Vanilla Custard Soaked Pumpkin Poke Cake

Welcome October! And the golden maple trees, the chill in the air, football, apple cider and donuts....all the things I miss from my Michigan years. Yes, we get fall in South Florida too, but you have to look very carefully. No cool temps to alert you, at least not until November or sometimes even December. So I live vicariously through all of you and search for apple and pumpkin recipes, hoping they will make me feel like it's October. Difficult when it's 90 degrees outside!

This recipe is my first pumpkin recipe since last fall. The ingredient list makes it look more involved than it really is and the results are well worth the little bit of fuss. Besides, it didn't take much time at all. Haven't made a poke cake since something lemony that was all the rage years ago, so this was fun. Such a moist pumpkin cake to begin with and then you add that marvelous warm cinnamon-vanilla custard. Ah yes, the house smelled like fall while this was baking!

Vanilla Custard Soaked Pumpkin Poke Cake
From Willow Bird Baking

1 cup quick-cooking oats*
3/4 cup water, room temperature
3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup pumpkin
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 large egg, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract 

Vanilla Custard Ingredients:
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoons flour
3/4 cup milk
3 tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon cardamom

Broiled Icing Ingredients:
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
3 tablespoons milk
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup pecans, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 
For the cake: make a foil sling for an 8-inch square pan: cut two 16-inch lengths of foil and fold them to widths of 5 inches each. Fit foil pieces into baking dish, one overlapping the other, pushing them into corners and up sides of pan; allow excess to overhang pan edges. Cut two more pieces of the same size and arrange them in the same way, except perpendicular to the first two. This creates a sling that will help you remove the cake after baking and cooling. Spray foil lightly with nonstick cooking spray. 

Combine the oats, pumpkin puree, and water in medium bowl and let sit until water is absorbed, about 5 minutes. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg together.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugars for a few minutes until the mixture resembles damp sand. Add the egg and vanilla and mix until combined. Add the flour mixture in 2 batches, mixing until just incorporated after each addition. Add the oat mixture and mix until just combined. Stir the mixture by hand to make sure everything is combined.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and tap it against the counter a few times remove any air bubbles. Smooth the surface with a spatula. Bake the cake, rotating halfway through baking, until a toothpick inserted into center comes out with few moist crumbs attached, about 28 to 32 minutes. Let the cake cool in the pan for about 10 minutes while you make the custard.

Method for the custard: Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Remove from the heat and stir in the flour until it’s blended. Add the milk and then return to the heat, stirring as you add the sugar. Continue stirring, bringing the mixture to a boil and boiling for about a minute. Remove from the heat and add vanilla, cinnamon, and cardamom. Let the mixture cool for a few minutes as you use the handle of a wooden spoon to poke holes every inch or so over the cake. Pour the warm custard over the cake evenly. Let the cake continue to cool while you make the icing.

Method for the icing: Move the oven rack to around 9 inches away from the broiler heating element and preheat the broiler. In a medium bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, cinnamon, melted butter, and milk. Stir in the coconut and pecans before spreading the mixture evenly over the top of the cake. (It reminds me of the German Chocolate Cake Frosting) Broil the cake, keeping a close eye on it and rotating as needed, until topping is bubbling and golden, about 3 to 5 minutes. Let the cake cool in pan until it’s cool enough to pop into the fridge. Chill it for at least 2 hours before serving. Use the sling to pull the cake gently out of the pan. Cut it into squares and transfer to a platter or serving plates. You can heat each serving for 30 seconds to a minute in the microwave before serving to remove the chill.

*Cooks notes: Do not use old-fashioned or instant oats for this recipe. Be sure to use a metal baking dish. You'll find a vertical sawing motion with a serrated knife works best for cutting through the crunchy icing and tender crumb.


  1. Fantastic! I've never made a "poke" cake - it looks wonderful - such a lovely dessert for October!
    Mary x

  2. Love this pumpkin poke cake Barbara, look delicious!

  3. I love the revival of poke cakes, Barbara. Yours sounds amazing. A GREAT way to get into the "spirit" of Autumn!

    Thank you so much for sharing...

  4. The cake looks divine with broiled nutty icing! A perfect autumn afternoon tea accompaniment.

  5. Hi Barbara,

    Have never heard of a poke cake before, so good to see the recipe - sounds delicious.
    Happy October

  6. I am definitely going to have to try this!

  7. That cke looks terrific and absolutely decadent!



  8. So many of the poke cake recipes out there start with a box mix so I am THRILLED to see this is from scratch! Delicious!

  9. After living many years in south Florida, I know exactly what you mean about fall. Maybe that is why I love living in New England now where there are 4 seasons. Your cake sounds absolutely delicious. I'm sure your kitchen had wonderful aromas.

  10. ou ahve so many very differennt recipes..this one looks terrific too!

  11. This lovely recipe would be exactly what we would wish for when the temperature drops.

  12. Oh, you know I love all things pumpkin...

  13. oh my gosh, Barbara - that looks amazing!

  14. This poke cake is the perfect treat for the season Barbara! The temperatures are high here too!

  15. OOoh waw, Barbara! What a truly appetizing & brillaint concotion this surely is!

    It looks freaking delicious too! A tasty dessert! Yummmmmmmo!

  16. Can you believe it? A few weeks ago we were sweltering and now we might wake up to SNOW on Friday. Bring on the cake!

  17. Nights are cool here in VA now, but it still gets hot in the daytime. This cake looks phenomenal- I bet your house DID smell like fall, and I want mine to as well! :)

  18. Is this like gooey butter cake?

  19. Oh my, Barbara. I have never heard of poke cake, what makes it poke I wonder? The combination is brilliant and I do love pumpkin. Adding oats to the mix is really a great idea... the picture of the cake looks so delicious with the crisp and the oozy custard... num!!

  20. oooh, you had me hooked at broiled icing--LOVE that stuff!

  21. Poke cake? I am embarrassed to confess, but I never heard of it, let alone making it...but could guess by the name :D
    This cake looks awesome Barbara, especially with the vanilla custard on it...yum!
    Thanks for the recipe and hope you are having a great week my dear!

  22. Una gran delicia se ve irresistible mi querida Barbara,abrazos

  23. What a gorgeous stuffed

  24. How cool. I've never made a "poke" cake. Love the addition of oats.

  25. Here in Canada, we definitely get all four seasons. Sometimes I think I could do without winter, but I see what you mean about longing for fall.

  26. Oh, YUM! I am ready for that pumpkin right now!



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