The ‘poke cake‘ is an advertising invention of the late 1970s, when Jell-O created it to increase sluggish sales. The Jell-O salads of the ‘50s and ‘60s were outmoded and on the wane so this was a way to bring it back. These cakes were colorful and easy to make. A fork, chopstick or the handle of a wooden spoon is used to poke deep holes all over the top of the baked cake. Next, it is topped with a colorful Jell-O syrup, which trickles into the cake looking like brightly colored streamers.
But, like all successful desserts, even the poke cake has undergone numerous reinterpretations over time. Starting from the base no longer cooked only in vanilla flavor but also made with coconut, lemon, chocolate, with fruit & yogurt, arriving at the holes that are filled in other choices such as chocolate, cream, jams, etc. etc.
Although it would seem like poke cakes are a phenomenon born in corporate American kitchens, drenching cake in flavorful liquids is not new, or an entirely an American creation. England’s sticky toffee pudding, a single layer date cake, is poked all over while still warm from the oven with a fork or skewer and drenched in sticky butterscotch sauce. Genoise, the classic French sponge cake, is almost always soaked in sugar syrups spiked with liqueur, not just for flavor, but to keep the cake fresh and prevent it from drying out. Pastel de tres leches, or ‘three-milks cake’, is a beloved Latin American classic. Made from sponge cake soaked in a milky syrup combining evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk and heavy cream. All three called for this hole-poking action long before the 1970’s.
Of course, getting back to my German heritage, brings to mind a German butter cake or butter kuchen. This classic yeasted cake (actually more like bread), seems to be very closely aligned with the poke cake idea. After the dough has risen and been rolled out, deep impressions are made for the filling to nestle in. I think some blueberries and lemon curd will work nicely here.