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I've got a recipe that calls for adding a box of instant pudding mix to a box of cake mix (along with eggs, water, and oil) to make a cake moister. And there are lots of cake mixes that proclaim "pudding in the mix!" on the outside of the package.

I'm curious how this works. I think instant pudding is just sugar and cornstarch (and then various chemical things and flavoring), so what's working with the cake mix to make a moister baked cake?

  • Some of the chemicals are pretty important, I think - for example Jell-o instant pudding lists things for thickening and preventing foaming, which would surely have an effect on a cake's texture too. – Cascabel Nov 2 '14 at 4:00
  • @Jefromi : I know it makes a denser cake; it's useful if you're going to be making a tall, stacked cake, and you're lazy and working w/ boxed mixes. – Joe Nov 3 '14 at 1:24
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Instant pudding contains a significant amount of cornstarch. It also contains less significant amounts of disodium phosphate and tetrasodium phosphate. All three of these ingredients will have an effect on cake.

Starch absorbs water and gels during baking. This interferes with gluten formation to some degree. If you break down the starch in flour, which is, in part, how you make cake flour, the starches are more able to do this job. Cornstarch is nearly all starch. Adding it to your cake will make your flour behave more like cake flour, while increasing your cake's hydration.

The phosphates also affect your cake, but to a lesser degree. Depending on the other ingredients in your cake, they will act as a leavening agent that will help to prevent the addition of all that pudding from making your cake too heavy.

Many bakers rely on a secret trick that you might try instead of pudding. They replace two tablespoons of flour in any cake recipe with cornstarch. I do this not only in cakes, but in pie dough.

  • I like this especially for your last paragraph. It's good to know the effect can be readily duplicated! – Erica Nov 3 '14 at 0:36
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Compared to just the cake batter (molecularly), the pudding (molecularly) traps water in a way that requires greater heat to release ...meaning greater than the amount of heat required to bake the cake. All of these trapped water molecules add up to equal a generally moister cake, but also a cake that requires refrigeration sooner and/or longer, or requires icing (or alternatives) to slow the exchange of air into and out of the core of the cake.

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