Red, White and Blue Poke Cake

Way back in the days of this blog’s infancy, I posted my first poke cake. Never heard of poke cake? Yeah, I hadn’t either before I saw it on an episode of Cook’s Country shortly before putting that post together. As I mentioned back then, the idea originated from Kraft back in 1969 in an effort to boost Jell-O sales. The idea of a poke cake is that you bake a white cake, then poke holes in the top and drizzle a fruity syrup (into which a little bit of gelatin has been incorporated) over the cake, allowing the syrup to seep into the holes and create colorful streaks throughout the cake. It’s a really simple, but neat way to add a little pizzazz to a plain white cake!

Red, White and Blue Poke Cake

A few weeks ago, the stunning photo of this red, white and blue poke cake popped up in my Facebook feed and I resolved to make it asap. In this version, two white cakes are baked, and then strawberry syrup is poured over one and blueberry syrup over the other. They’re stacked, and covered with whipped cream to create a cake that would be absolutely perfect for the 4th of July! My version has a few imperfections which don’t make it quite as gorgeous as the original, but I loved it nonetheless.

Red, White and Blue Poke Cake

I get nervous every time I make poke cakes that they’re going to be soggy, but it’s never been the case. As you’re pouring the syrup over the cake, you’ll probably think the same thing. It seems like A LOT of syrup, but just have faith :) I really like this white cake recipe – it’s moist, even after a day in the fridge. It doesn’t get rock hard in the fridge either, so you don’t have to wait long after taking it out to serve yourself a slice!

Fresh fruit is used to make the syrup, and though I used strawberries and blueberries here, I bet this would work with either raspberries or blackberries too. If you do use blueberries, don’t be surprised if your syrup looks more purple than blue at first. Mine did, and it wasn’t until after the cake had been refrigerated and the gelatin had set that the blue became more apparent. Oh, and one more thing – I halved the recipe below and baked my cakes in 6-inch pans, so that’s an option if you’d rather go for a mini :)

Red, White and Blue Poke Cake
cake and syrups from Cook’s Country, whipped cream from Baking Illustrated

White Cake
1 cup whole milk, at room temperature
6 large egg whites, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups (9 oz) cake flour
1 3/4 cups sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces – softened but still cool

Strawberry and Blueberry Syrups
1 cup blueberries
3/4 cup water
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons berry blue gelatin
1 1/2 cups strawberries, hulled
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon strawberry gelatin

Whipped Cream
2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

To make the cake: Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray two 9-inch round cake pans with nonstick cooking spray with flour.

In a large measuring cup, whisk together the milk, egg whites and vanilla. Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on low briefly to combine. With the mixer still on low, add the butter, a few pieces at a time, and continue beating until the mixture resembles moist crumbs – the pieces of butter shouldn’t be any larger than peas.

Add all but 1/2 cup of the milk mixture to the mixer and beat on medium speed for 1 1/2 minutes. The batter should be smooth. Add the remaining 1/2 cup of milk mixture and beat for an additional 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then beat for 20 seconds longer on medium.

Divide the batter between the prepared pans. Use an offset spatula to spread into an even layer. Bake for 22-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer the pans to a wire rack and allow the cakes to cool completely in the pans.

Meanwhile, make the blueberry and strawberry syrups. To make the blueberry syrup: In a medium saucepan, combine the blueberries, water, and sugar. Set the pan over medium-low heat, cover, and cook until the blueberries are softened – about 8-10 minutes. Keep a close eye, it can boil over quickly if you turn your back. Pour the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a heatproof bowl. Discard the solids. Whisk the berry blue gelatin into the liquid until dissolved. Let cool for at least 15 minutes. To make the strawberry syrup: Repeat the exact same process (combine ingredients, cook and strain) then whisk in the strawberry gelatin and again, let cool for at least 15 minutes.

When the cakes are cool, use a wood skewer to poke 25 holes in the top of each cake. You want holes all over the cakes but try not to poke all the way down to the bottom of the cake. If you do, all of the syrups may end up on the bottom of the pan. Slowly pour the blueberry syrup over the top of one cake, and the strawberry syrup over the top of the other. Cover both cake pans with plastic wrap and refrigerate until the gelatin is set, at least 3 hours, or up to 1 day.

Right before you’re ready to assemble, make the whipped cream: Combine the heavy cream, sugar and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Starting on low and increasing the speed to medium-high, beat until the whipped cream holds stiff peaks.

Turn both cakes out of the pans (you may need to run a thin knife along the edges to loosen it). Place the blueberry cake, right side up, on your serving plate. Spread 1 cup of whipped cream over the cake, then place the strawberry cake on top (again, right side up). Use the remaining whipped cream to cover the top and sides of the cake. Garnish with blueberries and strawberries, if desired. Store the cake in the refrigerator – it’s best served within a day of assembly.