Lemon Poke Cake

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Deliciously easy Lemon Poke Cake! Made with boxed cake and lemon gelatin, this poke cake gets even better when you add homemade lemon curd. It’s the dreamy creamy citrus dessert of your dreams.

We love poke cakes. Strawberry JELL-O Poke Cake first won my heart as a child. Now this lemon version is giving it a run for its money! Or try our easy, from scratch Lemon Poppy Seed Cake recipe!

Lemon cake topped with lemon gelatin, cool whip, and nilla wafer crumbs.
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Why this Recipe Works

Making a poke cake is seriously one of the easiest things to bake for dessert. And they are perfect for bringing to potlucks, bbq’s, and summer picnics! Everyone loves them!

If you’re asking yourself, “what is a poke cake” let me tell you this, there are many answers to that question. Depending on who you ask!

Poke cakes are typically made using a boxed cake mix and a 13×9 baking dish. While the cake is warm out of the oven, you can do SEVERAL things:

Growing up, my family always chose the last option. Adding gelatin. It’s a perfect spring/summer treat!

If you love Jello, be sure to try our strawberry jello pie recipe next!

Ingredient Notes

Ingredients needed to make a lemon jello poke cake recipe.
  • Yellow cake mix. You’ll also need any ingredients necessary to bake the cake according to package directions (oil, eggs, etc). You could bake my yellow sheet cake instead!
  • Lemon JELL-O. You will use the powdered mix with some boiling water, and pour it OVER the “poked” cake.
  • Lemon Curd. I use my Easy Homemade Lemon Curd Recipe. Substitute store bought lemon curd if preferred.
  • Cool Whip. It’s easy and delicious, but feel free to swap it out for homemade whipped cream if you prefer.
  • Nilla Wafer Cookies. Not just for banana pudding, but they also add the perfect flavor and texture to this poke cake!

Easy Instructions

Step by step photos showing how to make lemon poke cake.

Prepare the yellow cake mix.

Bake according to package instructions in a 13 x 9 baking dish.

PRO TIP: Want to make the cake from scratch? Use my vanilla sheet cake recipe!

Holes being poked into a cake using a meat thermometer.


Poke holes all over the top of the cake immediately after baking.

You can use a wooden skewer, wooden spoon handle or a meat thermometer for this step.


Lemon gelatin being poured over a baked cake.

Combine the gelatin mix with boiling water. Pour it over the top of the cake.

This is what will give you the delicious, spongy light texture to the cake, with lemon flavor!

Chill and serve

Refrigerate the lemon poke cake for at least 4 hours. Before serving, spread lemon curd over the top. Top with cool whip and crushed Nilla wafers. Enjoy!

Whipped cream being spread over the top of a lemon poke cake.

Tips and Tricks

  • Lemon Curd Substitute. Lemon pudding makes a great alternative to the curd for topping the cake. Whisk a box of lemon pudding mix with 2 cups of milk and pour it over the cake before chilling.
  • Cake mix flavors. White cake mix is delicious with this poke cake recipe too. Or for an extra strong lemon flavor, use a lemon cake mix instead!
  • Nilla wafer topping. Reserve a few whole Nilla wafer cookies to garnish the top of each slice of lemon poke cake. Homemade shortbread cookies also crumble nicely on top!

Recipe FAQs

Does poke cake need to be refrigerated?

Poke Cakes should be chilled before serving and stored in the refrigerator until ready to eat. It keeps well in the fridge for 2 to 3 days.

What can I use instead of Nilla wafers?

If you don’t have Nilla wafers available where you live, any kind light and crispy wafer cookie can be used. You can also leave off the cookie topping. You’ll still have a delicious lemon JELL-O cake!

Is Poke cake supposed to be runny?

Before chilling this lemon poke cake it will look very wet. As it chills, the JELL-O sets up in the holes of the cake just like it would in a bowl. That’s why you need several hours to let the cake set up in the fridge before serving.

Slice of lemon cake topped with lemon jello and whipped cream.

More Lemon Desserts

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Lemon Poke Cake

4.88 from 8 votes
By: Aimee
Deliciously easy Lemon Poke Cake! Made with boxed cake and lemon gelatin, this poke cake gets even better when you add homemade lemon curd. It's the dreamy creamy citrus dessert of your dreams.
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Chill Time: 4 hours
Total Time: 4 hours 10 minutes
Servings: 20 slices


  • 1 box yellow cake mix with ingredients to prepare according to package
  • 1 box lemon JELL-O gelatin 3 ounce
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1 pint lemon curd
  • 16 ounce Cool Whip thawed
  • ½ cup crushed Nilla Wafer cookies
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  • Prepare yellow cake mix according to package in a 13×9 baking dish. Remove from oven and poke holes all over cake. I use a meat thermometer for this (skewer or wooden spoon handle would work too!).
  • Combine gelatin with boiling water. Pour over warm cake, into poked holes.
  • Refrigerate cake with plastic wrap for 4 hours, or overnight.
  • Before serving, spread lemon curd over top of cake. Top with Cool Whip and crushed cookies.
  • Store in refrigerator for up to 4 days. ENJOY.


  • Use homemade or store bought lemon curd (found in baking aisle).
  • If you'd like, you can substitute lemon pudding for the curd. After pouring your gelatin on the cake, whisk 1 box (3.4oz) instant lemon pudding mix with 2 cup milk. Pour over cake. Refrigerate 4 hours or overnight. Top with Cool whip and cookies.
  • Swap out yellow cake mix for lemon cake mix instead!


Serving: 1slice, Calories: 187kcal, Carbohydrates: 30g, Protein: 2g, Fat: 7g, Saturated Fat: 5g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g, Sodium: 206mg, Fiber: 1g, Sugar: 18g
Course: Cake
Cuisine: American
Did you make this recipe?Mention @shugarysweets or tag #shugarysweets!

Grab a box of JELL-O and whip up an easy crowd pleasing dessert with this Lemon Poke Cake Recipe. We know you’ll love it!

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About Aimee

Aimee is a dessert lover (specifically rice krispie treats), workout enthusiast, self-taught foodie, and recipe creator.

Learn more about Aimee.

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Posted on June 22, 2021

Comments & Reviews

  1. 5 stars
    I love everything with a lemon flavour but this cake is especially delicious!! Thank you for sharing the recipe.

  2. 5 stars
    This was the easiest cake I have ever made and yet so delicious!! The perfect summer treat I could not get enough!!

  3. I love making fast desserts like this but, I won’t use that INSTANT pudding for anything I’ll make my own or use the COOK N SERVE TYPE. That instant has such a imitating taste that I just can not put on one of my desserts I feed my family. Really it is a little more time making your own but just think your fammily will love you more for taking a little more time for them. If you don’t have time make it up the day you mke the cake. You have to leave the cake set anyway.

    1. OOOOOO I so agree and I never seem to get an answer from blogs when I ask if I can use the cooked pudding in its’ place. So I do it anyway and so far, nothing has exploded or received a thumbs down. I think people just assume that no one has 10 extra min. in their life and instant is the way to go but as you say, I always regretted that funny flavor and emptied my cupboard of any instant pudding.

  4. Hello there,

    jello typically calls for one cup boiling water, then adding a cup of cold water? Does this recipe emit adding the cold water? I added in about a half cup and poured over my warm cake with holes in it and it kind of just made the entire cake super moist / didn’t really “fill holes.” It’s currently in the fridge and I’m sure it’s still good but… messy.

    Let me know for next time!


      1. It sound like that it only uses the hot water. That why the jello will run down in the cake better. If it is colder it will be thicker and it will be harder to get in the holes

        1. Your cake will be real wet and moist right after pouring on your jello. The jello will set up in the cake just the same as if it was in a bowl by itself. Don’t worry this will happen just take the time it is saying to wait. Don’t rush this. I’m 61 years old and I’ve been baking since I was 7. I’ve made these cakes for around 40 years and they are great. Take your time and ENJOY YOUR HARD WORK.

4.88 from 8 votes (6 ratings without comment)

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