If you have a box of lemon cake mix, you can make this beautiful Lemon Poke Cake with decadent cream cheese frosting! It's full of lemon flavor, so it's ideal for spring and summer, but it's going to be a hit just about any time of year.
Read below how to turn a regular cake mix into this bakery-quality dessert. It's meant to be served chilled, so it's perfect for a potluck, family get together, or even a special event like a baby shower or bridal shower.
How to Make a Lemon Poke Cake
Poke cakes originated in the 1980's, although Jell-O desserts were the new thing of the middle of the 20th century! Who knows, Jell-O being added to desserts may have been done long before the idea of the first “poke cake” was popularized in a cooking magazine in 1981. The mix of the jell-o and a traditional cake was soon popular across the country, and of course now there are countless recipes adding one or more colors of Jell-O or Jell-O instant pudding to any type of cake.
While many poke cakes use the traditional Jell-O gelatin as an addition to the cake mix, this one uses pudding. It's a great way to add a “filling” to the cake without having to pipe in icing or get out a lot of kitchen gadgets.
You will start with your lemon cake mix and make it according to package directions. In a medium bowl or stand mixer, add your ingredients and mix well. For baking this cake, be sure to use a deep 9×13 pan. I recommend using a glass dish, since this will be going into the refrigerator.
Prepare your lemon poke cake the night before, or at least 3-5 hours before you plan to serve it. This will allow the pudding to set.
After the cake has been cooked and has cooled about 5 minutes, take the back of a small round spoon or spatula and poke about 24 holes into the cake while it's still soft. You don't have to remove any cake. This will allow you to add the pudding and have some sink down into the finished cake.
When your cake is cool, mix your small box of pudding with your lemon zest and milk. Be sure to use the ~3 oz box, and be sure you have instant pudding, not heat and serve! Mix with 1 cup of skim milk or 2% milk. It will be thick, but we do not want the pudding to add to much liquid to the cake.
Put the cake back into the refrigerator to set while you make the icing. As mentioned above, give the pudding plenty of time to set prior to adding the frosting layer.
Time to Mix the Cake Icing!
In a bowl or stand mixer, combine your ingredients for your cake icing. This icing really adds the wow factor to this cake, so don't skip this part! If you're not a fan of frosting/icing and you want to stick with the traditional poke cake topping, you can alternately use cool whip. I personally think this icing recipe is a must, since it pipes so beautifully onto this cake!
Blend on a low speed and then allow to whip for 1-2 minutes or until the icing is soft and fluffy. Add additional heavy cream in 1/4 teaspoon increments as needed to thin out the icing to a consistency you can pipe through an icing bag with.
For this cake icing you will need:
- Softened sweet cream butter (salted)
- Powdered (confectioner's) sugar
- Lemon juice
- Lemon zest from about 3 lemons
- Heavy whipping cream
- 1 large star tip and a piping bag
- Lemon slices and mint for garnish (optional)
This is a simply blissful icing. It's sweet, but not too heavy. Using whipping cream gives the icing a thicker texture that balances out the softness of the pudding.
I love using the star tips and piping on the adorable dollops. They really dress it up! If you've never used one they're super easy, but if you're not a fan of piping icing that's ok. Of course, you can easily smooth it on with a spatula without changing the flavor very much too.
This cake will need to be refrigerated until served, or serve immediately. It's best served chilled to allow the pudding to be set as much as possible.
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You may also want to try our 3 Ingredient Greek Yogurt Cake Mix Recipe if you're looking for ways to change up a cake mix.
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Lemon Poke Cake Recipe
Lemon Poke Cake
- 1 box of Lemon cake mix 9x13 size
- 3 eggs
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 1 cup water
- 1 box of instant lemon pudding mix, the smaller (about 3 oz) size
- 1 cup of skim or 2% milk- to mix with pudding
- 2 tablespoons Lemon zest (about 2 medium lemons)
Lemon Poke Cake Buttercream Icing
- 1 cup softened sweet cream butter, salted (2 sticks)
- 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
- 1/2 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice, you can use prepared lemon juice, or juice the lemons used for zesting
- 2-4 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees
Prepare your cake mix as directed on the box, using oil, water, and the three eggs in recipe.
Spray your 9x13 glass pan with the non-stick spray and pour the lemon cake mix in.
Bake for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
Once the cake is done, pull it out and let it cool for 5 minutes.
Using the medium bowl, combine the pudding mix, lemon zest and milk.
Mix for 2 minutes until pudding is thick- pudding will be thicker than package directions since we are using only half as much milk.
Using the wooden spoon, poke holes into the cake going horizontally and vertically.
Pour the pudding over the cake and use the spatula to smooth the pudding over the cake. Make sure you get pudding into every hole in the cake.
Place cake into the fridge for 4 hour or overnight. Prepare icing using instructions below:
Using a standing mixer, combine all ingredients and mix on low to medium speed. Add heavy whipping cream as the last ingredient. Add in small increments, adjusting to how thick you need the icing to be. Icing should be thin enough to pipe with a cake decorating piping bag and tip.
Scrap the sides using a rubber spatula
Continue to mix until the frosting is smooth and creamy.
Scoop the frosting into the piping bag and pipe stars on the cake.
Top with lemon slices and mint.
Optionally, you can use 1 small tub of thawed cool whip to top the cake with. Add lemon zest over the top for decoration and additional lemon flavor.
Amount Per Serving Calories 557Total Fat 30gSaturated Fat 13gTrans Fat 1gUnsaturated Fat 15gCholesterol 96mgSodium 525mgCarbohydrates 69gFiber 1gSugar 48gProtein 5g