This strawberry crunch cake uses gluten-free boxed cake mix and lemon curd to create a super moist, super delicious, and fun take on a poke cake! It comes together in under an hour and is a real show-stopper for any spring or summer party!
Did you ever have those strawberry shortcake bars as a kid? I am learning that they are more of a West Coast thing or just don’t exist in the Midwest. Not sure which one.
If you don’t know what it is, they are strawberry and vanilla popsicles coated in this amazing crunchy vanilla and strawberry crumble. It is still my favorite ice cream bar to get from an ice cream truck!
But, now I can’t even find them in stores. So instead we made it in cake form so Dan could experience the magic! This delicious dessert came together so quickly with an awesome boxed gluten-free vanilla cake. It is filled with lemon curd, topped with lemon cream cheese buttercream frosting, and of course, the essential crunch topping made with gluten-free sandwich cookies.
Ingredients and Substitutions
All substitutions are a 1:1 substitute unless otherwise noted
Gluten-Free Vanilla Cake Mix: We used Simple Mills Almond Flour Cake Mix and it worked fabulously for this strawberry crunch cake recipe! It came together super quick and was super fluffy and moist!
Substitutions: Any of your favorite vanilla or white cake mix can be used! Gluten-free or not. Strawberry mix or funfetti would also be super fun!
Lemon Curd: I saw lemon curd at Trader Joe’s and knew that was going in the cake. It brightens up the cake and helps to cut through loads of sweetness.
Substitutions: Any store-bought curd can be used or you can make your own. You could also try lemon pie filling or strawberry puree but it may be too sweet. You can also leave this out if in a pinch.
Gluten-Free Golden Crème Sandwiches: These are a Walmart score! They taste exactly the same and make for a great crunch topping but are gluten-free!
Substitutions: Any Golden Oreos-style cookie or vanilla wafers can be used.
Butter: We use salted butter since I am lazy and do not like to add more ingredients. Also, this cake is so sweet that it benefits from added salt. Just make sure it is room temperature for the frosting!
Substitutions: Unsalted can be used but you will need to add ½ teaspoon of salt to the frosting.
Strawberry Jello: This strawberry gelatin mix is the secret to that delicious and addicting crunch topping! When used as powder, it acts as a flavored sugar that I am sure is not great for me but tastes SO DANG GOOD! We also used a splash of it in the frosting for color and strawberry flavor.
Substitutions: Any strawberry Jello packet can be used, sugar-free or regular.
Cream Cheese: I love a good cream cheese frosting and this cake desperately needed it to cut through the sweetness! Just make sure the cream cheese is at room temperature for the best buttercream texture.
Substitutions: You can use any cream cheese you like, full fat or low fat. You can also use a plant-based cream cheese alternative.
Powdered Sugar: Powdered sugar adds stability and sweetness to the frosting.
Substitutions: A low-calorie powdered sugar substitute could be used.
Lemon: We used the juice and zest of a large lemon. But, feel free to use more or less lemon zest in the frosting based on your preference. I love a little pucker!
Substitutions: Sorry, no substitutions for this, but you could just use lemon juice from a bottle and skip the lemon zest in a pinch or leave out entirely. You could also use a little vanilla extract in the frosting for vanilla buttercream.
How to Make this - Step by Step
Step one: Preheat the oven and set cream cheese and butter out to come to room temperature. Spray an 8x8 baking tray with non-stick spray or line it with parchment paper.
Step two: Make the vanilla cake as directed by the package and pour batter into the prepared pan. Bake as directed on the box. You WILL need to get the supplies listed on the boxed cake mix in addition to those listed in the recipe since each boxed mix is different.
Step three: While the cake bakes, make the crunch topping. Melt the butter in a large mixing bowl. Add the crushed crème cookies and Jello mix to the bowl until evenly coated. I like to use a food processor for this to get an even mix and coarse crumb texture.
Step four: Once the cake is done (check by pricking it with a toothpick to see if it comes out clean), remove it from the oven and set it aside to cool. You can remove it and let it cool on a wire rack or leave it in the pan. While it cools, make the buttercream by using a hand mixer to cream together cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar, lemon juice, and lemon zest until light and fluffy. Make sure the cream cheese and butter are room temperature otherwise the frosting will be chunky. We also added a dash of strawberry jello to the buttercream to make this lemon strawberry frosting.
Step five: Assemble your cake. Use a spoon or piping tip to poke holes (12 evenly spaced) in the cake. Fill each one with lemon curd. You can do this with a piping tip and piping bag or a spoon.
Step six: Spread buttercream on top of the whole cake gently to not disturb the curd. Then, top with the strawberry shortcake crumbles. Slice into 9 even pieces and enjoy! Garnish the top with fresh strawberries for a delightful and fresh finish!
Watch How to Make This - Step by Step
Is your butter still too hard or you forgot to let it sit out? Cut the butter stick into half-inch wide slices and lay flat on a plat. Microwave for 11 seconds and then flip. Microwave for another 11 seconds and remove. The butter should now be soft enough to make great buttercream but not too soft to be runny. If the buttercream is running, pop it in the fridge for a half-hour to set up, and then beat again for perfect buttercream!
Facts and Common Questions
What is strawberry crunch cake made out of?
This strawberry crunch cake is made out of vanilla cake and topped with buttercream and strawberry crunch topping. Some are made with two cake layers - one layer of strawberry and one layer of vanilla cake.
How do you poke a cake?
You can use a piping tip upside down to poke a hole in the cake and then remove the piece of cake. Or, you can use a spoon to cut out a rough circle and scoop out the cake. This is my preferred way because it means more filling!
Does a poke cake need to be refrigerated?
Yes! Because poke cakes are filled with perishable ingredients (like lemon curd), it needs to be refrigerated.
Will I need more ingredients for the boxed cake mix?
Yes. Every boxed cake is different, so check the box you plan on using to make sure you have the necessary ingredients for it. For an extra fluffy and moist boxed cake, you can use melted butter instead of oil and add an additional egg.
What flavors go well with strawberry cake?
Lemon! Lemon and strawberry flavor are a match made in heaven. Hence why this cake is filled with lemon curd and topped with a super fresh and bright lemon cream cheese buttercream!
Want to Save it for Later? Here’s how!
This cake can be frozen or refrigerated. Check out how!
Fridge: Store this cake in an airtight container or tightly wrapped in plastic wrap for up to 5 days in the refrigerator. If it is exposed to the air, it will begin to dry out.
Freezer: To freeze this cake, wrap it in plastic wrap tightly and then place it inside a sealed container. You can also place it inside a freezer ziplock or an additional layer of plastic wrap to prevent freezer burn. When ready to enjoy, place the cake in the fridge the night before to thaw.
Try these other great strawberry recipes!
Did you try this and love it? Leave us a review, we would love to hear from you!
- 1 box vanilla cake mix
- ½ cup lemon curd
- 10.5 oz golden creme cookies
- 3 tablespoon salted butter melted
- 3 oz Strawberry Jello
- 4 oz cream cheese
- 2.5 cups powdered sugar
- ¼ cup salted butter
- 1 lemon zest
- ⅛ cup lemon juice
- 1 drop pink food coloring (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 350 and spray or line a 9x9 pan. Set the cream cheese and butter out to come to room temperature. Crush crème cookies so they are not quite sand texture and still have some small chunks; set them aside.
- Make the vanilla cake as directed and bake as directed by package.
- Remove the cake when a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Let the cake cool and come to room temperature before topping with frosting or removing it from the tray. To speed this up, you can place the cake in the freezer or fridge. Just be sure to check on it every half hour or so to keep it from drying out or freezing.
- While the cake is cooling, make the frosting. Use a hand mixer to beat the lemon juice, lemon zest, cream cheese, powdered sugar, vanilla, and butter in a medium bowl until fluffy. Feel free to add a couple of drops of pink food coloring to this for extra brightness! If the butter is not incorporated fully, check out our Joy Tip above for how to bring butter to room temperature quickly. Or just set the bowl in the sun for a while to let the butter warm up. Once the frosting is made, set it in the refrigerator until ready to assemble.
- Make the crumble crunch topping by melting the butter and combining it with the crushed crème cookies and jello mix. This is easiest in a food processor, but can also be done in a large bowl. Set crunch mixture aside until ready to use.
- Once the cake is cool, take the frosting out of the fridge to come to room temperature while you work on assembling. You may need to beat it once more to bring it back to frosting consistency.
- Using a wide straw, piping tip, or spoon to poke 12 holes in the cake (this will be for the filling!). Snack away on these cake bites that have been removed!
- Spoon in or pipe in the lemon curd into each hole.
- Spread the frosting evenly on the cake and top with crunch mixture topping.
- Cut the cake into 12 pieces that align with where your curd is.