Strawberry Jell-O poke cake is a fruity and light dessert that’s perfect for a party. (Betty Crocker)

Strawberry Jell-O poke cake is a fruity and light dessert that’s perfect for a party. (Betty Crocker)

This strawberry cake is light, bright and pretty as a picture

Poke cake is my birthday tradition — and the ingredients may be sitting on your pantry shelf.

If my mom doesn’t beat me to it, I bake a strawberry Jell-O poke cake for my birthday every year.

It just so happens that today’s my birthday, so I’m sharing the recipe. It’s one of the prettiest Jell-O poke cakes you can make — there are more ways to bake the poke cake than there are flavors of Jell-O — and it’s so fruity and light that it’s a perfect dessert for a party.

If you’d like to turn boxes of gelatin and pudding in your pantry into a pretty strawberry cake, you gotta try this Jell-O poke cake.

It’s a tender-crumbed white cake poked full of holes that are filled with strawberry Jell-O, so each slice boasts a vibrant red. It’s topped with fluffy frosting and slices of fresh strawberries. When plated, it’s as impressive as strawberry shortcake.

A fair warning: This cake is so moist and light that you’ll have a hard time stopping at just one slice. Trust me. This cake isn’t rich by any means, so it’s easy to go for seconds or — dare I say it — even thirds. Hey, I’ve been there.

Any box of white cake mix will do, but I make mine with Betty Crocker Super Moist white cake mix. I’m not brand loyal, I’m just a sucker for moist cake. Or ditch the mix and make your cake from scratch.

Note: White cake pairs well with all flavors of Jell-O, but you can also make it with yellow or even chocolate cake mix.

Simply bake the cake as directed. Betty Crocker’s recipe calls for 1¼ cups water, ⅓ cup vegetable oil and 3 egg whites. I never take the time to separate out the yolks, so I go with the whole-egg option listed in the directions and add 1 minute to the bake time.

Most recipes for Jell-O poke cake will tell you to poke the cooled cake with the tines of a fork or the handle of a wooden spoon. I make my holes by poking every inch with a straw halfway in the cake, and it gives me the tie dye look I want. If you’d like smaller holes, try poking it with a fork. If you prefer larger holes, then break out the wooden spoon. Either way you do it, make sure you let the cake cool first. If you’re not patient, the cake will get very crumbly.

When you pour the strawberry Jell-O mix over the top — which is made with 1 cup boiling water and ¾ cup cold water — do it slow enough to let the Jell-O seep into the holes of the cake. If you’re slow and steady, you’ll be less likely to pour all the Jell-O over only half of your cake. I’ve made that mistake so you don’t have to. The half without the strawberry gelatin isn’t nearly as popular.

Pop your strawberry Jell-O poke cake into the refrigerator while you make your frosting. While most recipes call for whipped topping and sliced strawberries, I make my frosting by folding Jell-O vanilla-flavored pudding into Cool Whip. It’s still just as fluffy. Since this is a strawberry cake, I also add in just enough red food coloring to make the frosting pink.

Note: If you prefer store-bought frosting, I recommend Betty Crocker Whipped fluffy white frosting. It’s pairs well with poke cake.

I garnish this poke cake with sliced strawberries. I sometimes add red sugar sprinkles immediately before serving. (If you add the sprinkles too soon, they’ll melt into the frosting.) For an added strawberry flavor, try mixing sliced strawberries and sugar until macerated and adorn your cake with the berry topping.

Note: Just like with the cake mix, you can swap the strawberry Jell-O for any flavor you prefer. I’ve also made raspberry, lime, cherry and orange Jell-O poke cakes. The garnishes — not to mention the color of the frosting — changes with each flavor: raspberries, lime slices, Bing cherries or canned mandarin oranges, respectively.

I make strawberry the most, but raspberry and lime Jell-O poke cakes are close runners-up. I’ve been known to bake the lime cake for a St. Patrick’s Day dessert.

Google “poke cake” and you’ll find a long list of recipes, including for strawberry shortcake (just swap in yellow cake mix), Fourth of July (strawberry and blue raspberry) and Christmas (cherry and lime) Jell-O cakes. I’ll be keeping those three in mind.

One of my dearest friends, Casey Klein, asked me to make this cake for his 24th birthday. This was more than nine years ago, but he remembers eating it like it was yesterday. He’s had a slice — or two — at my birthday parties many times. But he didn’t want to wait another year to taste it again.

“You’d think that Jell-O and cake don’t go together, but I find it to be absolutely delicious,” Casey said. “It has a lot of flavor and is very light at the same time.”

He’s only tried strawberry because that’s my favorite Jell-O poke cake. Although Casey is well aware of the near limitless ways to mix it up, he’s more than satisfied to stick with strawberry.

“I find it perfect as it is,” he said. “If you bake it for my next birthday, I’ll request strawberry.”

Strawberry Jell-O poke cake

1 box Betty Crocker Super Moist white cake mix

Water, oil and egg whites called for on cake mix box

1 cup boiling water, plus ¾ cup cold water

1 box (4-serving size) Jell-O strawberry-flavored gelatin

1 container (8 ounces) Cool Whip whipped topping

1 box Jell-O vanilla-flavored instant pudding

1¾ cup milk

Red food coloring

12 fresh strawberries, sliced

Red sugar sprinkles

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray bottom of 13-by-9-inch pan with baking spray. In large bowl, beat cake mix, water, oil and egg whites with electric mixer on low speed for 30 seconds. Beat on medium speed 2 minutes, scraping bowl occasionally. Pour into pan.

Bake 28 to 32 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Let cool for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in medium bowl, pour boiling water on gelatin; stir until gelatin is dissolved. Add ¾ cup cold water and stir again.

Poke every inch with a straw halfway into the cake. (The handle of a wooden spoon or tines of a meat fork also works, if you don’t have any straws.) Carefully — and slowly — pour strawberry gelatin evenly over the top of the cake. Cool in refrigerator completely, about 1 hour.

While the cake is cooling, make the frosting. In medium bowl, beat 1¾ cups cold milk and pudding mix with a whisk for 2 minutes.

Using a spatula, fold Cool Whip into the pudding. Add red food coloring, a few drops at a time, stirring with each addition, until you get the shade of pink you want. Or simply spread fluffy white frosting, homemade whipped cream or Cool Whip over the top of the cake.

Garnish each piece of cake with strawberry slices and/or red sugar sprinkles.

— Adapted from Betty Crocker Kitchens

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