Poke Cakes seem to hit their peak popularity in the 1970s, originally a campaign created to increase sluggish sales for Jell-O gelatin. Women’s magazines featured full-page advertisements showcasing recipes for the fun and festive looking, new “Jell-O Gelatin Poke Cake.” The cake/gelatin/cool whip concoction was marketed as the perfect dessert for the busy housewife, and soon poke cakes became potluck and picnic staples.
The original idea behind the poke cake was simple, elevate a plain white cake by drenching it in Jell-o, adding flavor, color and moisture to a sheet cake. The coconut version of poke cakes happens to be my favorite. My all-time favorite guilty pleasure food is a frozen Pepperidge farm coconut cake, and I think this poke cake is a pretty close copycat recipe for my favorite frozen square cake!
Making a Coconut Cream Poke Cake is quick and easy. Sure, you could make the cake from scratch, but poke cakes are just kind of a fuss-free cake. Even though I generally like to bake from scratch, I make an exception for this retro cake. I have had great results with poke cakes when they are made with “natural-ingredient” cake mixes such as Pillsbury Purely Simple, or Miss Jones Baking Organic Cake Mix, because these types of cake mixes tend to create a denser crumb, I personally think these mixes carry the addition of a heavier filling like coconut cream better.
Poke the cake with holes all over (hence the name “poke cake”). I use the handle end of a wooden spoon. But you could use a straw, a chop stick, even a large serving fork, whatever you have handy. Just get some holes in that cake.
Stabilized Whipped Cream Topping
Making homemade stabilized whipped topping may seem like an unnecessary step, but it is SO EASY and the time it takes is completely worth it. I think we all have our own tolerance level for commercially prepared products, I will occasionally break out a box cake mix, but generally avoid the frozen tubs of whipped topping, The frozen stuff is just is not the same as real homemade whipped cream. Making the whipped topping is worth the extra step, I promise.
While we are on the topic of the whipped cream, I will admit the stabilizing the whipped topping is optional. Whipped cream doesn’t keep well if made in advance, and will likely start weeping and losing its shape pretty quickly. If I am making anything that has a whipped cream frosting to bring to a gathering I always use stabilized whipped cream, it just looks nicer longer.
Stabilizing whipped cream is remarkably similar to stabilizing the sponge centers of sponge candy, all you need is unflavored gelatin. If you have never worked with unflavored gelatin before there are a few things to know, but don’t worry it is super easy! Before adding gelatin to a recipe, it must be softened and then melted, a process known as “blooming”, and involves 2 super easy steps:
- Place a small amount of cold water in a shallow bowl. Sprinkle the gelatin evenly over the top of the water. It will begin to absorb the water and swell in size. Let the mixture stand for 5 minutes.
- Heat very gently, in the microwave for about 10 seconds, and then stir until dissolved. To verify the granules are melted, lift the stirring utensil and make certain that there are no undissolved granules clinging to it.
Once the gelatin has been bloomed and melted, you can add it to your cream, for whipped cream to looks great on a cake or pie!
- 1 box white cake mix, and the ingredients listed to make cake on the box: egg whites, oil, and water
- 1 - 15 oz can cream of coconut
- 1 - 8 oz package sweetened flaked coconut
Stabilized Whipped Cream:
- 1 teaspoon unflavored Knox gelatin
- 4 teaspoons cold water
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 cup powdered sugar, more or less to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Prepare the Cake:
- Prepare and bake white cake mix according to package directions for a 9 x 13 pan.
- Remove cake from oven, and while still hot, poke holes all over the top of cake using a large fork.
- Open can of Cream of Coconut (making sure to stir it first) and pour over warm cake.
- Evenly coat the whole cake and spread it around so it will soak in.
- Let cake cool completely then frost with whipped topping.
- Then top with flaked coconut.
Prepare the Whipped Cream:
- Place cold water in small bowl and sprinkle gelatin over it. Let sit for 5 minutes. While it's sitting, place heavy cream, powdered sugar, and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment or in a mixing bowl if using an electric beater.
- Once gelatin is set, place the bowl in microwave and heat until gelatin turns to liquid, about 10 seconds.
- Turn mixer on to start beating cream. Let it run for about 1 minute and then with the mixer on high, very slowly pour the melted gelatin in, in a small steady stream.
- Continue beating cream until you reach medium-stiff peaks. Spread or pipe whipped cream as desired.
- Store cake covered in the refrigerator.
If you don't feel like making stabilized whipped cream, use an 8-oz container of frozen whipped topping to frost the cake.
Recipe Adapted From the Country Cook
Do you like poke cakes? There are a ton of variations, which flavor combinations are your favorites?