I'm a big fan of repairing reputations. I believe most things start off with the best intentions, but sometimes take a wrong turn, start running with a bad crowd, and need a loving hand to get back on track. This, I'm afraid, is what happened to poke cake.
Although I can't say for certain, I'm guessing this simple, light-as-air creation started off as an Americanized version of something a bit more refined (poke cake after all is not too far removed from Mexican tres leches cake or the French syrup-soaked genoise), but then found itself mixing with the wrong crowd (Betty Crocker) and took the unfortunate turn to become the boxed cake mix, Jell-O pudding, and whipped-topping disaster it has turned into.
But here's the wonderful news: not much needs to be done to save this lush cake from the brink of heavily-processed destruction. To be fair, I'm not the incredible food snob I'm making myself out to be. I'm down with a boxed mix every now and then (especially brownies, as I've never made homemade brownies as good as ones from a mix), but when all three ingredients come from a box or plastic tub, that's going a little too far — especially when making this cake from scratch is so easy.
To soak up all the sweet cherry syrup, I wanted to use a fluffy sponge cake, which means there's really nothing to making this cake other than whipping up some eggs and folding everything together. The cake itself has a completely delicious almond-flecked crumb, dripping in luscious cream and cherry syrup, but the tangy, sour cream frosting really takes it over the top, renewing its reputation to all its original glory.
Cherry-Almond Poke Cake
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup ground almonds (from about 1/3 cup whole almonds)
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
6 large eggs
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup Cherry Syrup (get the recipe here)
2 cups heavy cream, divided
1/3 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
Whole cherries for garnish, optional
Heat oven to 325°F and arrange a rack in the middle. Grease a 9 x 13-inch baking pan with baking spray. Combine flour, almonds, and salt in a medium bowl and whisk until incorporated.
Separate the eggs, placing the yolks in the bowl of a stand mixer and the whites in a separate clean bowl. Add sugar and vanilla extract to the yolks and beat with the paddle attachment until thick and pale yellow in color, about 5 minutes. Transfer the yolk and sugar mixture to a large bowl. Thoroughly clean and dry the stand mixer bowl. Place the egg whites in the bowl, and using the whisk attachment, whip the whites to firm peaks, about 2 minutes.
Using a rubber spatula, fold about a third of the whites into the yolk and sugar mixture to loosen them up. Then add the remaining whites and gently fold them in until only a few patches of whites remain. Sprinkle the flour mixture over the egg mixture and gently fold that in just until incorporated.
Scrape the batter into the baking dish and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the cake begins to pull away from the sides of the pan, about 20 to 25 minutes. Meanwhile, mix the cherry syrup and 1/2 cup heavy cream until smooth.
Let cake cool 15 minutes, then poke all over with a skewer or the tines of a fork. Pour the cherry mixture over the top and spread evenly. Let cool for another 45 minutes, then cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.
When the cake is ready to serve, combine the remaining 1 1/2 cups of heavy cream, sour cream, and powdered sugar in a large bowl and whisk until it forms fluffy, firm peaks. Spread the cream evenly over the cake, garnish with cherries, if desired, and serve.
(Images: Kate Ramos)