Yes, a poke cake is a cake that is poked full of holes, on purpose and with purpose. The baker pierces the top of the freshly baked cake and then pours over something sweet, syrupy or creamy, and often colorful, to run down into those holes, settle, and soak. The intent is to infuse lots of flavor, and perhaps a little whimsy, into the cake. When the cake is cut, the rivulets of filling look like stalactites inside a cave in the Big Rock Candy Mountain.
Poke cakes popped up in American kitchens around 1970, first appearing in a print advertisement intended to increase Jell-O sales. The ad illustrated the quick-and-easy cleverness of combining convenience foods - cake mix, Jell-O, and Dream Whip or Cool Whip - to create hip and mod desserts. The original poke cake was white, which provided a blank slate for the colorful Jell-O insets in one or more colors, depending on the desired effect. Poke cokes were often inspired by color schemes as much as flavor combos.
The holey creations never disappeared from home kitchens, but lately they are surfing a fresh wave of popularity. Creativity, too. Instead of sticking with old school rainbows of Jell-O in a rectangular cake, bakers are pouring all sorts of clever fillings over cakes of all shapes. Popular choices include sweetened condensed milk, fudge, pudding, mousse, pastry cream, pureed fruit, and flavored syrup. To express their creativity and customize the look of their cake, they bore into the cake with objects of varying diameter, from the thick handle of a wooden spoon to the tiny prickles of fork tines. Some of these over-the-top combos turn out so ooey and gooey that instead of a sliceable cake, the end product is essentially a dessert casserole that must be scooped out of the dish. That’s not a problem.
Poke cakes are easy to make and delightful to serve, whether assembled entirely from boxes or wholly homemade. How could anything called a Poke Cake be anything less than a good time?