Dog face Jell-O poke cake from scratch

For our kids’ birthdays, I usually try to make a birthday cake that represents their favorite thing of the year. But last year was special because my son turned 12, which meant he completed one 12-year cycle in his 生肖 (sang1 ciu3), Chinese zodiac. He was born in 狗年 (gau2 nin4), the year of the Dog, so the animal represents him is a dog. That’s why I decided to make him a cake resembling a dog – to deepen his understanding of 生肖, and his Chinese heritage.

I also wanted to make a type of cake I have never made before, and to incorporate green, his favorite color, into the cake. After doing some research, I decided to try a poke cake.

Poke cake notes:

A poke cake is made by literally poking a cake after it’s baked in order to have holes for extra liquid or filling to sink in. The idea to soak a cake in liquid has been around for a very long time. According to Wikipedia, the tres leches cake (three milks cake) recipe was on Nestlé condensed milk can labels in 1940s! It’s a sponge cake poked with holes to soak up 3 kinds of milk (evaporated milk, condensed milk, and heavy cream). However, the idea to infuse Jell-O was developed by the Jell-O company in 1969 to increase its sales (sourced from the website

The original formula for the Jell-O poke cake:

White cake mix + Jell-O + Cool Whip = Poke cake

The composition of my dog face Jell-O poke cake:

  • Dog face
    • 2 heart-shaped cake molds (finally another use for my heart-shaped molds!)
      • Place one heart-shaped cake upside down to create the dog face.
      • Cut the other heart-shaped cake in half to become the ears on each side of the dog face.
  • White cake
    • I didn’t use cake mix because I think cakes made from scratch taste way better than a box mix.
    • Some recipes use yellow cake, but I thought white cake will give a better color contrast with the infused Jell-O.
  • Jell-O
    • I used lime flavor Jell-O  to infuse the cake after it’s baked to create the green color drizzles inside the cake.
    • I adopted some recipes’ method to use the back of a wooden spoon to create the holes to pour the Jell-O in, but I think if I would have used a fork or toothpick, I could have created a more dramatic effect.
    • Beware that the Jell-O is soaked throughout the entire cake, not just inside the holes.  That means after the cake is chilled and the Jell-O solidifies, the cake is no longer light and fluffy, but kinda dense.
      • The texture of the poke cake is very different from a tiramisu or tres leche cake, which are both soaked in some type of liquid, because Jell-O becomes gelatinous after chilling.
      • If I make this cake again, I will probably try to only spoon the liquid Jell-O into the holes to create the drizzle effect without infusing the entire cake.
  • Frosting
    • I didn’t use Cool Whip, because whipped cream can be easily made from scratch using heavy cream.
    • White frosting for the face
      • Heavy cream + granulated sugar = White whipped cream
    • Light brown frosting for the ears
      • Heavy cream + powdered sugar + cocoa powder = Brown whipped cream
  • Decorations
    • Milk chocolate chips for the eyes and nose.
    • You can also use jelly beans or whatever else you’d like.


Dog face Jell-O poke cake from scratch

Kitchen instrument of the day: KitchenAid stand mixer


  • White cake
    • 2¾ cups cake flour
    • 1 Tbsp. baking powder
    • ½ tsp. salt
    • 6 egg whites, room temperature
    • 1½ cups granulated sugar, divided
      • ½ cup for the egg whites
      • 1 cup to cream with the butter
    • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
    • 1 Tbsp. vanilla extract (I use my homemade vanilla extract)
    • 1 tsp. almond extract
    • 1 cup buttermilk, room temperature (I used acidified or “soured” milk)
  • Jell-O
    • 1 3-oz box lime gelatin
    • 1 cup of boiling water
    • ½ cup of cold water
  • White frosting
    • 1 cup heavy cream
    • 2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
  • Light Brown frosting
    • 1 cup heavy cream
    • ¼ cup powdered sugar
    • 2 Tbsp. cocoa powder


White cake + Jell-O

  1. Place an oven rack in the middle of the oven, then heat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Grease and lightly flour 2 heart-shaped molds. Set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together 2¾ cups of cake flour, 1 Tbsp. baking powder and ½ tsp. salt. Set aside.
  4. Add 6 egg whites in a mixing bowl, beat them on medium speed until foamy and opaque. Gradually add ½ cup of sugar while the mixer is running on low speed. Turn to high speed and whip the egg whites to soft peaks. Set aside.
  5. Add 1 cup of butter to another mixing bowl, beat it on low speed to break it up. Turn to medium speed to mix it until smooth, about 1 minute. Use a rubber spatula to scrape the sides as needed. Gradually add 1 cup of sugar while the mixer is running on medium speed. Continue mixing until the butter-sugar mixture has almost doubled its mass and started to form peak-like ridges, about 5 minutes.
  6. Add 1 Tbsp. vanilla extract and 1 tsp. almond extract to the butter-sugar mixture, beat until combined.
  7. While the mixer is running on low speed, alternately add ⅓ of the flour mixture and ½ cup of buttermilk, scrape the sides as needed. Do not over mix.
  8. Use a rubber spatula to gently fold ⅓ of the whipped egg whites into the batter at a time, just until well combined (no more white streaks).
  9. Divide the batter evenly between the 2 prepared molds. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few moist crumbs.
  10. While the cake is baking, completely dissolve the Jell-O powder in 1 cup of boiling water.
  11. Mix in the ½ cup of cold water. Set aside.
  12. When the cakes are done, remove them from the oven and let them cool in the pans on a wire rack for about 5 minutes.
  13. Poke holes with the end of a wooden spoon or a large fork throughout both cakes.
  14. Spoon the Jell-O liquid over the holes and the entire top of the 2 cakes.  Let the cakes absorb the liquid before drizzling more. Repeat until all the Jell-O liquid is used.
  15. Refrigerate the cakes in the pans for at least 2 hours.

White frosting

  1. Place the mixing bowl of your stand mixer, and its whisk, in the refrigerator for 1 hour, or in the freezer for 15 minutes, before using to ensure the cream stays cold during the whipping process (especially on very hot summer days!).
  2. Remove the bowl and whisk from the refrigerator/freezer, and add 1 cup heavy cream and 2 Tbsp. sugar to the bowl. Start whisking on low speed, and then turn to high until the cream forms stiff peaks, about 4-5 minutes. Do not over whisk, otherwise you’ll get butter!

Light brown frosting

  1. Again, place the mixing bowl for your stand mixer, and its metal whisk, in the refrigerator for an 1 hour or in the freezer for 15 minutes before using.
  2. Remove the bowl and whisk from the refrigerator/freezer, and add 1 cup heavy cream, ¼ cup powdered sugar and 2 Tbsp. cocoa powder in the bowl. Start whisking on low speed, and then turn it to high until the cream forms stiff peaks, about 4-5 minutes.

Assembling the dog face cake

  1. Remove 1 cake from the refrigerator and and turn it upside down to form the dog’s face on your serving plate/ board (I use a wide chopping board).
  2. Cover the entire cake with the white frosting.
  3. Remove the second cake from the refrigerator and cut it in half before putting on the serving board. Put an ear on each side of the dog’s face.
  4. Cover both ears with the light brown frosting.
  5. Slightly press the chocolate chips on the white frosting to form the eyes and nose.
  6. Chill the assembled dog face cake for at least 1 hour before serving.


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