Lemon Poke Cake

Lemon POKE Cake is 100X better than plain Lemon Cake! 

This Lemon Poke Cake is incredibly soft, moist with a delectable slightly crunchy crust and the perfect balance of sweet sugar and bright fresh citrus. This award winning Lemon Poke Cake comes from a very special reader and her Mama and I am honored to share it with you today.  I’ve also included instructions on how to make ahead and freeze so there’s no reason not to make this lemon cake recipe!

Spring and summer means bright and fresh lemon, blueberry strawberry and carrot cakes! Some of our favorites include: White Chocolate Raspberry Cake, Lemon Pound CakeLemon Blueberry Cake, Strawberry Shortcakes, Strawberry Shortcake Cake, Hummingbird Cake, Carrot Cake with Pineapple Cream Cheese Frosting and Cream Cheese Stuffed Carrot Cake.

Slice of Lemon Poke Cake with lemon glaze on a white serving plate.

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Lemon Cake Recipe

What do you serve when Jeff Clark, pro surfer legend and discover of 60 ft. Mavericks, comes over for dinner?   Sesame Chicken Egg Rolls, Skinny General Tso’s Chicken and Lemon Poke Cake!

He looooooved it.  And I can’t stop dreaming about it.

I love everything lemon from my Lemon Blueberry Cake to my Lemon Bread but this Lemon Poke Cake is by far the easiest lemon dessert I’ve ever made – and one of the best!

This award winning Lemon Poke Cake comes from a very special reader and her Mama.  Toni’s Mama loved to make folks smile with her yummy cakes and this Hot Lemon Cake was by far her most requested, signature cake.  When Toni moved away for college, she wanted to make the lemon poke cake herself, but Mama didn’t have a recipe “she was brilliantly old school and never used a recipe!! and she NEVER measured anything!! And it came out perfectly EVERY SINGLE TIME!”

Lemon Cake recipe with lemon glaze on a cake platter with fresh lemons in the background.

After many times watching Mama make her lemon poke cake, Toni finally formulated and mastered Mama’s Hot Lemon Cake recipe.  Word got out around town that Toni was making Mama’s Lemon Cake and the requests for the cake started pouring in – and didn’t stop.  Toni even won a city bake off with her Mama’s cake, Mama was so proud!

And now I know why this lemon poke cake is bake-off award winning worthy.   It definitely would have gotten my vote because I cannot stop craving this cake!  Its sweet, fresh, citrusy, soft, and so moist with a slightly crunchy crust.

There are simply no words for how addictingly delicious this Lemon Poke Cake is.   No words but thank you to “Mama” for leaving a legacy of lavish love and creating such an obsessive worthy cake and thank you to Toni for capturing it in recipe form and sharing it with all of us!

Mama’s Hot Lemon Poke Cake.    Mama created with lavish love.

creator of lemon poke cake

Ingredients for Lemon Poke Cake

  • butter cake mix: I recommend Duncan Hines brand
  • sour cream: use full fat for the richest results
  • milk: preferably whole at room temperature
  • granulated sugar: please don’t substitute!
  • vegetable oil: makes the lemon poke cake SO moist!
  • eggs: large eggs at room temperature
  • vanilla: use quality extract for the best flavor
  • lemon extract: you may substitute 2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • lemon: zest and juice of 1 lemon

Ingredients for Lemon Glaze for Cake

  • butter: use unsalted butter, melted
  • lemon juice: use fresh lemon juice from about 2 lemons
  • confectioners’ sugar: (powdered sugar), sifted so its nice and light

HOW TO JUICE A LEMON

You will need roughly ½ cup lemon juice between both the Lemon Poke Cake and the lemon glaze. Fresh lemon juice is always best, so it is important to know how to juice a lemon for maximum yield:

  • First, you need to break down the membranes inside the lemon which hold in all the lemon juice.
  • To do this, microwave the lemons for 30 seconds.
  • Vigorously roll the lemon on the counter for a few seconds.
  • Cut the lemon lengthwise – this allows you to get a better grip and therefore more juice.
  • Use a lemon reamer or other gadget to extract the juice.
Closeup of this Lemon Poke Cake recipe with lemon glaze

How to make Lemon Poke Cake

This Lemon Poke Cake is super easy to make and fool proof because it starts off with a cake mix! Here are some helpful tips and tricks:

GREASE BUNDT CAKE PAN

  • You will need a 10-inch, 12 cup nonstick Bundt cake pan for this Lemon Poke Cake recipe. 
  • You can butter and flour your bundt pan or I like to grease my pans with nonstick cooking spray WITH FLOUR.  I have NEVER had a problem with any of my cakes or breads sticking with this method. 
  • If you don’t have nonstick cooking spray with flour on hand, here’s how to grease and flour your pan:
  1. Brush an even layer of softened butter all over the inside of the bundt pan (about 1 ½ tablespoons).  Make sure you get every nook and cranny.
  2. Next, I like to “sugar” my pan instead of just using flour, but you can just use flour if you prefer. Sprinkle in 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar (or 3 tablespoons flour if not using sugar)– starting with the top edges of the pan so it trickles down the pan – make sure you do the same to the tube too, and tap and turn the pan to evenly coat. 
  3. Repeat with one tablespoon of flour.  Tap a few times to remove any excess.  You probably don’t need the flour if using sugar, but I always use it for insurance.  

USE ROOM TEMPERATURE INGREDIENTS

  • I always recommend using room temperature eggs, milk and sour cream when making a cake, and this Lemon Poke Cake, even though it starts with a cake mix, is no exception. 
  • Room temperature ingredients mix much easier together so it’s harder to overmix and which results in a dense, tough cake. Instead, room temperature ingredients whisk to a higher volume which results in a softer Lemon Poke Cake with maximum volume.
  • If you need to quickly bring ingredients to room temperature, here are some helpful tips:
    • EGGS: add warm (not hot) tap water to a bowl then add eggs (still in their shells) for at least 20 minutes. 
    • MILK: microwave your milk until room temperature (NOT hot).
    • SOUR CREAM: place the measuring cup of sour cream in a shallow bowl of hot water.
showing how to make Lemon Poke Cake recipe by letting cake cool on cooling rack before adding lemon glaze

Beat mix for two minutes

  • Next, we pour the dry cake mix into a the the bowl of your standard or hand held mixer, add all of the other Lemon Poke Cake ingredients EXCEPT the lemon juice and zest and mix on high for 2 minutes.
  • Stir in the lemon zest and juice of 1 lemon until well blended.
  • You may be wondering why it is okay to mix for a full two minutes while most homemade cake recipes (and all of my cake recipes) advise to just stir until combined and not to overmix”?
  • First of all, we need the time to aerate the ingredients which will add volume and lightness. We can do this all in one bowl with the eggs and flour because typically boxed cake mixes use very low protein flour and have other ingredients that help inhibit gluten formation which is what causes a tough cake. Consequently, you can aerate the mix for a full 2 minutes without your cake becoming dense or tough.

DON’T OVERBAKE!

  • Pour batter into prepared Bundt cake pan and bake 45-60 minutes (depending on thickness of pan and your oven).
  • I know it is going to be hard not to peak at your Lemon Poke Cake while baking, but please don’t open the door!  Opening the doors can cause your cake to cook unevenly and to fall.  Only check on your cake at 45 minutes.
  • To create the most tender Lemon Poke Cake – don’t overbake! One of the main reasons people complain of dry cakes is because they over-bake their cake   

Make Lemon Glaze for Cake

  • While the cake is baking make the Lemon Glaze for the cake.
  • Simply whisk together melted butter, lemon juice and powdered sugar until the consistency of pancake batter.
  • Add additional lemon juice or sugar to taste if desired.
Closeup of lemon glaze on Lemon Poke Cake.

REMOVE CAKE FROM PAN

  • Once the lemon cake is done, remove from oven and wait ten minutes then flip onto cooling rack.
  • The 10 minutes allows the cake to retract from the pan and become firm enough to remove without breaking.  If you leave your cake in the pan for too long, then it can become damp and stick to the pan.
  • If your lemon cake isn’t coming out nicely, then firmly tap the outside of the pan a few times to loosen the cake. You can also run a knife around the edges of the cake.
  • I have never had a problem with any of my Lemon Poke Cakes sticking, but if any of your cake is left behind in the pan, simply pick up the pieces and patch them back into the cake.  The lemon glaze will act like glue to keep them in place and will hide any imperfections.

POKE HOLES

  • Now for the fun part! To make already delicious lemon cake even more out of this world, it is poked all over with holes so the intoxicating lemon glaze seeps into the cake for extra lemon sweet moistness.
  • You will want to liberally poke your lemon cake with holes because this lemon glaze is out of this world.  Its the perfect balance of sweet sugar and citrus lemon, all smothering and seeping into the Lemon Poke Cake.
  • I have found the thin end of a chopstick to be just the right size to poke holes in the cake.  Skewers are too thin and the back of a spoon is too big. 
  • If you don’t have chopsticks, try and find something similar in size such as the back of a utensil.  If all else fails, you can use a skewer but wiggle it around a little to create a bigger hole. 
showing how to make lemon cake recipe by poking holes into Lemon Poke Cake.

Lemon Glaze for Cake

You can either serve the Lemon Poke Cake fresh out of the oven with a more translucent lemon glaze,  or to achieve the opaque lemon glaze as pictured, I prefer to cover half of my cake with the glaze, re-spooning any glaze that drips off back onto the cake, then let the cake sit for a half hour or so until the glaze hardens slightly, then spoon more glaze over the cake. This creates both a crunchy crystallized glaze and velvety glaze – so good!

This lemon glaze method also works well when you have to prepare the cake beforehand, like I did when we had Jeff Clark over.  When it was Lemon Poke Cake time, I simply microwaved individual servings, then poured the rest of the glaze over top.

Drizzling lemon glaze on Lemon Poke Cake.

TIPS FOR THE BEST LEMON CAKE RECIPE

  • Use room temperature ingredients. I take out the sour cream and eggs 30-60 minutes before starting. Room temperature ingredients mix more easily which results in a lighter texture and prevents you from over-mixing.
  • Don’t skip lemon extract! Lemon extract delivers a concentrated lemon flavor that cannot be achieved in any way. Don’t use lemon oil and lemon extract interchangeably – they are NOT the same.  We want lemon extract for this Lemon Cake recipe.
  • Use fresh lemon. An average lemon will provide you with about 3 tablespoons of lemon juice, so for this Lemon Cake recipe, you will need 3 lemons (3 tablespoons in the cake and 5 ½ tablespoons for the lemon glaze).
  • Use yellow lemon zest. Lemon zest is the bright yellow outer layer of the lemon peel. Use a micro-plane or a box grater for grating. Make sure you only use the yellow part and stop grating at the white part under part (pith) because it is is extremely bitter.
  • Middle oven rack. Take care your oven is preheated to the right temperature and the rack is placed in the middle of the oven.
  • Prevent browning. If the Lemon Cake is browning on the top but not quite done, you can place a sheet of aluminum foil loosely over the top.

WHAT SHOULD I SERVE WITH LEMON Poke CAKE?

Lemon Poke Cake is fabulous in its citrus, buttery simplicity, but it’s also wonderful with fresh berries such as strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and/or blackberries, Vanilla ice cream (and berries!), or a dollop of homemade whipped cream (and berries!) are also tasty.

LEMON poke CAKE VARIATIONS

This Lemon Poke Cake recipe is extremely versatile so you can bring your personal taste and mood every time you make this recipe!  You can use the recipe as a springboard to make lemon blueberry cake, lemon poppy seed cake, lemon almond cake and lemon pistachio cake:

  • Lemon Blueberry Cake:  I try to use smaller blueberries as they disperse more evenly and it seems to allow the batter to cook more evenly. Mix 2 cups blueberries with two tablespoons flour to help prevent them from sinking.  Fold blueberries into the cake batter at the very end of mixing. Your cake may require extra baking time because the blueberries add moisture to the cake.
  • Lemon Poppy Seed Cake: While I could never tire of the Lemon “trifecta” – it can become even more delicious with poppy seeds!  If you want to add poppy seeds to the mix, simply add ¼ cup poppy seeds with the dry ingredients.
  • Lemon Almond Cake: Another fabulous addition to lemon cake is almonds!  To make lemon almond cake, gently fold ½ cup slivered almonds into the batter before baking.  You can also add 1 teaspoon of almond extract to the glaze.

HOW TO STORE LEMON CAKE

Lemon Cake stores fabulously well at room temperature due to the lemon and oil for up to three days. Afterwards, it should be refrigerated – if it lasts that long! To store:

  1. Once the glaze is completely set, wrap the Lemon Cake tightly in plastic wrap.
  2. Store cake at room temperature for up to five days.
  3. After three days, you may want to place the Lemon Cake in the refrigerator to prolong its life.  Lemon Cake can keep in the refrigerator for up to 7 days.

CAN I MAKE Lemon CAKE AHEAD OF TIME?

This Lemon Poke Cake can be made 24 hours ahead of time with great results – just be aware that the longer it sits, the moister it will become.

MAKE-AHEAD INSTRUCTIONS: 

  1. Pour half of the lemon glaze over the cake.
  2. Reserve the remaining glaze and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
  3. Once glaze is set, wrap cake in plastic wrap or cover with a cake cover.
  4. When ready to serve Lemon Poke Cake, warm glaze in the microwave until pourable and pour all or cake OR I like to microwaved individual servings with a spoonful of lemon glaze that melts as the cake warms.

HOW TO FREEZE LEMON CAKE RECIPE

  1. Let the glaze on the exterior of the Lemon Poke Cake set completely.
  2. Double wrap the cake tightly in plastic wrap. 
  3. Freeze cake for up to 3 months.   
  4. Allow the cake to thaw overnight in the refrigerator then unwrap and come to room temperature on the counter before serving.
  5. I like to microwave the individual slices for 10 seconds or so to soften the lemon glaze and warm the cake.

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Slice of Lemon Poke Cake with lemon glaze on a white serving plate with lemons in the background.

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©Carlsbad Cravings by CarlsbadCravings.com

Drizzling lemon glaze on Lemon Poke Cake.

Lemon Poke Cake

Lemon POKE Cake is 1000X better than just Lemon Cake.  With one bite, you will taste why. This Lemon Poke Cake is incredibly soft, moist with a delectable slightly crunchy crust and the perfect balance of sweet sugar and bright fresh citrus.
Servings: 8
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour

Ingredients

  • non-stick baking spray with flour in it

Lemon Cake

  • 1 box butter cake mix (Duncan Hines brand recommended)
  • 1 cup sour cream at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup milk, preferably whole at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 eggs at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon lemon extract (may substitute 2 teaspoons lemon zest)
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon

Lemon Glaze

  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
  • 3 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 325F degrees. Spray a 10-cup Bundt cake pan or 9×13 pan liberally with non-stick baking spray that contains flour. (Regular non-stick cooking spray will not work.) Set aside.
  • Pour the dry cake mix into a the the bowl of your standard or hand held mixer. Add all of the other Cake ingredients EXCEPT the lemon juice and zest and mix on high for 2 minutes. Stir in the lemon zest and juice of 1 lemon until well blended.
  • Pour batter into cake pan and bake 45-60 minutes (depending on thickness of pan and your oven), or until toothpick comes out clean.
  • Meanwhile, mix Lemon Glaze ingredients in a medium bowl until the consistency of pancake batter. If desired, add additional lemon juice or sugar to taste. Let glaze sit to thicken.
  • Once cake is done, remove from oven and wait ten minutes then flip onto cooling rack. Cool for 5 more minutes.
  • Carefully transfer cake to serving platter and liberally poke holes all over the cake using a chopstick. (The more holes, the more glaze seeps into cake!)
  • If serving immediately, pour glaze all over the cake, respooning Glaze over the cake as it drizzles down the cake. Glaze will become more translucent as it sits on the cake.
  • If not serving immediately, spoon half of the glaze over the cake, respooning Glaze as it drizzles down the cake. When ready to serve, spoon reserved Glaze over cake and microwave individual servings until warm.

Notes

If baking cake in 13×9 pan, you can keep the cake in the pan. You won’t get the crunchier crust but the cake is still delicious and the pan traps the extra glaze so the cake is extra moist! Use about ⅓ less glaze however if keeping the cake in the pan.

HOW TO SERVE

  • You can either serve the Lemon Poke Cake fresh out of the oven with a more translucent lemon glaze,  or to achieve the opaque lemon glaze as pictured, I prefer to cover half of my cake with the glaze, re-spooning any glaze that drips off back onto the cake, then let the cake sit for a half hour or so until the glaze hardens slightly, then spoon more glaze over the cake. This creates both a crunchy crystallized glaze and velvety glaze – so good!

STORAGE

Lemon Cake stores fabulously well at room temperature due to the lemon and oil for up to three days. Afterwards, it should be refrigerated – if it lasts that long! To store:
  1. Once the glaze is completely set, wrap the Lemon Cake tightly in plastic wrap.
  2. Store cake at room temperature for up to five days.
  3. After three days, you may want to place the Lemon Cake in the refrigerator to prolong its life.  Lemon Cake can keep in the refrigerator for up to 7 days.

MAKE AHEAD

This Lemon Poke Cake can be made 24 hours ahead of time with great results – just be aware that the longer it sits, the moister it will become.
  1. Pour half of the lemon glaze over the cake.
  2. Reserve the remaining glaze and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
  3. Once glaze is set, wrap cake in plastic wrap or cover with a cake cover.
  4. When ready to serve Lemon Poke Cake, warm glaze in the microwave until pourable and pour all or cake OR I like to microwaved individual servings with a spoonful of lemon glaze that melts as the cake warms.

HOW TO FREEZE 

  1. Let the glaze on the exterior of the Lemon Poke Cake set completely.
  2. Double wrap the cake tightly in plastic wrap.
  3. Freeze cake for up to 3 months.
  4. Allow the cake to thaw overnight in the refrigerator then unwrap and come to room temperature on the counter before serving.
  5. I like to microwave the individual slices for 10 seconds or so to soften the lemon glaze and warm the cake.

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40 Comments

  1. Mary Ann says

    I do not have a microwave oven, ( personal thing). Can you recommend another way of heating it up so it can be served warm ?

    • Jen says

      You can cover with foil and heat in the oven at 225 F. Enjoy!

  2. Carolyn L Gray says

    I would like to make the lemon cake recipe but I don’t have a cake mix. We’re in the middle of a pandemic. I do have ingredients to make my own cake. I’m not sure how to adapt to this recipe. Any suggestions?

    • Jen says

      Hi Carolyn, you can definitely make your own cake and add the lemon extract and lemon zest, enjoy!

  3. Ricky says

    What would be the best way to go about incorporating blueberries into this cake?

    • Jen says

      Hi Ricky, I would toss the blueberries with a little flour then gently fold them into the batter before baking.

  4. Jan says

    Hi, do you think a 9 x 13 pan would work with this recipe? Thanks !

  5. Cody W. says

    I’ve made this cake a couple of times and my daughter is now requesting it for her birthday…meaning for her actual (11th) Birthday Cake. Obviously, it is great if she wants it over birthday cake, right? Thanks for another great recipe.

    • Jen says

      That’s awesome, thanks Cody! Please tell your daughter Happy Birthday from me!

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