Loaded with fresh strawberry sauce and a cream cheese frosting, this easy Strawberry Jam Cake will be your new go-to dessert for potlucks and gatherings. It’s so much better than a traditional strawberry poke cake, you’ll never go back to Jello again!
There’s a good chance you’ve heard of strawberry poke cake, the kind that commonly uses boxed gelatin, store-bought cake mix and Cool Whip. While I’m all for saving time in the kitchen, I’m not crazy about the long ingredient lists on boxed mixes.
So I made some changes to the original recipe and created a strawberry jam cake which is something much better and fresher tasting than the traditional strawberry jello poke cake. In this recipe, the flavor of Jello is replaced with not-too-sweet, homemade strawberry jam that’s spread over a soft buttermilk cake.
Once baked, the cake gets poked with holes, the strawberry filling goes into the holes and infuses its flavor throughout the entire cake. And because of the jam-filled holes, the cake is soft and moist on the inside.
Then, to make it even better, add a fresh whipped strawberry frosting with cream cheese. A cream cheese frosting works great for this type of cake. It compliments the flavors of the strawberries, is sturdier than a whipped topping and has some fresh strawberries for flavor along with a beautiful color.
Since this is strawberry season in North Carolina, I’ll be busy using the sweet berries in everything from rolls to cookies to bars and crumbles. But for those occasions when you’re feeding a crowd, a strawberry poke cake is the way to go.
Although it would be a stretch to classify my strawberry desserts as healthy food, (everything in moderation) it’s nice to know that strawberries are a great source of antioxidants, fiber, calcium and potassium. For more nutrient-rich recipes try using them in a Spinach Salad or Fruit Salad.
Why you’ll love a strawberry poke cake without jello
- Fresh strawberry flavor takes the place of the traditional Jello mixture
- Strawberry frosting with cream cheese is the perfect topping
- Cake made from scratch is so much better than a boxed mix
- Homemade strawberry jam makes the cake incredibly moist but not soggy
- It will feed a crowd
This easy strawberry cake is a great choice for a summer bbq. It’s not too heavy so it will go great with ribs or burgers. If you prefer layers, and who doesn’t love extra frosting, then make a simple fresh strawberry layer cake, or if you want a super simple strawberry dessert, try a strawberry bundt cake.
Ingredients for making a poke cake
Strawberries – whether or not strawberries are in season, you should be able to find fresh berries. If not, it’s fine to substitute frozen. Just be sure to thaw them before using.
Lemon juice and zest – these add a bright, tangy flavor
Buttermilk – if you don’t have any on hand, add a tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice to a cup of milk
Cornstarch – to thicken the strawberry filling fro the jam
Sugar – granulated sugar for the cake and powdered sugar for the frosting
Cream Cheese – this makes the best frosting, use at room temperature for easy mixing
Pantry staples – eggs, flour, baking powder, baking soda, butter, vegetable oil, vanilla and salt
Step by step directions for making a strawberry jam cake
Step 1: start with dry ingredients
Combine the dry ingredients in one bowl.
Step 2: make the cake batter
In a separate bowl whisk the oil, buttermilk, eggs, egg yolks and vanilla. Then add the liquid to the dry ingredients and mix by hand until just combined.
Step 3: bake
Bake for about 30 minutes. You’ll know it’s done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. The top should be light golden brown.
Step 4: make some jam
While the cake is baking make the strawberry filling, or this can be made well in advance. Slice or chop the strawberries and add them to a saucepan along with sugar, lemon juice and lemon zest. Bring to a boil. Reduce to low heat and simmer until it starts to thicken. This will take about 10 minutes. Add some cornstarch to thicken it. Mash the berries until you have a smooth texture.
Pro Tip: To make sure your thickener is lump-free, first add the cornstarch to a bowl. Then slowly drizzle in the water while constantly whisking the mixture to remove any lumps.
If you don’t want to make your own jam, you can use a store bought jam, just warm it slightly before spreading it on top of the cake.
Step 5: poke some holes
After the cake is done baking let it cool for about five minutes on a wire rack. Then use the end of a wooden spoon to poke large holes all over the cake, about an inch apart.
Working while the cake and jam are still warm, spread the jam over the top of the cake so it sinks into the holes. Allow it to cool completely on the counter. Then chill in the fridge for an hour so the jam can set.
Step 6: create the frosting
For the strawberry cream cheese frosting, beat the butter and cream cheese with a hand mixer until it’s smooth. Add the powdered sugar and vanilla and beat until creamy.
Step 7: make it pink
Chop about ½ cup of fresh strawberries and mash them with a potato masher, immersion blender or food processor. You’ll want a smooth consistency for the whipped cream cheese topping. The strawberries should mash down to about 2 tablespoons that you’ll beat into the frosting.
Spread an even layer of frosting across the top of the cake. Then refrigerate the cake until the frosting is set.
If you don’t want to use fresh strawberries for the frosting, you can use 1 cup of freeze dried strawberries and still have a delicious strawberry cream cheese frosting. Grind them up until they are almost powder and then add to the frosting. They’ll add a great strawberry taste along with the same pink color. This will give you a thicker frosting which might be better if you are going to serve this outdoors.
Making homemade strawberry jam is a great way to preserve and use strawberries later. Be sure to read my other tips on how to keep strawberries fresh.
What kinds of fillings work best with poke cake?
One of the great things about a poke cake is the endless options for fillings. Get creative and try one of the following instead of a traditional strawberry gelatin.
Other homemade jams, like cherry, blueberry or this peach version with hints of vanilla and Bourbon could be used instead of strawberry.
Sweetened condensed milk with dulce de leche, are great in this chocolate Caramel Heath Bar Cake. This coconut version is on my list to try next.
FAQs and tips
Strawberry Jello cake first appeared in print in the 1970s as a way to promote Jello powder. Because it used a white cake mix or yellow cake mix, this simple dessert appealed to cooks with limited time to spend in the kitchen. The original recipe called for raspberry powder, but the most requested flavor is strawberry Jell-o.
Instructions for the old-school strawberry poke cake recipe call for combining the Jell-o with boiling water, then pouring it over a cake that’s been poked with a fork.
Since this recipe uses a thicker homemade strawberry jam, the holes of a fork are too small.
I prefer using the handle of a wooden spoon, as it is just the right width to allow the strawberry filling to absorb. If you don’t have a wooden spoon you could use anything around ¼ – ½ inch in diameter, like a straw, or the end of a chop stick.
Yes, a boxed cake mix can be used in this recipe. I would choose a vanilla cake mix.
Yes, a strawberry jam cake is best served cold and will keep longer when chilled. If left at room temperature the cake is likely to become too soggy. Cover your finished cake with plastic wrap and store it in the refrigerator for up to a week.
If you want to make your cake ahead of time you can freeze it for up to 3 months. You can freeze the whole cake or cut it into portions and freeze them individually. Just be sure to store it in an airtight container before freezing. Let it thaw in the refrigerator before serving.
If you’re looking for more cake recipes, here are some great options
- Decadent Flourless Chocolate Cake has a rich fudgy flavor without being overly sweet.
- A fun twist on traditional shortcake, top Lemon Strawberry Shortcake with honey whipped cream for an easy dessert.
- Cherry Coffee Cake is a yeast based coffee cake that’s great for breakfast or brunch or top it with whipped cream for dessert.
- Full of juicy fruit, Peach Pound Cake is loaded with flavor and finished with a simple peach glaze.
- Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake features a buttery pound cake with a candied ginger and brown sugar topping.
- Golden raisins and nuts are a unique addition to an Apple Spice Cake.
Easy dessert recipes you’ll love for spring
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Strawberry Jam Cake
- 3 cups flour
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- 1 cup buttermilk full fat, room temp
- 3 eggs room temp
- 3 egg yolks room temp
- 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
- 1 lb strawberries chopped
- ¼ cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons lemon zest
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 ½ teaspoons cornstarch
- ¼ cup water
- 8 ounces cream cheese room temp
- 8 tablespoons butter room temp
- 3 cups powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 2 tablespoons mashed strawberries
- Preheat oven to 350°. Grease and flour a 9×13 baking pan.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, soda and salt.
- In a second bowl whisk the oil with the buttermilk, eggs, egg yolks and vanilla. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix by hand just until the flour is combined. Pour it into the prepared pan and bake for 25-30 minutes. A toothpick should come out clean and the cake should be light golden brown.
- While the cake is baking, make the strawberry filling. Add strawberries, sugar, lemon juice and lemon zest to a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and let it simmer until it thickens, about 10 minutes.
- In a small bowl whisk the water with cornstarch and add to strawberries. Bring to a boil and cook for about 3 minutes so that the cornstarch can be absorbed. Remove from heat and mash the strawberries so that you have a fairly smooth mixture. You don’t want to have large chunks.
- Remove the cake from the oven and let it cool for about 5 minutes on a wire rack. Then take the handle of a wooden spoon and poke large holes throughout the cake. While the cake and jam are both warm, spread the jam over the top, letting it go down into the holes. Let it cool completely on the counter and then refrigerate for about an hour so the jam can set.
- In a large bowl, beat the butter and cream cheese together with a hand mixer until smooth. Add powdered sugar and vanilla and beat until creamy.
- Chop about ½ cup of fresh strawberries and mash with a potato masher, immersion blender or food processor. You want them to be pretty smooth. Once mashed, you should have 2 tablespoons of strawberries. Add them to the frosting and mix. Spread frosting on cake and refrigerate until set.
Barbara’s Tips + Notes
- If using a boxed cake mix, choose a vanilla cake mix.
- You can use jam for this recipe, just warm it slightly in the microwave before spreading on the cake.
- You can you 1 cup of freeze dried strawberries in the frosting instead of fresh, just grind them and add to the frosting.
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