This easy poke cake is made with a boxed cake mix, fresh blueberries and blackberries simmered into a compote, and topped with vanilla or lemon flavored whipped cream. No jello filling like the old fashioned poke cakes, but also no need to make the cake part from scratch. Easy, light and features the fresh berries in a beautiful, delicious way!Jump to Recipe
What is a Poke Cake?
Poke cake is a retro dessert, traditionally made with a boxed white cake mix, a tub of Cool-Whip and a box of Jell-O. It was a popular American dessert in the 1970s, introduced by a Jell-O advertisement.
The main feature is that the cake is poked with the end of the handle of a wooden spoon while still warm and Jell-O is poured down the holes, giving it a striped look if you slice through the row of holes. After the cake is chilled it is topped with Cool Whip. It was a favorite cake to take to a Midwest potluck.
Updating the Poke Cake
The easiest way to update this cake without losing it’s retro essence is to change the Jell-O filling to a fresh berry compote and change the Cool-Whip to a DIY whipped cream. There really is no need to make the cake from scratch as the boxed cakes today are very good.
If using a boxed cake mix, I would choose a white cake mix, a yellow cake mix, or a lemon cake mix, as those allow the colors of the blueberry and blackberry compote to shine through. It is a gorgeous visual treat that generates a lot of compliments.
How to Slice to Show the Pokes
Part of the fun of a poke cake is to be able to see the berry fillings when you slice the cake. It’s easy to forget about this when adding the whipped cream topping and then you have to guess where to slice (which usually doesn’t work out too well).
So, before you top your cake with whipped cream, use a knife to mark on the sides of the cake where the center of the holes are located. You don’t frost the sides of the cake with the whipped cream topping, so those small marks will tell you where to slice for the visual appeal of the poke cake.
I found this really helpful because if you are off even by 1/4 inch when you slice, you will just see a yellow cake with a whipped cream topping. Defeats the purpose of all that poking!!
Best Berry Soak:
Fresh berry sauces take this cake from fun to absolutely delicious. Essentially you just lightly cook the berries to soften them up a bit, and then blend them into a pourable sauce.
I love the fresh light taste of blueberries, and found that adding blackberries enhanced the Summer berry flavor with a little deeper, more robust flavor. The dark purple color you get when mixing the two berries is also beautiful.
Any berries would work however. Strawberries are a popular soak. To enhance the color of strawberries, you could add some red currants or another red fruit.
Another popular “soak” for the poke holes is a sweetened condensed milk soak or a salted caramel sauce. I might try these for a Winter potluck, as you can’t beat the gorgeous stripes of color that fresh berries provide.
How to “Poke” a Poke Cake
The traditional tool for poking is the end of the handle of a wooden spoon, about 1/4- to 1/2-inch in diameter. Just look for something round, and something wide enough to allow pouring in a sauce.
In a 9 x 13 cake pan, the holes should cover the top of the cake, spaced about one inch apart. The holes should be poked down to the bottom of the pan, allowing the soak to fill the holes from top to bottom. You do not want to have a half-soaked hole!
** Another key tip: The cake should be warm for optimum soak absorption. Not so warm that the hole closes up when the spoon is removed, but warm enough that it will absorb the sauce. I let the cake cool for about 10 minutes before poking.
Once poked, let the cake chill in the refrigerator for 2 hours up to overnight, so the soak doesn’t leak as you slice it.
A traditional poke cake calls for plain Cool Whip, but homemade whipped cream is so much better, and is very easy to make. The homemade whipped cream allows you to flavor it with lemon zest, vanilla, or your favorite liqueur.
Rose water is a flavor that pairs nicely with berries and would be great in the whipped cream. A cassis liqueur would be another flavor to add to enhance the berries.
How to Store
The berry puree can be refrigerated for up to 3 days. The unfrosted cake can be frozen for up to a week. The completed cake with whipped cream topping will keep just fine in the refrigerator for about a week, if kept in a covered dish.
Blueberry & Blackberry Poke Cake
- 1 ½ cups fresh or frozen blueberries plus extra for decorating
- 1 ½ cups fresh or frozen blackberries plus extra for decorating
- ½ Cup granulated sugar
- 1 Tablespoon cornstarch
- ⅛ Teaspoon fine salt
- 2 Teaspoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 Box Cake mix white, yellow or lemon
- 3 eggs
- 2 Cups fluid heavy cream
- 3 Tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
- 2 Teaspoons vanilla extract
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-by-13-by-2-inch baking pan with cooking spray or butter. In a stand mixer mix the cake batter according to the recipe on the box (usually includes some water and 3 eggs)Bake for 35 minutes.
- While the cake is baking, in a medium saucepan over high heat, stir together the blueberries, blackberries, water, sugar, cornstarch and salt. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-high and simmer until the puree thickens and the berries begin to break down, about 10-15 minutes.Remove from the heat and let cool for about 5 minutes. Transfer the puree to a blender and blend until thick and pourable. Stir in the lemon juice. Set aside 3 to 4 tablespoons of puree in a small bowl.
- Allow the cake to cool just slightly (5-10 minutes) and then begin poking the cake with the end of a wooden (or silicone) spoon (see headnote). Poke 1 row of holes at a time (about 4 hole across). The holes should be about 1 inch apart Press the spoon handle into the cake until it feels like you may have hit the bottom of the pan. Spoon or drizzle the puree into the holes, filling each one up. The cake absorbs the puree quickly, so refill the holes with the puree until you run out, or until the cake seems adequately filled. Refrigerate the cake for at least 2 hours or overnight.
- When ready to serve, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment combine the cream, sugar and vanilla and beat on medium to medium-high speed until medium to stiff peaks form, about 5 minutes.
- After cake is chilled, run a butter knife around the sides of the pan and, using spatulas under the cake, lift the cake out of the pan. (May need 2 people to do this). Place the cake on a rectangular serving platter or cutting board. Before frosting the cake, use a small paring knife to mark the location of the the center of each row of holes. This will allow you to know where to slice the cake for presentation (so you can see the berry filling down the sides). Generously top the cake with whipped cream (leaving the sides unfrosted). Place a small spoonful of reserved berry sauce on the whipped cream topping and pull the spoon through it to leave berry swirls on the top. When ready to slice the cake, check the sides of the cake where you marked the center of the location of the holes.Sprinkle a few blueberries over the cake, if desired, slice along the rows of holes and serve.