We’re taking it old-school today with a recipe for my Grandma Dorothy’s Lemon Poke Cake. It bursts with sunshine-bright citrus flavor and will leave you lingering over its tender, melt-in-your-mouth crumb (poke cakes are notable for their moistness, and this one smashes expectations). It’s also so outrageously easy that even if you’ve never baked a cake before in your life, you can nail this particular lemon poke cake recipe.

PERFECT Lemon Poke Cake. Original recipe!! Moist, easy, and bursting with lemon flavor, this old fashioned lemon jello cake uses Betty Crocker cake mix, real lemon juice, and lemon jello for triple the lemon burst flavor!

This Lemon Poke Cake and I have spent sweet quality time together over the years. Since I was tall enough to hover over the counter, I have the fondest memories of standing in my grandma’s kitchen, using a butter knife to cut sliver after sliver of this lemon burst poke cake right out of the pan. I’d pop each directly into my mouth and go back for another, until she’d finally make me sit down with a proper slice (which she would insist on pairing with Ovaltine, because nutrients!).

Every time I eat this Lemon Poke Cake, it surprises me anew with how moist and lively it tastes. With bleak winter not budging anytime soon, I thought it would be just the recipe to wake us all up and bring a ray of brightness into our routines.

As a bonus, if you are looking for a dessert to impress a lemon lover but aren’t the most experienced in the kitchen, I cannot overstate how dead simple this Lemon Poke Cake is to prepare—you hardly even need to measure (this will make sense when you see the list of ingredients).

Easy Lemon Poke Cake. A classic recipe with yellow cake and lemon jello!

How to Make Lemon Poke Cake

OK, we need to get something out of the way right now—this lemon poke cake uses boxed cake mix and Jell-O. I know that’s not my usual from-scratch recipe approach, but this is how my grandma made it (and her famous butter Bundt Coffee Cake), and despite several from-scratch attempts, I’ve never been able to reproduce the results without using both of these items.

If you do want to make a lemon cake from scratch, I have a fabulous recipe for Lemon Layer Cake (with dreamy lemon cream cheese frosting) and this gorgeous Lemon Blueberry Bundt Cake.

If, however, you want a moist lemon cake and you want it now, or you are feeling nostalgic, or you need a lemon sheet cake, this Lemon Poke Cake does not disappoint. I didn’t know until recent years that my grandma even used a mix, but she (one of the best from-scratch cooks I’ve ever met) did, so in this special case, we can too.

Lemon Poke Cake. A classic lemon cake recipe the whole family will love!

My grandma’s Lemon Poke Cake recipe lives in a little spiral-bound family cookbook she spent her last few years battling Parkinson’s to type up. This cookbook is such a gift. I can’t say enough how much it means to me to have these recipes, and now to share them with you!

The ingredients you’ll need to make this easy Lemon Poke Cake are:

  • Yellow Cake Mix. Her recipe specifically lists Duncan Hines brand; my store didn’t carry it, so I opted for a Betty Crocker lemon poke cake, and it was still divine. If you wanted to make a triple lemon poke cake, you could use a lemon cake mix instead of yellow, but I honestly don’t think you need it thanks to…
  • Lemon Gelatin. Yes, good ol’ Jell-O. While some poke cakes call for you to pour the liquid Jell-O over the top of the baked cake, my grandma’s lemon Jello cake will have you stir the liquified Jell-O directly into the cake mix.
  • Oil. I used a blend of half canola oil and half unsweetened applesauce for a tiny bit of healthy recipe redemption. The results were excellent. My Lemon Poke Cake was every bit as moist and decadent as it should be.
  • Eggs. To bind the batter.
  • Lemon Glaze (FRESH Lemon Juice + Powdered Sugar). The hallmark of a poke cake is that once it is baked, you use a fork to “poke” holes all over the top, then smother the warm cake in something delicious to make it outrageously moist. In our case, that’s a lemon glaze. Do not use bottled lemon juice here. Freshly squeezed is critical for the loveliest lemon flavor.

The lemon glaze drips down into the poke cake’s holes, and the already moist cake magically manages absorb it, giving you more tenderness and extra bursts of lemony sweetness in every bite.

PERFECT Lemon Poke Cake. A super-easy cake using yellow cake mix and lemon jello.

If you’d like to play around with this recipe, you could try swapping the lemon Jell-O for other flavors (lemon poke cake with strawberry Jello is a version I remember a friend’s mom making growing up), but I do hope you’ll start with the original, all-lemon version at least once. For a gluten free lemon poke cake, you can seek out a gluten free yellow cake mix, though I haven’t tested any with this recipe specifically.

How to Serve Lemon Poke Cake

  • My favorite way to eat this cake is cold out of the refrigerator. The Jell-O firms up a little, and it makes the cake incredibly refreshing. Grandma suggests this in the cookbook too.
  • For an extra flourish, you can dust it with powdered sugar, but it’s sweet enough that you don’t really need it. My family usually serves it it without.
  • Fresh berries are never remiss.
  • Vanilla ice cream—grandma’s favorite accompaniment.

Lemon Poke Cake. This classic dessert is melt-in-your-mouth delicious!

Recommended Tools to Make Lemon Poke Cake

Three pieces of lemon poke cake on white plates

Lemon Poke Cake

5 from 18 votes
PERFECT Lemon Poke Cake. Original recipe! Moist, easy, and bursting with lemon flavor, this old fashioned lemon jello cake will melt in your mouth!

Prep: 20 mins
Cook: 25 mins
Total: 45 mins

Servings: 1 9x13 cake

Ingredients
  

  • 1 (3-ounce) package lemon gelatin
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 (15.25-ounce) package yellow cake mix Grandma says Duncan Hines
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice from about 2 medium lemons

For serving:

  • Fresh berries
  • Whipped cream

Instructions
 

  • Place a rack in the center of your oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Coat a 9x13-inch pan with nonstick spray.
  • Dissolve the gelatin in the boiling water. (I measured the water into a large measuring cup, then stirred the gelatin right in. You could also do this in a heatproof bowl.) Let cool to room temperature.
  • In a medium mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the oil, applesauce, and eggs until combined. Beat in the cooled gelatin. Reduce the speed to low, then slowly add in the cake mix, stopping as soon as the dry ingredients disappear.
  • Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the top springs back lightly when touched and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean with just a few moist crumbs clinging to it.
  • While the cake bakes, in a medium bowl, whisk together the powdered sugar and lemon juice until smooth.
  • While the cake is still warm, use the tines of a fork to poke holes all over the top. Pour the glaze slowly and evenly over the top, allowing it to drip down into the holes. Let cool to room temperature. Enjoy warm or hot with plenty of fresh berries and whipped cream.

Nutrition

Serving: 1slice of 20Calories: 201kcalCarbohydrates: 32gProtein: 2gFat: 8gSaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 37mgSugar: 13g

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Erin Clarke

Hi, I'm Erin Clarke, and I'm fearlessly dedicated to making healthy food that's affordable, easy-to-make, and best of all DELISH. I'm the author and recipe developer here at wellplated.com and of The Well Plated Cookbook. I adore both sweets and veggies, and I am on a mission to save you time and dishes. WELCOME!

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56 Comments

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  1. Oh, Erin, I just sent my hubby out to get some jello and cake mix! My mouth is watering – can’t wait to try this! I love how you decorated the pieces, too! Funny, a cool refreshing dessert like this sounds good, even if the temps outside are below zero! Many thanks to you and your Grandma for sharing this recipe!

  2. Hi Erin. I love your blog thank-you for all the great recipes you post. I can not get lemon jello in Canada. Do you think I could make my own using plain gelatin and fresh lemon juice ? 

    1. Hi Nancy! Thank you SO MUCH for the kind words about my blog! I’m afraid I’m not sure if that would work—the liquid ratio of the jello packet may not be 1:1 with a homemade gelatin/lemon juice mix. You could also experiment with adding gelatin to a lemon-flavored cake mix, perhaps. I’m sorry to not be of much help! If you decide to experiment, I’d love to hear how it goes.

    2. Erin, this cake is SO DELICIOUS! I made it twice in a row….first for my Mother’s birthday, then for my Daughter’s birthday, lol. It was a big hit with everyone both times. :) I greatly appreciate you, and your Grandma, for sharing it!5 stars

  3. You just posted my dessert for Easter – so refreshing looking. Thanks Grandma Dorothy and of course, you for passing along this recipe!

  4. I made this cake for a pot luck luncheon today. I used a 9X13 pan. There was not a crumb left! Everyone thought I made it from scratch which in part was due to the sign I made that said Myers Lemon Cake. I used the Myers Lemons from my own tree. They are much sweeter than the bright yellow California lemons that are much more lemony. Still made a great cake that is definitely going in my repeat go-to dessert file! Thank you for sharing your family recipe. Not one person guessed it was from a box mix and Jello!5 stars

  5. I was so happy to see you share this recipe, it definitely brought our family a lot of joy as I’m sure it will others. 

    1. I made this for my Mom’s 85th birthday because she wanted something lemon. Soooooo good!! We all enjoyed this moist, delicious cake; thank you for sharing!5 stars

  6. I did make this cake for Easter dessert – SO GOOD! I’m a big cake fan as long it isn’t too sweet and this one was perfect. Instead of fruit on the top, though, I used Cool Whip topping. Hope you had a nice Easter – the weather certainly cooperated for us, huh?5 stars

  7. This recipe deserves 5-star. I have been baking cakes for the last 2 years but never tried the lemon cake. I like this idea and will make it today. Thanks

    Cheers
    Raushan5 stars

  8. I haven’t made this….Yet because I would like to know if you thing I could sprinkle some fresh blueberry’s on the bottom of the pan & then pour the cake mixture over them. What do you think ??

    1. Hi Susie! If a juicy bottom of the cake doesn’t bother you (the cake is already very moist), I think you could definitely experiment!

  9. Made this cake for a party and it was hit – no leftovers! I halved the powdered sugar for the glaze and used my homemade limoncello instead of lemon juice. 100% making again for my next party.5 stars

    1. I’m SO happy to hear this cake was a hit at your party, Megan! Thank you for taking the time to share your success with the recipe!

    1. Hi Dee! I’ve never tried the recipe in a Bundt pan, so I’m not sure how it would turn out. This Lemon Blueberry Bundt Cake is a delicious option that you might want to check out. If you decide to experiment with this recipe, I’d love to hear how it goes!

      1. I did try it in the bundt pan but unfortunately it didn’t rise very well. It was delicious though and so moist. Thanks for the recipe. Next time I will use the flat pan.

  10. Hi Erin!

    What do you think my chances for success will be if I substitute orange jello for lemon and use fresh-squeezed orange juice for the glaze?

    Hoppy Easter from Florida!!!

    Hope you and yours are – and stay – well.

    1. Hi Debbie, what an interesting idea! I’ve never tried these swaps, but you could experiment with them. If you decide to try it, I’d love to hear how it goes!

  11. Fabulous recipe. I didn’t have applesauce so increased the oil to 2/3 cup. I may have mixed the batter a bit too vigorously because the cake came out a little less dense than how the picture looked, but it was still delicious! Tempted to try it next time with cherry jello and top with pie filling.5 stars

  12. Thank you for posting this recipe. This was my favorite cake when I was a child. Instead of lemon for the glaze my mother used orange juice, I assume, because we had an orange tree in our backyard. She would also sprinkle coconut on top of the cake after pouring on the glaze. She has passed on and I have always wanted to recreate this childhood memory. Thank you so much.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to share this kind comment, Shirley! I hope you love the recipe if you try it!

  13. Fabulous X 2!! Made this cake yesterday with cherry and it’s already half gone(mostly me)! Why did I tinker with an already perfect recipe? Because I am practically a genius!! Check out my latest idea–mailman flavored dog treats. Lol!!! Used 1/2 cup 100% tart cherry juice replacing part of the (jello)water for the batter and a little additional jello mix replacing some powdered sugar. for the glaze.5 stars

    1. I’m so pleased that you enjoyed this cake, Rich! Thank you for taking the time to share this kind review!

  14. I just love this cake. My Mother used to make it all the time. The only thing she did differently was to grate the lemon peel and add it to the sugar/lemon juice mixture. Thanks for posting!5 stars