the previous step. If you wish, you can pour both Jell-Os into the same holes. The colors won't be as muddled as if you mixed them together prior to pouring. Avoid mixing colors if they don't complement one another or if one color will significantly "take over" the other color.
- You can prepare this dessert as cupcakes too. Bake cupcakes in foil-lined cupcake papers (because they're stronger and they stop colors from bleeding through). Keep baked cupcakes in a muffin pan for easy transportation purposes. When cooled, use the wooden spoon technique to "drill" a hole in the center of each cupcake and gently fill it with some Jell-O liquid. Make sure to put a little liquid in each cupcake at first and then refill with seconds if needed. Refrigerate cupcakes for at least two hours before frosting and serving. The cupcakes will be spongy. Serve cold and keep refrigerated.
Triple Strawberry Cupcakes
Tips for a Beautiful Triple Strawberry Cake
While most of my Jell-o cakes are rectangular and baked in Pyrex, I wanted to try something extra fancy with this cake. It's possible, but there are a few important tricks.
- Bake this strawberry cake in a spring form pan. Once the Strawberry Jell-O sets, it likes to gently stick to the bottom of your dish like a suction cup. Forget trying to pry it out of a standard baking pan without doing some serious damage to this cake.
- Line the outside of your cake dish with strips of wax paper to keep your stand looking pretty. Gently pull them out and toss them when you're finished frosting.
- Stir whip in container before frosting. Dump most if not all of your frosting on top/middle of cake in a giant dollop and spread. This stops little cake crumbs from coming loose and traveling as you frost which makes your cake look crumby and messy.
- I like the rustic look I achieved with this cake by using whole strawberries with the leaves on. Make sure you wash and dry your berries thoroughly.
- Keep leftovers covered (or they'll dry out) and refrigerated (or your whip will melt).
Tips for Frosting Cupcakes
For picture-perfect-cool-whip-frosted cupcakes make sure your cupcakes and whip are very cold.
- Stir cool whip in container to get rid of any clues that it's been sitting in a tub.
- Spoon into cake decorating/pastry bag or large Ziploc bag with a corner snipped off.
- Decorate in a counter-clockwise circular motion starting in the middle to build up height and working outwards.
- Top with freshly washed and dried strawberries.
This is hands-down my favorite summertime desert. It tastes best once it's had a nice, long chill in the frig. Experiment with your own color and flavor combinations. Next time you want to make an amazing dessert but lack the prep time or fancy ingredients, make this Jell-O cake. Remember that the bulk of the time necessary for this cake is spent in the oven and frig, so you can prepare it in between cooking a meal or do it over the course of a day in between errands. You can't ruin it and it practically makes itself. If you're crunched for time, bake the cake the night before.
More Ways to Cook With Jell-O
- Cooking with Jell-O: How to Make Cherry Lemon Lime Summertime Slushies
Make homemade slushies using only three ingredients that you probably have in your kitchen right now. A delicious treat for summer that's fun, easy, and fast. Create your own unique flavor combinations!
- No-Bake Double Berry Cake Squares
An easy no-bake dessert recipe that only takes 15 minutes but looks like a million bucks. Made with blueberries and raspberries, this is a great way to turn a child or picky eater onto eating berries.
- How to Make Pink Strawberry Popcorn Balls | Recipe
Make colorful and delicious popcorn for under $5. This is a snack that everyone will have fun making and eating. Includes pictures and video.