Make it a festive, delicious summer celebration with this 4th of July poke cake! Featuring a sweet, fresh strawberry filling and homemade sponge cake, this patriotic poke cake puts a gourmet spin on this favorite party dessert. It's one guaranteed crowd-pleasing summer cake.
Why You Need to Make This Recipe
Have you ever tried poke cake? Essentially, it's similar to tres leches in that it's a cake that has been poked with holes and soaked with a liquid. While a tres leches cake uses three milks, poke cake can be anything from pudding mixes to custards, curds, fruit fillings and more.
The result is an unbelievably moist cake with the perfect touch of sweetness. Every bite is luscious and decadent. But besides that irresistible taste, here are a few other reasons this cake needs a spot on your 4th of July menu.
- No mushy cake here. Rather than rely on boxed cake mix like most poke cakes, we make our own from-scratch sponge cake, which has a stronger structure and can better withstand the filling. Boxed cakes are so soft after baking that they really don't have the best structure for poke cake and can easily cross into mushy territory.
- No Jell-O filling. Most strawberry poke cakes use fake Jell-O, which results in an artificial strawberry flavor. Instead, we make our own fresh strawberry sauce for a superior result. This truly is a gourmet poke cake.
- Perfect for a crowd. We bake this cake in a 9-inch-by-13-inch baking pan, so we get plenty of servings to keep everyone at your 4th of July party fed and happy.
- Oh-so festive! Everyone loves a red, white and blue cake for the 4th of July. This cake is sure to put everyone is good spirits, and it looks impressive on any dessert table.
As you can see, most of these ingredients are straightforward. Depending on how much baking you do, the one ingredient that might not be quite as familiar is the cream of tartar.
To give our sponge cake that springy, airy texture, we whip our egg whites until soft peaks form. Whipped egg whites are delicate, so the cream of tartar helps give those egg whites structure. You can find cream of tartar in the baking aisle.
Step 1: We begin by making our from-scratch sponge cake. The first step here is to mix together our flour, baking powder and salt and set it aside (photo 1).
Step 2: Now we beat together some egg yolks, sugar and vanilla extract. We beat until the egg yolks turn paler and thicker. You can tell it's ready when ribbons of yolk come off your beater when lifted like so (photo 2).
Step 3: In a separate bowl, we beat our egg whites with more sugar and that cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Those soft peaks happen when you lift the beater, and the egg whites form a peak but the tip flops over (photo 3).
Step 4: From here, we bring the three elements together to create one cohesive batter. We first add milk to the egg yolks (photo 4) and then the dry ingredients (photo 5). Now we gently fold in our egg whites (photo 6) and pour the batter into a greased baking pan (photo 7) and bake.
Step 5: As the sponge cake bakes, we prepare our fresh strawberry filling. This process is as simple as adding strawberries to a saucepan with sugar (photo 8) and then cooking the berries until they're juicy (photo 9). Now we blend the mix until it's nice and smooth like so (photo 10).
Step 6: After our cake bakes and cools, we use a wooden spoon to poke holes all over about an inch apart (photo 11). Then, we pour condensed milk and evaporated milk all over the cake (photo 12) and the strawberry filling (photo 13). We give the cake time to set and then top with whipped cream and berries before serving (photo 14).
Now we cut our adorable patriotic cake into squares and get ready for some chef compliments! Everyone will love this 4th of July poke cake.
Many poke cakes start with a boxed cake mix. While you technically can substitute it, taking a little extra time to make the homemade sponge cake delivers the best results. Otherwise, you risk ending up with a mushy cake because boxed cake mix doesn't stand up to the moisture as well as a homemade sponge cake.
I've enjoyed this cake up to two days after baking with good results. The milks and strawberry filling keep it moist, and that sponge cake still doesn't break down thanks to its superior structure. I prefer to add the whipped cream right before serving, but it will last a few hours ahead of time just fine.
You can freeze the sponge cake but only before filling. After baking, allow the cake to cool. Cover the cake in plastic wrap and then foil. Finally, place it in a freezer-safe container to keep out air. The cake will keep in the freezer for up to three months.
While I think homemade whipped cream tastes better, you can substitute Cool Whip. Homemade whipped cream isn't hard, and it doesn't take long, but I get it. Sometimes every minute counts. If you have to choose between homemade sponge cake and homemade whipped cream, I’d definitely vote for the cake.
- While I used strawberries and blueberries for decoration, feel free to get creative. Cherries and raspberries also work nicely.
- Are you a sprinkles kind of person? Add some festive 4th of July sprinkles for an even more fun touch.
- When measuring, spoon and level your ingredients with a knife into the measuring cup. Do not scoop the measuring cup into a bag of flour to fill. This packs in too much of your ingredient and can throw off the recipe.
- Check the date on your baking powder. If it's expired, you absolutely must replace it for the cake to rise.
- Be careful when separating the eggs. We don't want a drop of egg yolk in our egg whites. For easier separation, I recommend taking care of this step when the eggs are cold, straight out of the refrigerator. Egg yolks that have warmed to room temperature can more easily slip into the egg whites.
There’s nothing like a cold beer on the 4th of July, and a refreshing blonde ale is just what you need. This light beer pairs nicely with berry desserts, and it has a nice bubbly zip to balance those creamy elements.
For a wine, I love a sweet riesling. With the sweetened condensed milk, whipped cream and berries, we want a wine that’s sweeter than the dessert itself, and a sweet riesling should do the trick. I also love that it has some nice acidity to cut through the creamy elements.
Or maybe you’d like a cocktail. I have a few delicious options for you.
For the perfect Independence Day celebration, I hope you serve this 4th of July poke cake. It's the perfect red, white and blue dessert for the occasion.
Looking for More 4th of July Recipes?
4th of July Poke Cake
- Mixing bowls
- Stand or hand mixer
- Medium saucepan
- 9-inch-by-13-inch baking pan
- 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour spooned and leveled to measure
- 2 teaspoons baking powder see note for high-altitude baking
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 6 eggs separated into whites and yolks
- 1 cup white sugar spooned and leveled to measure, divided
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract or paste
- ½ teaspoon cream of tartar
- ⅓ cup whole milk
Fresh Strawberry and Milk Fillings
- 1 pound strawberries hulled and halved
- ¼ cup white sugar
- 1 (14)-ounce can of sweetened condensed milk
- 1 (12)-ounce can of evaporated milk
Homemade Whipped Cream
- 2 cups cold heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon white sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or paste
- Desired toppings such as strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, sprinkles, etc.
- Heat the oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9-inch-by-13-inch baking pan with cooking spray.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
- Using a stand mixer or hand mixer, beat the six egg yolks on high speed with ¾ cup sugar and vanilla extract until the mixture is pale yellow, thick and ribbons of egg yolk stream down when you lift the beater.
- In another mixing bowl, beat the six egg whites on high speed with the remaining ¼ cup sugar and cream of tartar until soft peaks form.
- Stir in the milk into the egg yolk mixture. Add half of the dry ingredients and stir until combined. Repeat with the second half of dry ingredients.
- Gently fold in the egg whites. Continue to fold until you can no longer see any white.
- Pour into greased pan and bake for 25-30 minutes. The cake is done when you insert a toothpick, and it comes out clean. Allow to cool completely.
Strawberry and Milk Fillings
- While the cake bakes, add the strawberries and sugar to a medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat until the strawberries break down and release their juices.
- Move the strawberries to a blender. Process until smooth.
- Once the cake cools, use the end of a wooden spoon to poke holes in the cake about an inch apart. Whisk together the sweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk and pour all over the cake, ensuring the mixture gets into those holes. The milk will also remain on the surface of the cake, which is totally fine.
- Repeat with the strawberry filling. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least four hours or up to two days to give the cake time to absorb the fillings.
- Before serving, add the heavy cream, sugar and vanilla to a mixing bowl. Beat on high speed until stiff peaks form.
- Spread whipped cream all over cake. Add desired toppings and serve. Enjoy!
- For baking at 5,280 feet above sea level, I reduced the baking powder to 1 ¾ teaspoons. Everything else stayed the same.
- When measuring, spoon and level your ingredients with a knife into the measuring cup. Do not scoop the measuring cup to fill. This packs in too much of your ingredient and can throw off the recipe.
- Check the date on your baking soda. If it's expired, you absolutely must replace it for the cake to rise.
- Be careful when separating the eggs. We don't want a drop of egg yolk in our egg whites. For easier separation, I recommend taking care of this step when the eggs are cold straight out of the refrigerator. Egg yolks that have warmed to room temperature can more easily slip into the egg whites.
- Nutritional information is only an estimate. The accuracy of the nutritional information for any recipe on this site is not guaranteed.