Rainbow poke cake is a bright and colourful cake that comes together easily using simple ingredients. Starting with a boxed vanilla cake and instant pudding, this cake is moist and delicious. Perfect for a birthday party or anytime you want an easy, colourful dessert.
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If you are looking for an easy cake with tons of flavour and endless flavour combinations, then you can’t go wrong with a poke cake.
This rainbow poke cake is made with a simple boxed cake mix, filled with instant pudding and topped with a fluffy vanilla topping.
The rainbow colour is achieved by dividing the cake batter and colouring each portion with different colours before dropping it in random patterns in the baking pan.
The rainbow colours make this cake fun and colourful, perfect for celebrating a child’s birthday.
Depending on the colours you use you can turn this into a unicorn cake, mermaid cake, Fourth of July cake, or even use it to celebrate your favourite sports team.
You can make this cake as simple or as fancy as you want by either using store bought ingredients, or making everything from scratch.
For a full list of ingredients and measurements, see the printable recipe card at the bottom of this post.
- Cake mix (and the ingredients to make it) – You will need one box to make a 9×13 cake. I suggest using a basic white cake mix for this recipe so that the colours are brighter. But funfetti cake mix would work well too. Yellow cake mix will work, but it will alter the colours you add.
- Instant pudding – This will be the filling for the cake. I chose to keep this a vanilla cake and have used vanilla pudding, but you can really use any flavour you like. You will also need one box to mix with the whipped topping for the frosting.
- Frozen whipped topping – Frozen whipped topping is used because it has more stability and will stay fluffy longer than real whipped cream. The whipped topping is lighter that typical frosting and matches well with the light, lemon cake.
- Milk – Milk is needed to make the pudding. You can use whole milk, 2%, or fat-free.
- Food colouring – You will need food colouring to dye the cake. I’ve used 5 different colours, but you can use as many as you like. I prefer gel food colouring as it produces more vivid colour.
- Sprinkles – Rainbow sprinkles make the cake pretty. You can use whatever you like, basic sprinkles, fancy sprinkles, or any combination of textures and colours. If you don’t want to use sprinkles you can use chopped nuts, shaved chocolate, or even fresh berries.
Step by Step Instructions
Prepare the Rainbow Cake Batter
Step 1 – Begin by mixing the cake batter according to the package directions. Then divide the cake batter into 5 bowls. Use food colouring to colour the batter in each bowl your desired colours.
Step 2 – Prepare a 9×13 pan, then drop the coloured batter into the pan by large spoonfuls in random patterns. Avoid swirling the batter to produce more vivid colours.
Bake the cake according to the package directions, or the directions of the recipe you are using.
Fill the Poke Cake
Step 3 – Let the cake cool completely, then poke holes in the cake with the end of a wooden spoon or other rounded tool. You want the holes to be about 1/2 inch wide in order for the pudding to fill them.
Step 4 – Mix 1.5 cups of milk with one box of vanilla pudding in a large bowl until it begins to thicken, but is still runny. Use a small spoon or small tipped piping bag to fill the holes of the cake with the pudding. Pour the rest of the pudding over the cake. Spread it over the cake and gently press to make sure the holes are filled.
Pro-Tip: Because the pudding is fairly thick, using a piping bag to fill the holes will help ensure the pudding fills the holes completely.
Decorate the Cake
Step 5 – Mix 1 cup of milk with the remaining box of vanilla pudding just until it begins to thicken, then fold 4 cups of thawed, frozen whipped topping into the pudding.
Drop the prepared topping onto the cake and gently spread to cover the cake. If you like, you can reserve some topping to add swirls to the served slices of cake.
Add sprinkles or other decorations to the top of the cake.
Step 6 – Let the cake rest in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes to allow the topping and pudding to set, then slice and serve.
Variations and Substitutions
There are several ways you can customize this cake to suit your needs.
- Instead of a boxed cake mix, you can substitue your favourite, homemade white or vanilla cake.
- Instead of pudding, consider using homemade lemon curd for a burst of flavour.
- If you don’t want to use pudding, you can use jello instead. It won’t be creamy, but it will give great flavour, lots of moisture, and there are endless flavours to choose from. Follow the directions in my raspberry poke cake recipe for directions on using jello.
- If you don’t want to use frozen whipped topping you can top this cake with fresh whipped cream, a tub of store-bought frosting, or your favourite homemade buttercream.
The great thing about this cake is that you can change the colours and use as few or as many as you need depending on why you are serving it or what you are celebrating.
Unicorn cake – For a unicorn themed cake I suggest using bright blues, pinks and purples. Decorate the cake with rainbow sprinkles, edible glitter or gold sprinkles.
Mermaid cake – Mermaid themed cakes look fantastic with more pastel toned colours in blue, pink, greens and yellows. You can decorate with sprinkles or edible glitter.
Fourth of July cake – Turn this into a Fourth of July cake by dividing the batter into three. Leave one of the portions white and dye the remaining two red and blue. Decorate with white, red and blue sprinkles.
Sports themed cake – Celebrate game day or any other sports event by colouring the cake with colours of your favourite sports team. Pair it with similar coloured sprinkles.
Serving Suggestions for Poke Cake
Because this poke cake is already filled with pudding and topped with a fluffy, creamy topping, and because it is so colourful, it is fantastic on its own.
However, if you do want to serve it with something, you can never go wrong with ice cream. The vanilla flavour of this cake means you can serve it easily with any flavour of ice cream that you like.
This rainbow poke cake would also be pretty served with fresh berries or fruit.
If you like, you can serve this cake with extra pudding, or even serve it with some lemon curd, raspberry sauce, or butterscotch sauce to spoon over top.
Tips for Success and FAQS
- For the most defined colour varitations, drop the coloured batter by large spoonfuls and try not to swirl it. Swirling the batter can create muddy, dark colours.
- Use a drop or two more food colouring than you think you need as the colours will be less bright after baking.
- Let the cake rest for an hour before serving to allow the pudding to set properly.
To make a brightly coloured cake I like using gel food colouring, which provides more vivid colours than water based food colouring. I suggest using a drop or two more than you think you need as the colours will darken a bit when baked.
In order to avoid muddy colours, drop the coloured batter into the pan in random patterns and avoid swirling the batter.
Because this poke cake is made with uncooked pudding and dairy whipped topping, leftovers will need to be stored in the refrigerator. You can simply cover the cake with plastic wrap or tinfoil and store it in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
You can easily make this cake gluten free by either purchasing a gluten-free cake mix or making your own homemade gluten free cake. Just be sure to read the ingredients on the pudding and topping to ensure they are safe for you.
More Easy Dessert Recipes
Easy Rainbow Poke Cake
- Pre-heat the oven according to the package directions on the cake mix.
- Mix the cake according to the package directions.
- Divide the cake into smaller bowls according to how many colours you want to use.
- Colour each bowl with food colouring until you achieve the colour you desire. You will want to use a drop or two more than you think you need as the colour will be less bright after baking.
- Drop the cake batter into a prepared 9×13 pan in random patterns, depending how you want the cake to look. Avoid swirling the batter as it can create muddy colours. Bake the cake according to package directions.
- Let the cake cool completely, then use the end of a wooden spoon or other tool, such as a wide chopstick, to poke holes in the top of the cake. You want holes that are about half inch wide.
- In a medium bowl, mix one box of the instant pudding with 1 1/2 cups of milk just until it begins to thicken, but is still runny. Use a small tipped piping bag or small spoon to fill the holes with pudding, then spread any remaining pudding over the top of the cake.
- Mix 1 cup of milk with the remaining box of pudding just until it begins to thicken, then fold in the frozen whipped topping.
- Spread the topping over the cake in an even layer. If you wish you can reserve part to pipe swirls on top of the cake.
- Decorate the cake with sprinkles then refrigerate for at least 30 minutes in order to allow the pudding to set.
- Slice and serve as desired.
Nutritional information is based on third-party calculations and should be considered estimates. Actual nutritional content will vary with brands used, measuring methods, portion sizes and more.