Red Velvet Poke Cake

Red Velvet Poke Cake

Poke cakes have been around for a long, long time. I remember getting recipes for different versions through email “recipe exchanges” back in the early 2000’s. That’s when they popped onto my radar, and I have a feeling that they had been floating around for decades before that. I’ve been wanting to make one for ages, but one of the things holding me back was that every single recipe I found called for box cake mix, jarred toppings and a tub of whipped topping. I’m not necessarily opposed to box mixes in special circumstances, but I was hesitant to make an entire recipe based on packaged ingredients. I put it on the back burner for awhile, but revisited the idea in anticipation of Valentine’s Day. A super moist red velvet cake with a luscious layer of cream cheese frosting? From scratch? Valentine’s perfection!

Red Velvet Poke Cake

I doubled the recipe for my red velvet cupcakes and baked it in a 9×13-inch pan. Once it came out of the oven, I poked holes all over the top using the bottom of a wooden spoon and poured a can of sweetened condensed milk over top. The idea is to let the sweetened condensed milk slowly seep into the cake, giving it a boost of flavor and keeping it incredibly moist. You can’t have red velvet without cream cheese frosting, so once the cake cooled completely, I slathered a modified cream cheese frosting over the top and showered it with some pretty pink, red and white Valentine’s sprinkles.

Red Velvet Poke Cake

This is the red velvet cake of dreams. Also, there may or may not have been a few pieces of cake salvaged from a tupperware container in the back of the fridge a good 10 days after it was made. I thought for sure it would be beyond stale, but shockingly, it was insanely moist and tasted delicious. So, it has some staying power, as well ;-)

Look out, I’m about to go hog wild reinventing from-scratch versions of some of the poke cakes that I’ve been ogling for years!

Red Velvet Poke Cake

One year ago: Raspberry Cream Cheese Brownies and How to Make Sushi at Home: Sushi Rice & California Rolls
Two years ago: Best Buttermilk Pancakes
Three years ago: Creme Brûlée

Red Velvet Poke Cake

Yield: 12 servings

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour 15 minutes

A red velvet cake has holes poked all over it, doused in sweetened condensed milk, and then covered in cream cheese frosting.

Ingredients:

For the Cake:
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1½ cups granulated sugar
2 eggs
5 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
6 tablespoons red food coloring
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk
2¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar

1 (12-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk

For the Frosting:
8 ounces butter, at room temperature
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
4¼ cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons vanilla extract

Directions:

1. Make the Cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9x13-inch baking pan.

2. On medium-high speed, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Turn the mixer to high and add the eggs. Scrape down the bowl and beat until well incorporated.

3. In a separate small bowl, mix together the cocoa powder, vanilla extract and red food coloring to make a thick paste. Add to the batter and mix on medium speed until completely combined. You may need to stop the mixer to scrape the bottom of the bowl, making sure that all the batter gets color.

4. Reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly add half of the buttermilk. Add half of the flour and mix until combined. Scrape the bowl and repeat the process with the remaining milk and flour. Beat on high until smooth, about 1 minutes.

5. Again, reduce the mixer speed to low and add the salt, baking soda and vinegar. Turn to high and beat for another 2 minutes until completely combined and smooth.

6. Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan, smoothing the top into an even layer with a spatula. Bake until a thin knife or skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, about 25 to 30 minutes.

7. Remove the cake from the oven and immediately poke holes all over the top of the cake. You can use the end of a wooden spoon, a skewer, the tines of a fork, etc. Slowly pour the can of condensed milk all over the top of the cake, making sure to drizzle it evenly all over the top. Allow the cake to cool completely before frosting and decorating.

8. Make the Frosting: Using a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, whip the butter and cream cheese on high speed for about 5 minutes, scraping the bowl down as necessary. Reduce the speed to low and slowly add the powdered sugar until all is incorporated. Add the vanilla and mix to combine. Increase the speed to medium high and whip for a few minutes until the frosting is light and fluffy, scraping the bowl as necessary.

8. Spread the frosting evenly over the top of the cake and decorate as desired. Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

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125 Responses to “Red Velvet Poke Cake”

Comment Pages 1 2
  1. Maggie @ A Bitchin' Kitchen on February 13, 2013 at 12:13 am

    This looks AMAZING! I’ve made your red velvet cupcake recipe before and love it, so I know I’d adore this too!

    Reply

  2. Kristen on February 13, 2013 at 12:25 am

    Yum! My grandma used to do a vanilla poke cake. I bet this is good too

    Reply

  3. Mimi @ Culinary Couture on February 13, 2013 at 12:45 am

    Poke cake from scratch? Sign me up!

    Reply

  4. Jenn on February 13, 2013 at 1:10 am

    Yum! I still haven’t tried a poke cake, but I found this a while ago (I think via Pinterest), and it also from scratch. Chocolate- peanut butter pudding poke cake (right up your alley!). :). http://www.evilshenanigans.com/2012/07/chocolate-peanut-butter-pudding-poke-cake/

    Reply

  5. Averie @ Averie Cooks on February 13, 2013 at 2:50 am

    LOVE poke cakes. I love the huge holes you poked into it – nothing skimpy. For maximum seepage potential! And I love that you’re going to re-do some poke cakes, from scratch. All the ones I see are cake mix and nothing wrong with cake mix, but I also like to reinvent the wheel as often as I can :) Love that this baby was still fresh 10 days later!

    Reply

  6. Heidi @ Bits of Sunshine on February 13, 2013 at 6:22 am

    OH WOW! A whole tin of condensed milk AND cream cheese frosting. this sounds AMAZING!

    Reply

  7. Katrina @ Warm Vanilla Sugar on February 13, 2013 at 6:38 am

    This sounds so neat! I’ve never made a poke cake before!

    Reply

  8. Thea on February 13, 2013 at 6:38 am

    Oh my… first blog to read this morning – those photos are so mouthwatering!! Delicious and a must make.

    Reply

  9. Ellen @ The Baking Bluenoser on February 13, 2013 at 7:22 am

    This looks so moist and delicious! I have never heard of poke cake before but it’s a genius idea! Thanks :)

    Reply

  10. Dev on February 13, 2013 at 7:33 am

    No buttermilk; can I substitute with something else?

    Reply

    • Eileen on February 13th, 2013 at 9:04 am

      When I don’t have buttermilk on hand (which I seldom ever do) I sour regular milk with a tsp. of lemon juice, or vinegar.

      Reply

      • Eileen on February 13th, 2013 at 9:05 am

        oops, that was meant to be 1 tablespoon of vinegar. Sorry…

        Reply

        • Dev on February 13th, 2013 at 9:27 am

          Thank you so much – so helpful!

          Reply

    • Michelle on February 13th, 2013 at 12:08 pm

      Hi Dev, Ditto Eileen. You can put 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or white vinegar into a measuring cup, then add milk until it reaches 1 cup. Let it sit for about 5 minutes and it will thicken up to the same consistency as buttermilk.

      Reply

      • Julie @ Table for Two on February 13th, 2013 at 9:25 pm

        So, is it 1 tbsp. of vinegar to every 1 cup of milk?

        Reply

        • Michelle on February 14th, 2013 at 10:37 am

          Hi Julie, Put 1 tablespoon vinegar (or lemon juice) in a measuring cup, then add enough milk to get it to measure 1 cup. Let stand for 5 minutes. Just a note – this is just a substitution trick to replace the buttermilk in the recipe in the event you don’t have or can’t find buttermilk, but doesn’t replace the vinegar actually called for in the recipe.

          Reply

    • Alice on March 9th, 2013 at 3:17 pm

      Another option is to keep buttermilk powder around. It keeps forever, and a year after opening. You mix it with water.

      Reply

      • monina on April 29th, 2013 at 1:06 pm

        may i know the ratio for powdered buttermilk?

        Reply

  11. Jennifer @ Peanut Butter and Peppers on February 13, 2013 at 8:00 am

    Love the cake and love all the pokes in it! Great idea!!! I’m also loving the sprinkles on top, too cute!!

    Reply

  12. Liz @ Tip Top Shape on February 13, 2013 at 8:20 am

    That image of pouring the condensed milk over the cake had me almost drooling! So good!!!

    Reply

  13. Nicky @ Pink Recipe Box on February 13, 2013 at 8:25 am

    That’s the same reason I’ve never made a poke cake before – I really don’t fancy putting a load of pre-made stuff together!
    Love the idea of making it from scratch, though, and I can’t get over how adorable your sprinkles are!

    Reply

  14. Federico on February 13, 2013 at 8:37 am

    Mamma mia!!! Buonissima!!! WOW

    Reply

  15. Eileen on February 13, 2013 at 9:08 am

    I’m with you. I seldom use boxed mixes. It’s not that they don’t taste good, it’s just all of the weird ingredients that go into them that scare me. This cake made from scratch looks so moist and delicious – yum!

    Reply

  16. Terri C on February 13, 2013 at 9:27 am

    Oh sounds so good!

    Reply

  17. Nicole on February 13, 2013 at 9:35 am

    OMG…I am totally going to make this cake this weekend! Endless possibilities come to mind after seeing this post! I love your blog…it’s always a bright spot in my day! Thanks!

    Reply

  18. Tracey on February 13, 2013 at 9:56 am

    You are an evil genius my friend :) It’s a good thing I don’t have sweetened condensed milk in the house or I might be making this for lunch!

    Reply

    • Janice on February 14th, 2013 at 12:54 pm

      I made my own sweetened condensed milk yesterday. Heat 2 c. whole milk
      3/4 c. sugar until it’s just barely simmering. Reduce heat to low and reduce by half. When reduced to your liking, whisk in 4 Tbs. butter and 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla.

      Reply

  19. Rieneke on February 13, 2013 at 10:13 am

    Just baked this cake, but it took forever to bake! It took at least 45 minutes for the centre of the cake to be done. The cake itself had also become very high in te middle and flat at the sides… what could be the problem??
    I will finish the cake with frosting but it really doesn’t look all that good to give away as a Valentine’s gift now.

    Reply

    • Michelle on February 13th, 2013 at 12:19 pm

      Hi Rieneke, I’m sorry you had some problems. It definitely should not take that long to bake, and being in there so long is what may have caused the middle to dome up. While the sides will be slightly lower than the middle (you can see that on my cake) the middle shouldn’t rise dramatically. Did you use a 9×13-inch pan, or another size? I would also check to make sure your oven temperature is correct and not running on the cool side, which could also cause that problem.

      Reply

      • Rieneke on February 13th, 2013 at 1:06 pm

        Thanks for the reply! I will try again soon. I think the temperature of my oven might be running low. I scraped off the dome of the cake and covered the rest with the frosting so it still looks pretty good! And the scraps tasted great, so all is not lost!

        Reply

    • Beckie on February 13th, 2013 at 9:04 pm

      Mine also took almost 45 minutes to bake. I use a separate oven thermometer and it was definitely set at 350 degrees. Mine didn’t dome up though and is sitting and soaking up that yummy condensed milk goodness right now!

      Reply

    • Tracey on February 14th, 2013 at 2:07 pm

      I just made it, and the same thing happened to mine: it took 45 minutes to bake and rose high in the middle. It also cracked where it rose. I turned up the heat a bit when I saw how slowly it was baking.

      Reply

      • Tracey on February 14th, 2013 at 2:09 pm

        I baked it in a glass 9 x 13 pan. Could using glass rather than metal make a difference?

        Reply

        • Michelle on February 15th, 2013 at 12:57 am

          Hi Tracey, I baked mine in a glass pan and it definitely didn’t take that long to bake.

          Reply

  20. Marcie @ Flavor The Moments on February 13, 2013 at 10:20 am

    I’m with you on the boxed cake mix thing — from scratch tastes so much better and has quality ingredients. I love red velvet anything, and since I just made red velvet brownies with cream cheese frosting, I’m gonna have to wait to make this cake until those are gone! I could eat both, I guess?

    Reply

  21. KnittyWendy on February 13, 2013 at 10:20 am

    My grandmother used to make an insanely good coconut poke cake. Yellow cake with cream of coconut poured on the top then a tasty white icing with coconut sprinkled on top. Out of this world!

    Reply

  22. Rachel @ Baked by Rachel on February 13, 2013 at 10:22 am

    My old co-worker use to always bring poke cakes to work. Love this one!

    Reply

  23. Dee on February 13, 2013 at 10:25 am

    Okay – so I know this is going to sound silly and hopefully not a stupid question realizing it is RED velvet cake. I try to avoid food coloring — If I don’t add the red coloring will that take away from the moistness since it’s 6 Tablespoons of liquid? I really would like to try this – I do have natural food coloring but it’s really pricey and 6 tablespoons might clean me out!

    Reply

    • Michelle on February 13th, 2013 at 12:19 pm

      Hi Dee, Not a stupid question! You can leave out the food coloring if you’d like (of course the cake won’t have a red color to it), I would just replace it with water so the liquid is not lost.

      Reply

  24. Kristi on February 13, 2013 at 10:25 am

    Do you think you could make these into cupcakes by poking a couple of holes in each cupcake and pouring a little amount of each cupcake? Looks so delish!

    Reply

    • Michelle on February 13th, 2013 at 12:20 pm

      Hi Kristi, You could definitely do that. Since cupcakes are so much smaller and more delicate, I would probably recommend making smaller holes, using the tines of a fork or a thin skewer.

      Reply

  25. marie @ little kitchie on February 13, 2013 at 10:37 am

    SUCH a pretty cake for Valentine’s Day!!! I lurrrrve poke cakes and this one looks FABULOUS and DECADENT.

    Reply

  26. Annie @ Annie's City Kitchen on February 13, 2013 at 11:03 am

    Now THIS is a red velvet I can get on board with. People have gone a bit Red Velvet crazy and it seems like real red velvet got lost along to way. So glad to see a classic recipe but even better :)

    Reply

  27. Holiday Baker Man on February 13, 2013 at 11:16 am

    No calories here….but lots of love!

    Reply

  28. Teresa on February 13, 2013 at 11:29 am

    I’m so hungry right now and it looks so good,I could eat the whole pan!

    Reply

  29. Arthur in the Garden! on February 13, 2013 at 11:30 am

    Mmmmm. Now I know what to do with the can of condensed milk that I have had for years!

    Reply

  30. Melissa @ Treats With a Twist on February 13, 2013 at 11:56 am

    Yes!! The same thing has always kept me from making a poke cake too! I didn’t want to go buy a bunch of packaged mixes when I don’t bake that way ordinarily. And when I make a cake from scratch, I don’t want people to assume that I just whipped out a few boxes and tah-dah. So glad you made this. It looks amazing!!

    Reply

  31. Diana on February 13, 2013 at 12:15 pm

    This looks amazing! But as an above poster mentioned, I am also wondering if I can leave the food coloring out – only because my best friend loves red velvet cake but later found out she is allergic to the food coloring.

    Reply

    • Michelle on February 14th, 2013 at 10:29 am

      Hi Diana, You can leave it out, it just obviously won’t be red. I would replace that amount with water.

      Reply

  32. Nik on February 13, 2013 at 1:26 pm

    Another good one is a jello poke cake. You make a white cake, poke holes, pour whatever flavor jello you want over top, and then top with whipped cream and sprinkles. So good!!!

    Reply

  33. Beth on February 13, 2013 at 1:55 pm

    I am so making this tonight! My father has always requested a lemon “poke” cake that was made with a lemon cake mix, lemon jello and a lemon glaze. As the pokes were visable we always did them with a special tiny fork. That cake aways disappeared quickly. Why have I never made a homemade lemon cake as a base?!? Must be time to try!

    Reply

  34. Ashley @ Wishes and Dishes on February 13, 2013 at 2:05 pm

    I love poke cakes..they always turn out so moist!

    Reply

  35. Laketia J on February 13, 2013 at 2:08 pm

    If you are getting into poke cakes then you should definitely try better than sex cake!!!!!!!

    Reply

  36. Linda L on February 13, 2013 at 3:18 pm

    Looks good, but is it overly sweet? (with the condensed milk) I have never made a poke cake and would like to try this, but I don’t want it over sweet.

    Reply

    • Michelle on February 14th, 2013 at 10:40 am

      Hi Linda, This is always a tough question for me because sweetness is so subjective – what’s too sweet to one person may be fine to someone else. I personally don’t think this is overly sweet – the condensed milk makes the cake incredibly moist.

      Reply

  37. Mia on February 13, 2013 at 3:52 pm

    MMMMM. I definitely have plans to try this one day!

    Reply

  38. shoegal on February 13, 2013 at 3:55 pm

    I’ve never had a red velvet cake. the ingredients look like a chocolate cake with the addition of red food coloring.. is that about right? Does it taste different than a chocolate cake?
    Looks incredible

    Reply

    • Michelle on February 14th, 2013 at 10:39 am

      There is actually a lot less chocolate in this (only 5 tablespoons) than if you were to actually make a chocolate cake, so to me, it definitely doesn’t taste like a traditional chocolate cake.

      Reply

      • shoegal on February 14th, 2013 at 11:42 am

        Thanks appreciate the explaination. Hoping to make this tonight!

        Reply

  39. natalie @ wee eats on February 13, 2013 at 3:57 pm

    I wish this cake could be my valentine….

    Reply

  40. Stephanie (Velez Delights) on February 13, 2013 at 4:35 pm

    This looks great! It’s definitely becoming a part of my future To-Do list! :)

    Reply

  41. Sophia on February 13, 2013 at 5:41 pm

    I just made this cake! Looks yummy can’t wait to eat it! Did anyone else who has made this note that there was loads of icing left? Iv frozen mine. I made the red velvet cheesecake from this site about a month ago as a treat for my husband when he finished his exams and it went down VERY well! He ate almost all of it on his own lol! He’s been begging for it again but iv been lazy! When I got this recipe thru email this morning I was so happy coz its kinda similar (ok not that similar but he’ll be happy)! And it’s so quick to make. Ingredients are ones u will usually always have. I made it in an oval shaped Pyrex dish and mayb my dish was a bit smaller than 9×13 coz the cake rose quite high but it looks so scrummy! Ur recipes are excellent thank u for being so active on your blog. Xx

    Reply

  42. Paula on February 13, 2013 at 5:45 pm

    You made an amazing scratch red velvet poke cake! Looking forward to seeing your other made from scratch poke cakes!

    Reply

  43. Amanda @ Once Upon a Recipe on February 13, 2013 at 11:51 pm

    What a decadent cake! I’ve never made (or tried) a poke cake, but it sounds so delicious! Love the red velvet twist on this one, just in time for love day!

    Reply

  44. Andrea Jones on February 14, 2013 at 5:47 am

    I made this last night for my coworkers today! So excited to dig in. My daughter and I “tested” the frosting and it’s the best cream cheese frosting I’ve had so far. Yum!

    Reply

  45. champs on February 14, 2013 at 11:27 am

    This looks so yummy . Going to make it this weekend :)

    Reply

  46. Terri on February 14, 2013 at 12:27 pm

    Have you seen “the country cook”s, site? She is a poke cake-aholic. Although most of her recipes are from cake mixes. I hate box cake mixes but it is because I can’t stand the texture. But she has many ideas for different flavors that could easily be adapted to scratch cake options :)

    Reply

  47. nancy on February 14, 2013 at 4:27 pm

    this cake is by far the best i have ever made, and i do alot of baking, thanks!!!

    Reply

  48. Linda T on February 14, 2013 at 7:05 pm

    Do you know if this cake is moist enough on its own, without the addition of the sweetened condensed milk?

    Reply

    • Michelle on February 15th, 2013 at 12:50 am

      Hi Linda, I think it is moist enough on its own; it’s basically the recipe for red velvet cupcakes, but doubled and baked in a 9×13. The cake is quite fluffy and moist.

      Reply

  49. point of sale australia on February 14, 2013 at 8:29 pm

    This is awesome! My mother tried making vanilla poke cake before and it was great! Will try making your recipe one of these days. Thanks for the share!!!

    Reply

  50. Alley @ Alley's Recipe Book on February 14, 2013 at 10:57 pm

    I have never made or had poke cake before. I have heard of it, but I thought it was more for making a striped design when you cut the cake. I will have to try making a poke cake some time!

    Reply

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