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Lemon Poke Cake

Zippy lemon flavor, ultra-moist cake, and a sweet cream cheese frosting make this lemon poke cake a showstopper! Unlike other poke cake recipes, this one’s made from scratch for true lemon flavor.

Side view of lemon poke cake slice on plate, showing light texture and filling

Homemade Lemon Poke Cake

Poke cakes often come with neon colors and cloying flavors, leaving those of us who prefer our desserts a little less flashy (and a lot more delicious) out of luck. This lemon poke cake takes the poke cake concept and puts a homemade spin on it.

If you’re unfamiliar with the idea, a poke cake is a simple, yet genius idea. After baking a single-layer cake, holes are poked over the top. Then, the cake is covered with a mixture that will then seep down into those freshly-poked holes. After some refrigerator time, the cake is frosted. (If you’re intrigued, be sure to check out my Butterscotch Spice Poke Cake and Butterfinger Cake, too.)

There are some old-fashioned versions with little tunnels of freshly-mixed Jell-O brightening up a standard cake. Some versions use pudding. I simplified a bit by mixing condensed milk and fresh lemon juice. It’s a thick mixture and will not soak completely into the cake. That’s perfectly fine. No cause for concern!

Of course, what better way to top off a refrigerated cake than with cream cheese frosting? Splash in a little more lemon juice for even more bright lemon flavor.

The three components of this cake are all lemon-flavored. Each one has just a hint of lemon. The finished cake still maintains a very gentle lemon flavor. There’s no doubt that this is a lemon cake, but it doesn’t beat you over the head with it. No garish colors, no artificial flavors—just a delicious homemade cake that’s a guaranteed crowd-pleaser.

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Overhead view of two pieces of lemon cake on white plates

Why You’ll Love This Lemon Poke Cake Recipe

Here’s what makes this lemon poke cake a standout.

  • Made from scratch. Most poke cakes rely on boxed cake mix and other shortcuts. This one is made completely from scratch, giving it a more natural lemon flavor.
  • Not too sweet, not too tart. The lemon flavor in this cake is balanced with just the right amount of sweetness. It’s not overpowering or cloyingly sweet.
  • Supremely moist. Thanks to the condensed milk filling, this cake stays incredibly moist even after being refrigerated. No dry cake here!
  • Fun to make. Yes, there’s something oddly satisfying about poking all those holes in the cake.
Overhead view of ingredients for lemon poke cake

What You’ll Need

Scroll down to the recipe card to find the ingredient quantities and recipe instructions.


  • All-purpose flour – Here’s how to measure flour for baking.
  • Baking powder
  • Salt
  • Unsalted butter – Learn more: Unsalted or Salted Butter: Which is Better for Baking?
  • Granulated sugar
  • Eggs – Let these sit on the counter a bit so they come to room temperature; they’ll hold more air when beaten. I recommend baking with large eggs.
  • Fresh lemon juice – Here’s how to juice a lemon.
  • Lemon zest – Be sure to zest the lemon before juicing it!
  • Sour cream – I recommend using full-fat sour cream, which will give you a rich cake with a tender crumb.


  • Sweetened condensed milk
  • Fresh lemon juice


  • Cream cheese – Use the kind that comes in a block, not from a tub.
  • Confectioners’ sugar – Also known as powdered sugar.
  • Fresh lemon juice

Does Condensed Milk Freeze Well?

You won’t use a full can of condensed milk for this recipe, but leftovers can be frozen for up to 3 months. Transfer it to an airtight container or freezer bag before freezing, then thaw it in the refrigerator to use.

How to Make Lemon Poke Cake

Each step of making this lemon poke cake is easy, but it does take a bit of time, so be sure to plan for that. Here’s what you’ll need to do:

  • Prepare. Preheat your oven to 350°F and grease a 9″x 13″ baking pan, or line it with parchment paper and grease the paper and any exposed parts of the inside of the pan.
  • Mix the dry ingredients. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a mixing bowl.
  • Mix the wet ingredients. Use an electric mixer on medium speed to beat the butter and sugar until they’re light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, followed by the lemon juice and zest. 
  • Finish the batter. Slowly mix the dry ingredients into the bowl with the wet ingredients, then stir in the sour cream.
  • Bake. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Set the pan on a wire rack to cool for 3 to 5 minutes.
  • Add holes. Use the round handle of a wooden spoon to poke holes about 1/2-inch apart over the entire surface of the warm cake, making sure not to poke all the way to the bottom.
  • Make the filling. Whisk together the condensed milk and lemon juice, then pour the mixture over the warm cake, spreading it to cover the entire surface.
  • Cool and chill. Allow the cake to cool completely, then refrigerate it for at least 1 to 2 hours.
  • Make the frosting. Use an electric mixer on medium speed to beat the cream cheese, confectioners’ sugar, and lemon juice until smooth and creamy. Beat in more sugar if desired.
  • Frost. Spread the frosting over the cake. Chill at least an hour before serving.

Tips for Success

Read over my baking tips for beginners, then follow these additional pointers for perfect lemon poke cake:

  • Soften the butter and cream cheese. This will allow them to mix evenly into the other ingredients without any lumps. Learn more: How to Soften Butter
  • Sift the confectioners’ sugar if needed. If your sugar has clumps in it, sift it before making the frosting. Even when you use an electric mixer to beat it, you might not notice any clumps until you’re spreading the frosting on the cake!
  • Don’t overmix the batter. Once you’ve added the flour mixture, mix only until it’s just combined. This keeps the cake light and fluffy.
  • Don’t poke all the way through the cake. If you do, the cake will be difficult to cut and serve neatly.
Overhead view of lemon poke cake cut in pan


When Meyer lemons are in season, try using them in this cake for slight twist on the original. For a pink lemonade poke cake, you can tint each component of the cake with pink gel food coloring.

Serving Suggestions

For an extra pop of color and fresh flavor, top the finished cake with fresh berries, a sprinkle of lemon zest, or both. White chocolate curls also make a lovely topping for this lemon poke cake.

Piece of lemon poke cake on white plate

How to Store

This lemon poke cake can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. I recommend letting it come to room temperature before serving for the best texture and taste.

Can I Freeze This Recipe?

If you have any leftovers, you can freeze them for up to 2 months. Transfer them to an airtight container and then thaw in the refrigerator before serving.

Piece of lemon poke cake on white plate, with corner eaten

More Lemon Recipes

Lemon Poke Cake

Yield 20 servings
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes

This Lemon Poke Cake is full of bright citrus flavor, and it's always a crowd-pleaser!

Piece of lemon poke cake on white plate, with corner eaten


For the cake:

  • 2 cups (240g) all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (113g) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 & 1/2 cups (300g) granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2-3 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1-1 & 1/2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 1 cup (226g) sour cream

For the topping:

  • 2/3 cup sweetened condensed milk
  • 6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

For the frosting:

  • 8 ounces (226g) cream cheese, softened
  • 2 & 1/2 to 3 cups (275 to 330g) confectioners' sugar
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice


To make the cake:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 9"x 13" baking pan, or line it with parchment paper and grease the paper and any exposed parts of the inside of the pan.
  2. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
  3. Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Mix in the lemon juice and lemon zest. Gradually add the flour mixture, mixing just until combined. Stir in the sour cream.
  4. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a pick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  5. Set the pan on a wire rack, and allow the cake to cool for about 3 to 5 minutes.

To make the topping:

  1. Using the round handle of a wooden spoon*, poke holes about 1/2 inch apart over entire surface of the warm cake, making sure not to poke all the way to the bottom of the cake.
  2. Whisk together the condensed milk and 6 tablespoons of lemon juice until smooth. Immediately pour the mixture over the warm cake, spreading it to cover the surface and seep into the holes. Note that not all of the mixture will be absorbed into the cake.
  3. Allow the cake to cool completely. Then refrigerate the cake for at least 1-2 hours to allow the topping to set and soak into cake.

To make the frosting:

  1. Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the cream cheese, confectioners' sugar, and 1 tablespoon lemon juice until smooth. Use the range of sugar in the recipe to adjust the sweetness to your taste.
  2. Spread the frosting evenly over the topping of the cool cake. Refrigerate at least an hour before serving.


*A knife honing steel or other similarly sized tool will also work. Just make sure you don't use something small like a toothpick or fork because the topping is fairly thick. As mentioned above, not all of the mixture will be absorbed.

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    45 Comments on “Lemon Poke Cake”

  1. Yum! Will have to try this. My favorite poke cake is what my family always called “Chocolate Soaky Cake.” It’s a yellow cake with holes poked in it and topped with boiled fudge icing. The chocolate soaks down into the cake and hardens. So good!

    • I would love the recipe for this chocolate poke cake with fudge drizzled in the holes of the cake. This sounds like my kind of cake. Thank you.


    • Sounds like wonderful tasty idea for a chocolate lover. Would you mind sharing the recipe? Thank you.

    • I would love to have the recipe for The Chocolate Soaky Cake and also the boiled chocolate icing.

      Thank you,

  2. woman just give me a bucket of that frosting!

  3. This is beautiful! I love lemon. YUMMY!

  4. Nice. Seems simple yet refreshing and delicious. Great photos!

  5. This looks lovely! I was wondering if the lemon frosting mixture would also be adequate for macaron filling?

  6. What a genius idea! I saw something similar for a Mexican cake, I love all the lemon you’ ve used!

  7. Your photos are just beautiful! I’d love to pick your brain on your shooting secrets/techniques.

    And this cake looks easy yet delicious. Thanks for posting!

  8. Janet, I think the frosting wouldn’t be sturdy/stable enough for macarons. Even refrigerated, it’s very soft.

  9. I have never heard of poke cakes before… sounds amazing. So does the cake have to be fairly dry in order to soak up the topping well?

  10. This looks delicious! Is “poke cake” the technical term? 🙂

    • I think the technical name was “Jello poke Cake.” I made one with lime cake and lemon frosting. Really good for a hot summer day.

  11. Oh, I just love poke cake. It’s my one go-to cake recipe for a moist, delicious result every time. Never thought of using lemon before, though. I’ve always made strawberry or raspberry, using Jello mix and hot water to “soak” the cake. Your recipe looks wonderful!

  12. Edith , it doesn’t need to be dry. I do make it a bit dense so it will hold up to all the holes poked into it and all the topping.

  13. That looks delicious! I wonder if you could also use lemon curd (such as the lighter lemon curd recipe?) for the topping?

  14. Jennifer, I think lemon curd would be lovely!

  15. I made this today, well, sort of. I used a box cake mix, but made the topping as written. The topping is delicious, but never did sink into the cake. It just sat on top like a traditional frosting. I think the lemon juice thickened up the condensed milk too much. Anyway, it was a great tasting cake!

  16. The perfect dessert for summer for me is anything with lemon. Thanks for sharing this. It will be on my counter within the week! Gary

  17. I used to make poke cakes when I was young with my mom using boxed mixes and jello. I have never thought to make a from-scratch version! This cake sounds refreshingly delicious!

  18. Hi Jennifer. This looks like a great recipe! I am an editor for and I wanted to let you know that I featured this recipe in a blog post. You can find it here:

  19. Could I possibly use lime zest in the topping to give it that lemon lime flavor?

  20. Or possibly Orange zest?

  21. Of course, Michael. Either one would be fine.

  22. Hey! This looks so delicious…..
    I really want to have this cake for my birthday, or a variation of it!
    A large post-it note is now devoted to that thought 😉
    I would really love to try this with coconut!
    Maybe coconut cream soaked into it, with a whipped cream frosting
    and toasted coconut? Sounds enchanting!
    Any thoughts?
    Thank you for the awesome recipes!!

  23. Hi, Claire! My mother used to make a cake very similar to this one with coconut. She used a boxed yellow cake mix, poured coconut milk over that to soak into the holes, topped it with whipped cream and sweetened coconut. One of my favorites!

  24. I’m definitely trying that!
    Have a great Easter.
    I shall be cooking some of your recipes for our celebration!
    I’ve fallen in love with your recipes. 😉
    Thank you!

  25. Do you have a strawberry lemon version of this?

  26. Christy, I haven’t made a strawberry-lemon version. You could easily add some pureed strawberries to the frosting. It might be possible to add some to the topping, but it might make it too thick to soak into the cake.

  27. I made this today, only used a box lemon cake, added creme fraische to condensed milk and puréed blackberries. It was unbelievable! I bet you could add a little regular cream to the condensed milk if you used puréed strawberry and it would soak right in, just not too much.

  28. Really appreciate that you made the cake from scratch rather than using a cake mix. I’m off to pin it on my Cake Board and my Lemons & Limes Board on

  29. I made this yesterday and loved it. I have made the coconut version for years and everyone loves it. I dont think it is the thickness of the condensed milk. I believe it has to do with the number and size of the holes. Another tip I have used is to pour half on and let it sink in and then pour the rest.

  30. Okay, so I have a recipe I have adapted that’s similar to this but my milk mixture is a combination of cream, evaporated milk, and sweetened condensed milk with lemon juice and zest. The first time I made the cake it was moist and amazing! Since then I have tried about 5 to have the same results and through my research I have found that sweetened condensed milk and lemon juice actually have a reaction together and the lemon juice actually thickens sweetened condensed milk. Within minutes you can have a pudding like mixture. I’m trying to figure out why it didn’t happen to me the first time and since hasn’t worked out but rather given me a thick layer. I’m working on it! Just a heads up!

  31. To avoid the problem of your topping not soaking in, try pouring it immediately after mixing onto a still warm cake. Chill then add the icing.

  32. I used a wooden spoon handle and then one of those rubber topped turkey basters. It was the exact match for hole size and I squirted the “pudding” into the holes…. this cake was delicious with fresh raspberries on top! Thanks for the recipe 🙂

  33. Do I have to put it in the fridge? I was really in the mood for a warm gooey cake, so I thought after I poured the condensed milk mixture, I could let it cool on the countertop before adding the frosting. What do you think yay or nay?

    • Debbie, I definitely recommend refrigerating the cake so that the topping will set well. That being said, I don’t think it will be a disaster if you don’t. It would need to be cooled to room temperature before you frosted it. If you decide not to refrigerate it before serving, you will still need to refrigerate any leftovers.

  34. I just made this cake. Everything  went well except for the topping. I used a wooden Handel end for the holes, and I added some heavy cream to thin out the lemon juice and sweetened milk. I still had an issue with the mixture finding its way down the holes. So my HUSBAND, says to me “why don’t you use one of those icing bags with the tips to squirt it into the holes”. Freaking genius ! Lol! Worked like a charm! Here’s to husbands coming up with great tips ! Haven’t actually tried the cake , saving it for Easter Sunday tomorrow! Will let you know how it turned out.

    • Ok, so here’s my opinion on this cake, my family and I all agree that the icing is way too Sweet! The cake was was tasty. I would probably not make this cake again.

  35. Just made this and it was yummy, rich, super moist, a lil gooey because of the poked in condensed milk. All in all it was fabulous. I cheated tho and used yellow butter cake mix, added a tablespoon of lemon zest to the batter, plus a lil more butter and replaced 1/4 cup of water with 1/4 cup of half and half. Everyone at book club enjoyed this cake. Will definitely make this again cuz I love lemon!

  36. I have made this recipe A LOT! Sometimes with lemon and sometimes with orange but definitely a favourite of ours! I always just make the condensed milk topping as my only icing, I’ve never made the cream cheese frosting and put it on as well.

  37. Made this exactly as written and it was lovely!  I just put condensed milk mixture in a jug and poured it over the holes and tamped the mixture down with the back of a spoon. After letting sit in the fridge for a while, used an off set spatula to even out remainder over the cake.  In the fridge overnight and added the chilled cream cheese topping in the morning. It was a luscious cake and it was enjoyed by all. Had two little squares put aside for myself for the next day. 😁. They were even better!  Thanks for the recipe. 

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