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Citrus Poke Cake

Morgan Baker
Cook Time:
35 mins
Prep Time:
20 mins

Chef notes

When it comes to simple, delicious and crowd-pleasing desserts, the humble sheet cake has so much to offer. Unlike complicated layer cakes, there is no need to worry about cooling, stacking and assembling cake layers. Instead, this approachable recipe provides a fun twist to an original by utilizing a store-bought pudding mix, which adds moisture and flavor. The fun technique of poking holes into your cake, which allows the delicious pudding to seep through and soaks the cake, is so easy to do. This part is very fun to do with kids who are keen to learn new baking and kitchen skills.

While you can certainly serve this cake right away, it is best served chilled. Here, I offer a topping of whipped cream and citrus zest, but if you’ve got a hefty sweet tooth, you could top it off with store-bought or homemade buttercream, or serve with no topping at all for an even easier take. If you don’t own a stand mixer, you can easily use a hand mixer to achieve the same results; just look for a fluffy batter texture to make sure your cake batter is mixed properly.

This recipe is also very customizable! Consider changing the pudding flavor to something like lime or orange for a more dramatic citrus flavor, or you could omit the zest in the cake all together to soften the flavor and lean more into the vanilla notes. Add fun toppings like crushed graham crackers cookies, coconut flakes or even shaved dark chocolate.

Swap Option: You could use one cup whole milk and 1/2 cup sour cream or Greek yogurt to replace the buttermilk.

Technique Tip: It is important for your ingredients to be room temperature; this allows for proper rising and creaming of butter and sugar. Additionally, be sure to slowly pour your pudding mixture into the milk while whisking to avoid clumps.


  • cooking spray, for greasing
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • cups granulated sugar
  • tablespoons citrus zest, (from a lemon, lime, orange, or combination of all 3), plus more for garnish
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, cubed, room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature
  • cups buttermilk, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons citrus juice, (from a lemon, lime, orange, or combination of all 3)
  • 1/4 cup instant lemon (or vanilla) pudding mix
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • whipped cream, (store-bought or homemade) for topping
Fulfilled by



Preheat the oven to 350 F and heavily grease a 9-by-13-inch cake pan with cooking spray.


In a large bowl, sift the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Set aside.


In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add the sugar and citrus zest and mix on medium speed for about 30 seconds, or until the citrus zest becomes fragrant.


With the mixer running on low, add the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time. Raise the speed to medium and cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy, about 2 minutes.


Scrape the sides and bottom of the mixing bowl with a rubber spatula and add the vanilla extract. Mix again for about 30 seconds.


Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing for about 15 seconds after each addition, being careful not to overmix.


In a small bowl, whisk together the buttermilk and sour cream.


Add the dry ingredients in thirds, alternating with the buttermilk mixture, mixing for about 15 seconds after each addition. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the mixing bowl and mix on medium speed for 20 seconds once all ingredients are added.


Pour the cake batter into the prepared dish. Bake for about 35 minutes, or until a tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.


Using the bottom of a spoon or another small round-ended utensil, poke holes in the cake, about 1- inch apart. Brush the citrus juice across the cake with a pastry brush.


While the cake continues to cool, whisk the pudding mix and milk together in a medium bowl until combined. Pour the pudding mixture over the cake.


Top with whipped cream and citrus zest. Cover and allow to chill in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours before serving.