Why Instant Pudding Mix Is a Pantry Powerhouse

It's the secret ingredient to fluffier cakes, sturdier whipped cream and so much more.

December 22, 2023
Mixing vanilla pudding with ingredients on rustic table Flat lay


Mixing vanilla pudding with ingredients on rustic table Flat lay

Photo by: Lynne Mitchell/Getty Images

Lynne Mitchell/Getty Images

By Alice K. Thompson for Food Network Kitchen

Alice is a contributing writer and editor at Food Network.

Even bakers who don't plan on serving cups of pudding any time in the near future might want to keep a few packets of instant pudding mix in their pantries. Moister cakes, chewier cookies and fluffier whipped cream are just some of the reasons this convenience food has spawned baking hacks and found its way into recipes across the dessert spectrum. Here’s the lowdown on exactly what instant pudding mix is and how it transforms desserts, plus all the ways to incorporate it into your next baking venture.

What Is Instant Pudding Mix?

Instant pudding mix is made of three primary ingredients: sugar, flavorings and modified cornstarch. When combined with a liquid, modified cornstarch will thicken the mixture more quickly than regular cornstarch and doesn’t require heat — it’s the ingredient that puts the “instant” in instant pudding.

It might seem like a modern invention, but instant pudding mix has been around for over a hundred years. The product was first marketed in 1918 by the brand My-T-Fine; in 1936, the Jell-O brand introduced its own version. Modern grocers stock a number of types of instant pudding mixes, including organic, but Jell-O dominates the market and offers flavors from chocolate to vanilla to pistachio and lemon. While combining the mix with milk to make a creamy, custard-like dessert is still the primary use, it can also be used to improve the texture and flavor of all sorts of baked goods. Some cooks add instant pudding mix to cake batter; others use it as a shortcut base for banana pudding; and still more use instant pudding mix as a stabilizer for whipped cream.

Why It Works

The three main components of instant pudding mix pack a lot of power when it comes to dessert making. “It’s got ingredients that lend themselves to improved baked goods,” says Laura Warren, executive pastry chef of Puffer Malarkey Collective, a group of four restaurants in San Diego, California. Warren finds it particularly effective in cake and muffin batters. “First, it has sugar, which as a hygroscopic ingredient attracts moisture,” she says. Just as a candy left on the counter will pull moisture from the air and become sticky, sugar helps hold moisture in baked goods. “Another ingredient it has is cornstarch, and when added to cakes the starch acts as a tenderizer, giving the finished product a soft crumb.”

Instant pudding mix can also amplify or complement the flavors of a dessert, Warren says. “It can be an opportunity to choose a matching flavor, like chocolate pudding for chocolate cake, intensifying that single flavor. Or, you could choose an entirely different one, like banana pudding to add to a vanilla cake, transforming it into something new.”

The modified cornstarch in instant pudding is effective in other dessert applications as well. “Whipping the powder into heavy cream will stabilize your cream since cornstarch is a thickener,” Warren says. “Whipped cream deflates easily, but pudding counteracts that so it holds well for a couple of days.” Unlike regular cornstarch, which requires heat to activate its thickening abilities, modified cornstarch can be used without heat in fillings, pastry creams, frostings and ice cream bases. No heating means no cooling time required, too — a nice shortcut.

Big piece of chocolate cake on plate with fork on side.


Big piece of chocolate cake on plate with fork on side.

Photo by: Susan Thompson Photography/Getty Images

Susan Thompson Photography/Getty Images

How to Use Instant Pudding Mix in Your Desserts

Pudding mix’s popularity owes a lot to how easy it is to add to recipes: Just pour it straight from the package, no additions or adjustments needed. Here’s how to try it out in five common baking and dessert examples.

One note about instant pudding’s flavor: While its fans appreciate the extra umph it gives to recipes and praise the familiar comfort-food quality it adds, most mixes contain artificial flavoring. This can be more or less noticeable depending on your other ingredients and how sensitive individual tasters are to it. You can minimize this aspect by seeking out naturally flavored mixes, or by adding small amounts of other flavorings for balance. Pure vanilla extract, coffee or espresso, liqueurs, and rum or brandy are all effective ways to balance any perceptions of artificial flavorings.

Add Instant Pudding Mix to Cakes

This hack creates moister, more flavorful cakes and works on homemade creations and boxed cake mixes. Choose a flavor of pudding that matches your cake, or find one that complements it—for instance, add butterscotch instant pudding mix to a yellow cake, or banana instant pudding mix to vanilla. If you're using boxed cake mix, combine a 3.4-ounce box of pudding into the dry mix, then add the ingredients as instructed on the box. In from-scratch cakes, just whisk it into the dry ingredients for your recipe and bake as directed.

Stand mixer with whipped cream on the table in the kitchen.


Stand mixer with whipped cream on the table in the kitchen.

Photo by: FreshSplash/Getty Images

FreshSplash/Getty Images

Use Instant Pudding for Sturdier Whipped Cream

If you love billowy whipped cream dolloped on desserts or layered in trifles or shortcakes, you probably know it’s something to prepare as close to serving time as possible. But there’s an exception: Heavy cream whipped with instant pudding stays fluffy for days. Just add 1 tablespoon vanilla pudding mix to each cup of very cold heavy cream. Whip until just beginning to thicken and add a few teaspoons more confectioners’ sugar if you want sweeter cream. Continue whipping until you have soft to medium peaks. Refrigerate it for up to 2 days.

Make Almost-Instant Cake Fillings or Frostings

Instant pudding mix is the ticket to a fuss-free, two-ingredient cake filling or frosting. When whipped with cream, instant pudding mix turns thick, rich and reminiscent of ganache. Unlike preparing most filings you won’t have to use any heat, so there’s no downtime for cooling. Just combine 2 cups cold heavy cream and one 3.4-ounce box pudding and whip until the mixture holds firm peaks. You can whip in more powdered sugar for a sweeter filling or beat in more flavorings.

Instant Pudding Mix Creates Softer Cookies

If you prefer your cookies chewy and tender then instant pudding mix could be your dream ingredient. Adding it to your dough will give you consistently soft, supple cookies that spread less and stay moister during cooking and store excellently. Every cookie recipe is different, of course; for chocolate-chip cookies, use one 3.4-ounce box vanilla instant pudding mix for each 2 to 2 1/2 cups flour in your recipe. Beat the instant pudding mix into the dough just after you incorporate the eggs, then proceed with the rest of the ingredients. Allow the batter to rest in the refrigerator for at least an hour for ideal results. Bake as directed, adding a minute or two if needed until the bottoms are nicely browned.

Try Instant Pudding Mix as an Ice Cream Base

Even many eggless ice cream bases require stirring over heat and at least a few hours of chilling before churning. For an instant, two-ingredient ice cream, just whisk 2 1/2 cups of very cold half-and-half with one 3.4-ounce box of instant pudding mix, then churn as directed in your ice cream machine.

Recipes Using Instant Pudding Mix

Food Network Kitchen’s Irish Cream Poke Cake

Food Network Kitchen’s Irish Cream Poke Cake

Photo by: Matt Armendariz

Matt Armendariz

Instant vanilla pudding mix serves as a no-heat-required thickener in this rich dessert. It's combined with cream and Irish Cream liqueur, then poured over a mocha cake and topped with chocolate-covered espresso beans for an irresistible treat that might remind you of Irish coffee.

Food Network Kitchen’s Banana Bread Bombe for NEW FNK, as seen on Food Network.


Food Network Kitchen’s Banana Bread Bombe for NEW FNK, as seen on Food Network.

Photo by: Renee Comet

Renee Comet

Instant banana pudding mix has a high profile in the world of banana desserts. Here, it shines between layers of homemade banana bread molded together in a cookie-lined bowl, then unmolded for an elegant dessert that delivers pure comfort.

This is the receipe for Gluten Free Sugar Cookies

This is the receipe for Gluten Free Sugar Cookies

Photo by: Kate Mathis

Kate Mathis

Forget a gluten-free flour blend: These cookies use the power of instant pudding mix to give you cookies that are gorgeously chewy, moist and gluten-free. You can even substitute other pudding flavors for the vanilla: Try chocolate, lemon or any other favorite.

Food Network Kitchen’s Eggnog Dump Cake.

Food Network Kitchen’s Eggnog Dump Cake.

Photo by: Matt Armendariz

Matt Armendariz

Instant vanilla pudding mix and eggnog are at the heart of this amazingly easy dessert with a custardy top and crumbly cake bottom. It’s an irresistible addition to holiday baking or anytime you need a true one-pan dessert that really wows.

Food Network Kitchen's Triple Chocolate Mousee Cake holiday recipe, using Godiva Dark Chocolate Pudding

Food Network Kitchen's Triple Chocolate Mousee Cake holiday recipe, using Godiva Dark Chocolate Pudding

Photo by: Lucy Schaeffer

Lucy Schaeffer

Beautiful layers of dark, milk and white chocolate are the stars of this stunning no-bake cake. The secret? Three flavors of instant pudding whipped with heavy cream for luxurious, ganache-like layers.

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