Strawberry poke cake is the essence of spring

I've finally found it - a recipe for a strawberry cake that's as good, if not better, than that strawberry cake so many enjoyed at Blue Ribbon Cafe in Soddy-Daisy each spring when owner Dianne Cosper brought in fresh local strawberries by the gallon.

I helped Dianne out at her restaurant for a while and finished the cake for her many times, but she wouldn't share her recipe with all those who asked time and again. Unfortunately, she closed the restaurant a number of years ago and shortly afterward passed away - much too soon - taking that recipe to the grave with her as far as I know, though her children and grandchildren may now have it. The only way to get a taste of that cake is to make one yourself and try to get it as close to hers as possible.

When I helped finish making the cakes for Dianne, she had the cake finished and the sauce and icing made, so all I had to do was put the parts together. In doing so, however, I knew the basic steps involved: Make a basic white cake, poke holes in it as soon as it comes out of the oven, top it with crushed strawberries, spread a cream-cheese frosting on top, then add chopped strawberries to garnish.

This cake is a traditional poke cake with a punch of spring flavor. Our global garden allows us to enjoy strawberries year-round, but there's something about making the cake using local berries - freshly picked at a nearby you-pick farm, such as Smith Perry Berries in Ooltewah - that makes it so much better.

Strawberry Poke Cake

1 (15-ounce) box white or vanilla cake mix

1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk

For strawberry sauce:

16 ounces strawberries, hulled and rinsed

1/4 cup sugar

1 tablespoon flour

1/4 cup water

1 tablespoon lemon juice

For the frosting:

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese

2 cups heavy whipping cream

2 cups powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Chopped strawberries

For the cake: Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine the cake mix according to the ingredients on the box. Beat on medium speed until well combined.

Bake cake in a 9- by 13-inch pan for 20-22 minutes. Check for doneness by inserting a toothpick into the middle of the cake. If the toothpick comes out clean, the cake is done. Allow to cool for 10 minutes.

While the cake is still warm, use the end of a wooden spoon to poke holes all over the top of the cake. Pour the can of sweetened condensed milk all over top of the cake, and spread gently with a rubber spatula.

For the strawberry sauce: Rinse the strawberries, and chop into quarters and again in half.

In a medium-size saucepan, combine strawberries with the sugar and flour; toss to combine. Add the water and lemon juice; stir well.

Cook over medium-high heat until mixture starts to boil and strawberries are softened, gently mashing strawberries to create a sauce. Once boiling, continue cooking for about 10 minutes to thicken. Allow to cool for 15 minutes. Pour strawberry sauce over top of the cake, and refrigerate until cake and toppings are completely cooled.

For the frosting: Place a mixing bowl in the freezer for 5-10 minutes before starting. Beat the cream cheese on medium-high speed for 2-3 minutes until cream cheese is smooth and free of lumps. Scrape down the sides of the bowl occasionally.

Slowly drizzle in the heavy whipping cream, and continue beating until the cream cheese resembles a liquid mixture.

Continue to add the remaining heavy whipping cream and beat on medium-high speed until soft peaks form.

Add the powdered sugar and vanilla extract, and beat until stiff peaks form. Spread over cooled cake, then garnish cake with chopped strawberries. Keep cake refrigerated.

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photo Anne Braly