Cooking with Carney: Pumpkin Cinnamon Poke Cake

Pumpkin Spice Girls: Start off your fall season in the best way possible by making this simple, moist pumpkin cake. It’s not only great for a crowd, but also is a healthier treat, with each large piece being only 200 calories.

Carney Ziegler

It’s officially the fall season, and pumpkin is back on the menu.

This is definitely one of my favorites, not just because it’s delicious, but because it’s cheap and easy to make. All this recipe calls for is a box of cake mix and a box of instant pudding.

This recipe is not only a healthier twist on pumpkin pie, but also a healthier twist on the original pumpkin poke cake made with sweetened condensed milk and Heath bits. (I know. Heath bits are my weakness, too. But don’t be sad – it’s terrific without them, I promise.)

I made this for a girl’s night with some of my aunts and cousins. I was a little nervous to dish it out for everyone without knowing beforehand what it tasted like. But, no worries. It was a success! (Also, that’s my excuse for some of the messy photos. No time to make them look pretty – I had to keep dishing pieces out!)

My parents actually surprised me and asked if we could have this instead of pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving. Yeah, it’s that good. And if it’s not, it’s darn close. I’m pretty partial to pumpkin pie, but I couldn’t stop myself with this poke cake. Mrs. Smith’s store-bought pumpkin pie has almost 100 more calories and 11 more grams of fat per serving!

This skinnier cake is so moist, I just love it. Hurry and make this while it’s still pumpkin season!

Not that a change in the weather would stop me. I can easily see myself making this in the middle of summer, or pretty much whenever.

Prep Time: 10 minutes. Cook time: 30 minutes. Total time: 40 minutes.

Yields: 9 x 13 pan; about 15 pieces of cake


  • 15.25 box yellow cake mix, dry mix only
  • 15 oz. can pure pumpkin (such as Libby’s)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 5.1 oz. box vanilla instant pudding mix (Sugar Free if possible)
  • 2 1/2 cups skim milk
  • 8 oz. container Cool Whip (I recommend Sugar Free or Light)


  1. Preheat oven 350 degrees. Grease a 9×13″ pan with cooking spray. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, with an electric mixer, blend the dry cake mix, pumpkin, water, 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice and cinnamon for 2-3 minutes until batter is lump-free and fluffy.
  3. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 30-35 minutes until edges are golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  4. Let cake cool about 5 minutes. While cake is cooling, whisk pudding mix, remaining 1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice and 2 1/2 cups milk for about 2 minutes. The pudding will start to thicken, but it should not be set up.
  5. After cake has cooled 5 minutes, use the end of a wooden spoon and generously poke holes throughout the cake, being careful to not poke all the way through.
  6. Immediately pour pudding mix evenly over the cake, making sure to fill in all the holes.
  7. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours. The longer it chills, the better (overnight would be the best). When ready to serve, evenly top with Cool Whip.