Old-Fashioned Jell-O Poke Cake

Old-fashioned Jell-o poke cake isn't just fun to say (try it five times fast), but it's also fun to make and eat — and Erin Johnson, recipe developer from Probably in the Kitchen, is here to show you how!

"Any time I think about this cake, I think of Fourth of July potlucks when I was growing up when someone would inevitably make this," recalls Johnson. "It's so simple and has flavors that are almost universally adored."

This cake, Johnson notes, hails from a time "when packaged foods reigned supreme." Indeed, to make it, store-bought cake mix is baked up, "poked" full of holes with a fork, and flooded with packaged Jell-o to create a unique dessert that has loads of color and flavor. And if you're looking for an easy dessert for those avoiding sugar, Johnson says, this is a phenomenal option: "Just substitute sugar-free cake mix, Jell-o, and whipped topping!"

Gather the ingredients for this old-fashioned Jell-o poke cake

The ingredients list for this old-fashioned Jell-o poke cake couldn't be simpler. You'll start with boxed cake mix (vanilla or white are ideal to show off the color of the Jell-o). To the boxed mix, you'll add the usual suspects listed on the back of the box: eggs and vegetable oil.

You'll also need, of course, the Jell-o for which this recipe is named. Strawberry, cherry, lime ... your pick! Just be aware that the brighter the color of the Jell-o, the more visible it will be in the final slices. Johnson chose strawberry. To prepare the Jell-o, you'll need some water. A container of whipped topping (Cool Whip being, of course, the classic choice) is the perfect finishing touch.

Make the batter for the old-fashioned Jell-o poke cake

This cake comes together quickly, so first things first: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Next, in a mixing bowl, stir together the boxed cake mix, eggs, one cup of the water, and the oil. Use a neutral vegetable oil like canola or sunflower, which won't overpower the flavor of the cake and Jell-o. 

As always with cake batter, resist the urge to over-mix (and warn any little helpers to be careful, too!). The more you stir, the more gluten will form, which could make the finished cake tough rather than tender.

Bake the old-fashioned Jell-o poke cake

Transfer the cake batter into a greased 9x13-inch pan and bake for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean with just a few crumbs attached. Remove the cake from the oven, and set aside to cool.

While boxed cake mix certainly comes together in a snap, Johnson notes you can actually make this dessert even easier! "You could also use a frozen pound cake cut in half," she suggests, "or a store-bought angel food cake."

Prepare the Jell-o for the old-fashioned Jell-o poke cake

If you grew up making Jell-o at home, this next step holds no secrets for you: Simply bring a cup of water to a boil, and then combine it with the envelope of Jell-o. Stir until all of the granules are fully dissolved in the water, and then add the final cup of cold water to help the mixture cool down more quickly. Sticking the final cup of water in the fridge or freezer for a few minutes before adding it to the mixture will speed the process up even more!

Pour the Jell-o over the old-fashioned Jell-o poke cake

Next up, it's time to commence the "poking" this old-fashioned Jell-o poke cake is named for! Use a fork to poke holes all over the cake, about every half inch along its surface. (This is a super fun job for little ones!)

When you've formed enough holes in the cake, simply pour the Jell-o mixture over its surface. Stick the pan in the fridge and chill for at least two hours, or until all of the Jell-o has absorbed into the cake and the top surface is no longer damp.

Top the old-fashioned Jell-o poke cake with whipped topping

The finishing touch for this old-fashioned Jell-o poke cake is the whipped topping, which should be applied immediately before serving so that it doesn't melt into the cake itself. Luckily, it's a pretty quick job! Just spread the whipped topping all over the surface of the cake, using a knife to swirl it until it looks the way you want it to.

"It's very forgiving," says Johnson, "so you can play around with it." 

Just be sure to fully cover the cake with the whipped topping for the most impressive presentation. How surprised will your guests be when you cut into the starkly white cake to reveal the bright colors within?

Old-Fashioned Jell-O Poke Cake
5 from 36 ratings
Old-fashioned Jell-o poke cake isn't just fun to say (try it five times fast), but it's also fun to make and eat -- and Erin Johnson is here to show you how!
Prep Time
Cook Time
old-fashioned jell-o poke cake served
Total time: 2.67 hours
  • 1 box white cake mix
  • 3 eggs
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 box strawberry jello
  • 3 cups water, divided
  • 1 (8-ounce) container whipped topping
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Mix the cake mix with the eggs, vegetable oil, and 1 cup of water. Pour into a greased 9x13-inch pan.
  3. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
  4. Allow the cake to cool for a few minutes while you make the Jell-o.
  5. Prepare the Jell-o by mixing the contents of the box with 1 cup of boiling water. Once dissolved, add 1 cup of cold water.
  6. Using a fork, poke holes in the cake about every ½ inch. Pour the prepared Jell-o over the cake, then refrigerate for 2 hours or until all the Jell-o has absorbed into the cake.
  7. Immediately before serving, cover the top of the cake with whipped topping.
Calories per Serving 431
Total Fat 23.2 g
Saturated Fat 5.1 g
Trans Fat 0.3 g
Cholesterol 65.2 mg
Total Carbohydrates 51.5 g
Dietary Fiber 0.5 g
Total Sugars 37.7 g
Sodium 410.5 mg
Protein 5.4 g
The information shown is Edamam’s estimate based on available ingredients and preparation. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.
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