Why you’ll love it
This lemon poke cake sums up everything I love in a cake – it’s tender, fluffy, soft and moist which is my favourite kind of cake. That fluffy lemon cake is filled with gooey pockets of lemon curd, then finally topped with glorious waves of chantilly cream (a sweetened vanilla whipped cream).
What’s more, it’s easy to make. Just like a regular cake, creaming butter and sugar, adding flour and milk but there are a few ingredients in the mix that help create that amazingly soft texture.
This lemon poke cake is truly sublime. It has the right balance of sweetness and tanginess, the amazingly soft texture and that lightly sweetened, cloud-like cream topping just takes it to a whole other level. And there’s no yellow cake mix here, this is all made from scratch and it’s worth every moment.
This recipe was first published here on May 7th, 2019. The recipe has changed slightly – almond extract removed and an easier, more delicious cream in place of the original very sweet frosting.
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What is a poke cake?
Good question, and once you know it makes complete sense. Poke cake is a sheet cake that is so named as you literally poke holes all over it after it’s been baked and pour over some kind of syrup that seeps down into those holes to add flavour and moisture. In the case of this lemon cake, that “syrup” is lemon curd (and a little fresh lemon juice to loosen it).
Always topped with some kind of cream or frosting, this poke cake is topped with a chantilly cream so it’s incredibly easy to make and means there is a harmonious balance of sweetness between the cake and topping.
While many recipes will use various types of cake mix like a white cake mix, yellow cake mix, lemon cake mix, this cake is made from scratch but it’s simple and worth every moment.
Ingredients you’ll need
The ingredients list for this lemon poke cake recipe may look a little longer than normal but it really isn’t. Some are doubled up, for instance, shown in both the cake and the topping ingredients.
I use a combination of flours instead of keeping cake flour in my pantry. There is a combination of leaveners for the perfect lift and fluffy texture and a combination of fats to keep this buttery and beautifully moist. This truly is a gorgeous cake.
Jump to the recipe for full ingredients and instructions.
- Flours: I use a combination of plain flour (aka all purpose flour) and cornflour (US cornstarch). This combination is essentially homemade cake flour so, if you have cake flour on hand, use that in place of both.
- Leaveners: We use both baking powder and baking soda here for the most perfect lift and fluffiness in this lemon poke cake.
- Sugar: Just white granulated sugar is all you need. I tend to use caster sugar (aka superfine sugar) but both work fine.
- Fats: Butter provides that unmistakeable buttery flavour and a little oil adds so much moisture to the cake, preventing it from turning dry.
- Eggs: I always use large free range eggs. Use the best you can afford.
- Buttermilk: Buttermilk is a great way to add a little tang but more than that, it keeps the cake tender.
- Lemons: You’ll need 1-2 medium lemons depending on how juicy they are for fresh lemon zest and juice.
- Lemon Curd: I highly recommend you make your lemon curd from scratch – it’s magical stuff and honestly so simple to make. It tastes a million times better than any storebought I’ve ever tried too.
- Vanilla: I add a little to the cake which is optional but definitely don’t skip it in the cream topping.
- Cream: For the chantilly cream topping which is just a sweetened whipped cream, use thickened cream (aka heavy cream).
How to make poke cake
Jump to the recipe for full ingredients and instructions.
- Cream the butter and sugar: In a stand mixer using a paddle attachment or just using your handheld beater in a large bowl, beat together the butter, oil and sugar until it looks pale and fluffy.
- Add eggs: Now onto the eggs, adding them just one at a time (photo 1) and beating on low until each is beaten in (photo 2). Make sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl often during this stage.
- Dry ingredients: Whisk together the dry ingredients in a bowl, then add just a third and stir it in with a spatula (photo 3).
- Wet ingredients: Combine buttermilk, lemon juice, lemon zest and some vanilla in a small jug then pour in half of that mixture (photo 4), stirring it in with the spatula.
- Finish adding it all: Now, you’re going to alternate in 3 more additions – flour mixture, buttermilk mixture, flour mixture – stirring with the spatula each time until just combined (photo 5).
- Bake: Transfer the lemon poke cake batter to a lined 9×13 cake pan and spread it out as neatly as possible (photo 6). Bake until a toothpick comes out with a crumb or two attached.
- Poke holes: Here’s where a poke cake gets it’s name – use a chopstick (the thick end) to poke holes all over the hot cake about 1 inch apart (photo 7). You can make bigger holes using the handle of a wooden spoon to get bigger puddles of lemon curd.
- Add the lemon curd: Mix together lemon curd and a little lemon juice and pour then spread it all over the top of the cake, making sure it seeps down into those holes (photo 8).
- Now that dreamy cream topping: Just whip the cream, sugar and vanilla in a bowl until it reaches stiff peaks (photo 9) – just – be very careful not to overwhip or it will become grainy.
- Spread: Spread that gorgeous cream all over the top of the cooled lemon poke cake (photo 10). Done!
Tips and tricks for perfect poke cake
This completely made-from-scratch poke cake is truly so good – everyone will be wanting the recipe – and here’s a few tips to make sure you get it perfect.
- Weigh ingredients: Especially when it comes to flour and sugar, always weigh your ingredients. Different ways of scooping from your container will result in different amounts of flour and too much may cause a dry cake while too little might mean it just doesn’t hold together. Use kitchen scales if you can, they’re cheap and they save on washing up cup measures, since you can measure straight into your bowl. If you don’t have them and don’t want to get them, use a spoon to spoon the flour into your cup measure, then level it off with the back of a knife without patting it down.
- Add the lemon curd while the cake is hot: This helps the lemon curd seep right down into the cake.
- Let the cake cool before topping: Don’t add the chantilly cream until the cake is completely cool or it will just melt.
- Store in the fridge but serve at room temperature: Due to the cream topping, this lemon poke does need to be stored in the fridge, however, give it half an hour at room temperature before serving. A cold cake is firm and not as flavourful as a room temperature one – true story.
Filling ideas for poke cakes
There is such a variety of fillings you can use for poke cake, and in fact the lemon in this cake batter will work with many of them.
- Fruit curds: From lime, to orange to blackberry, they’ll all work with this cake in place of the lemon curd.
- Jams / preserves: Try strawberry or raspberry jam especially.
- Jelly / Jello: Make up a batch of your favourite flavour, like lemon jello, and let it just begin to set slightly before pouring it over the cake.
- Instant lemon pudding mix: Instant pudding mix is a classic filling for poke cake.
- Syrup: Fruit syrups like lemon syrup, passionfruit syrup or orange syrup are all wonderful. For these, just use a skewer to create your holes – you don’t want puddles of liquid syrup turning your cake soggy.
- Ganache: I’m personally not a fan of lemon and chocolate together but many people absolutely swear by it, so give it a try and see what you think.
Store your lemon poke cake in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days (or up to the expiry date on your cream carton).
You can freeze slices for later too. The cream topping texture may alter slightly but it will still taste good. Transfer from the freezer to thaw in the fridge for best results.
If you’ve used a different topping to the lemon curd noted in the recipe, it may have been too liquid or maybe your holes were too close together. Also, make sure the holes are large so you get pockets of lemon curd.
It’s called a poke cake quite literally because of the holes that you poke all over it.
The first poke cake recipe was developed by General Foods Kitchen in 1976 and it was made using a Jell-O crystal syrup (jelly crystals to Aussies) as the filling.
Did you try this lemon poke cake recipe?
Leaving a rating and comment below the recipe is so helpful!
FOR THE CAKE
- 260 g plain flour (all-purp flour) (2 cups / 9.2oz)
- 35 g cornflour (US cornstarch) (¼ cup / 1.2oz) (notes)
- 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda (bicarb soda)
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 300 g white granulated sugar (1 ½ cups / 10 ½oz)
- 113 g unsalted butter, softened (½ cup / 1 stick / 4oz)
- ¼ cup vegetable oil (60ml_
- 3 large eggs, room temp
- ¾ cup buttermilk, room temp (180ml)
- 1-2 medium lemons
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, optional
- 1 cup lemon curd
FOR THE CHANTILLY CREAM
- 2 cups thickened cream (heavy whipping cream)
- ¼ cup white granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract (or vanilla bean paste)
- more lemon zest to top
For best results, always weigh ingredients where a weight is provided
- FOR THE CAKE:Preheat the oven to 180C (160C fan forced) / 350F. Grease and line a 9×13 baking pan with baking paper. If your tin has short sides, make sure the paper comes up past the top edge by a little way.
- Zest one of the lemons, then juice the lemons until you have ⅓ of a cup. Set aside.
- Add the eggs, one at a time, beating each until the mixture is smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl from time to time.
- In a jug, mix together the buttermilk, ¼ cup of the lemon juice, lemon zest and vanilla.
- Add ⅓ of the flour mixture to the butter and egg mix. Beat on low or stir until just combined. Follow with half the buttermilk mixture, mixing until just combined.
- Now, using a spatula, not the mixer, repeat the process using three more instalments – flour, buttermilk, flour – mixing each time until just combined.
- Pour the batter into the prepared baking tin and gently spread out evenly all over. If you make the centre slightly lower than the edges, you’ll end up with a flatter cake surface as the centre does rise slightly.
- Bake for around 28 minutes. Start checking 2-3 minutes before by poking with a toothpick – it’s done when the toothpick comes out with just a crumb or two attached.
- Heat the lemon curd and the remaining tablespoon of lemon juice in a small saucepan until just a little warm and thinned a little.
- Use the thick end of a chopstick to poke holes all over the cake about 1 inch apart.
- Pour the warmed lemon curd over the top, then spread it out, making sure to nudge it into the holes so it can seep down.
- Set the cake aside to cool completely.
- FOR THE CHANTILLY CREAM:In the bowl of a stand mixer with whisk attachment or large bowl with handheld mixer, beat the cream, sugar and vanilla until it just reaches stiff peaks – careful not to overmix or it will turn grainy.
- Spread over the cooled cake, then add a little more lemon zest to the top.
- Serve immediately or chill until required, brining to room temperature 1/2 an hour before serving.
- Please take a moment to leave a comment & rating. It's appreciated and so helpful.
- Tablespoons: I use a standard Australian 20ml tablespoon (equal to 4 teaspoons). Check yours before measuring.
- If you’d like to make your own, you can use this lemon curd recipe.
- Cornflour / cornstarch: I use corn starch a lot in my baking. Cake flour is a combination of all-purpose and cornstarch but, to save space in my pantry, I use this combo in my recipes a lot instead of buying cake flour.
- For best results, you should always weigh ingredients like flour and sugar. Kitchen scales are relatively cheap but if you can’t weigh the ingredients, use the spoon and level method (don’t scoop).
- All ovens vary – always test for doneness 5-7 minutes before the recipe suggests.
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