Fresh Watermelonade Poke Cake

August 11, 2021
0 Ratings
Photo by MJ Kroeger Prop Stylist: Veronica Olson Food Stylist: Anna Billingskog
  • Prep time 20 minutes
  • Cook time 50 minutes
  • makes 1 (13x9-inch) cake
Author Notes

I’ve made Merrill’s recipe for Watermelonade every summer since I first tasted it. It’s incredibly refreshing: plenty tart and just sweet enough. Make a big batch and enjoy some for drinking, then save some for this special (but so simple) cake. Poke cakes are simple sheet cakes—holes get poked into them and the liquid is poured over the holes. One of the most common (and delicious!) varieties of poke cakes is the famous tres leches cake, but lots of semi-homemade versions exist using boxed cake mix and a box of Jello as the flavorful liquid poured over the cake. This is a completely homemade version of that style, made with a juicy fruit flavor to boot! With this style of poke cake, it’s ideal to use a larger tool to make the holes, something like a chopstick or the handle of a wooden spoon. This infuses portions of the cake with incredible flavor, revealing themselves only once sliced!
Erin Jeanne McDowell

Test Kitchen Notes

Bake It Up a Notch is a column by Resident Baking BFF Erin Jeanne McDowell. Each month, she'll help take our baking game to the next level, teaching us all the need-to-know tips and techniques and pointing out all the mistakes to avoid along the way. —The Editors

What You'll Need
Watch This Recipe
Fresh Watermelonade Poke Cake
  • Cake
  • 3 cups (680 grams) Watermelonade (see link in headnote)
  • Cooking spray
  • 1 cup (226 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup (198 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup (53 grams) light brown sugar
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 4 large (226 grams) eggs, room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2 grams) vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (226 grams) buttermilk, room temperature, divided
  • 3 cups (360 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons (8 grams) baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon (3 grams) fine sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons (30 grams) fresh lemon juice
  • Whipped Cream Topping and Assembly
  • 2 cups (470 grams) cold heavy cream
  • 1/3 cup (38 grams) powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon (5 grams) vanilla extract
  1. Cake
  2. In a large saucepan over medium heat, bring the Watermelonade to a boil. Continue to boil for 10 to 15 minutes, until reduced to 1½ cups (450 grams). Transfer to a liquid measuring cup and let cool while you make the cake.
  3. Arrange a rack in the center of the oven; heat to 350°F. Grease a 13x9-inch cake pan with cooking spray.
  4. In a large bowl, using a spatula or wooden spoon (or a hand mixer), cream the butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, and lemon zest for 6 to 7 minutes (or 3 to 4 minutes with a mixer), until light and fluffy.
  5. Add the eggs one at a time, whisking to incorporate and scraping the bowl well after each addition. Add the vanilla extract and mix to combine.
  6. Add half of the buttermilk and mix to combine. Add the flour, baking powder, and salt and mix to combine. Scrape the bowl well, then add the remaining ½ cup buttermilk and mix to combine. Add the lemon juice and mix to combine.
  7. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and spread in an even layer. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean or with a few moist crumbs attached. Let cool for 15 to 20 minutes.
  8. Using a chopstick or the rounded handle of a wooden spoon, poke holes about three-quarters of the way into the cake in 1-inch increments, until the whole cake has holes throughout.
  9. Gently pour the reduced watermelon juice into the holes, filling each one. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate the cake for 4 hours.
  1. Whipped Cream Topping and Assembly
  2. In a medium bowl, whip the cream to soft peaks, then add the powdered sugar and vanilla extract and whip to medium peaks.
  3. Spread the cream evenly over the surface of the cake. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
  4. Do Ahead: The assembled cake can be made 2 days ahead. Keep refrigerated.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

I always have three kinds of hot sauce in my purse. I have a soft spot for making people their favorite dessert, especially if it's wrapped in a pastry crust. My newest cookbook, Savory Baking, came out in Fall of 2022 - is full of recipes to translate a love of baking into recipes for breakfast, dinner, and everything in between!

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