15 Ways To Use Instant Pudding Mix To Upgrade Your Desserts

It's always a good idea to have pudding mix on hand for when you need a last-minute dessert, but it turns out that this simple pantry staple is even more versatile than you thought. Aside from the many flavors you can find nowadays, including pistachio, banana cream, and pumpkin spice, it can be added to a dizzying number of dessert recipes to create results that are even more delicious than the original recipes intended. Whether you're looking to add moisture to cakes and cookies, add a richer layer to smoothies and milkshakes, or create creamy pie fillings that won't turn into puddles the moment you cut into them, pudding mix is the hard-working ingredient that can do it all.

When you consider the ingredients in instant pudding mix, it's no wonder it's such a versatile secret weapon. Specific ingredients vary by brand and flavor, but in general, each is made mostly from starch (usually cornstarch) and sweetener (usually sugar). Both of these ingredients have broad applications in dessert recipes, and adding them will yield rich, velvety, sturdy results.

1. Use it to make moister cakes

You don't want your cake to end up looking or tasting like pudding (unless you're making molten chocolate lava cake), but adding pudding mix to your cake recipe will pay off. Sugar is a hygroscopic ingredient, meaning that it absorbs moisture. Since most types of pudding mix have added sugar, they help cakes retain moisture even during the baking process. The other key ingredient in pudding mix is starch, which softens the texture of the cake and leaves you with a tender crumb.

When adding pudding mix to a cake recipe, all you have to do is incorporate it with the rest of the dry ingredients. If you want to capitalize on the sugar and cornstarch in the pudding mix without adding flavor, opt for vanilla. If, however, you want to double up on flavor, you can use chocolate pudding mix for chocolate cake or throw in a wildcard like pistachio or strawberry for a vanilla or chocolate cake.

2. Level up your whipped cream

Making whipped cream at home is worth the time. No aerosolized version of the sugary, cloudlike substance can hold a candle to the luxurious richness of freshly whipped cream. Unfortunately, homemade whipped cream is delicate, even when you whip it to the perfect consistency. Left to its own devices, it will deflate almost as soon as you finish whipping air into it. If you're serving it immediately, this rapid decline probably won't be noticeable, but if you're trying to add it to a trifle or use it to cover a cake more than 10 minutes before serving it, you'll probably be frustrated with the flat, lifeless result.

That's where pudding mix comes in. Many chefs use gelatin or powdered sugar to stabilize their whipped cream, but the cornstarch in pudding mix is uniquely up for the task. Unlike the cornstarch in powdered sugar, the cornstarch in pudding mix is modified to thicken without heat. Since you won't be cooking your whipped cream, modified cornstarch is the best option, especially when it comes with added sweetness and a hint of vanilla.

3. Add it to trifles

A traditional English trifle is comprised of layers of fruit, custard, and sponge cake soaked in alcohol. In the U.S., the formula is slightly different. Instead of egg-based custard, you're more likely to find whipped cream, while the cake might be any number of flavors and styles.

In addition to swapping out the sponge cake for brownies or tossing in some toffee along with the fruit, you don't have to stick to custard or whipped cream. Instead, try using pudding mix. It's quicker to make than whipped cream and much easier to make than notoriously challenging custard. With plenty of flavors to choose from, you can tailor it to fit the theme of your trifle, adding a dose of chocolate to an otherwise classic fruit and vanilla sponge recipe, or a surprising note of pistachio. Simply pick your preferred flavor, follow the recipe on the box, and start layering. You can always add layers of whipped cream if you want the best of both worlds.

4. Make the fluffiest cinnamon rolls

Just as pudding mix can make cakes and muffins moist, it can also make yeast breads, like cinnamon rolls, soft and fluffy. Since cornstarch acts as a tenderizer for batter and dough, it transforms the texture of standard cinnamon rolls from chewy to tender, without compromising their stretchiness or yeasty flavor.

There are two options for adding pudding mix to cinnamon rolls. You can either follow the instructions on the package and incorporate pudding into the dough, or just add half a package of dry pudding mix to the recipe with the dry ingredients. The former option will produce noticeably softer, doughier results than a standard cinnamon roll recipe while the latter will yield subtler, lighter results. If you want to keep the secret ingredient as incognito as possible, use vanilla-flavored mix and omit vanilla extract if it's part of the original recipe. If you're looking for a bold new take on the classic recipe, choose strawberry, pistachio, or butterscotch.

5. Turn it into a silky pie filling

Instant pudding mix makes such a delicious pie filling that some products are labeled as such. The trouble with most creamy pie fillings is that, unless they are chilled, they will not hold their shape as soon as you cut them and put them on plates. The result is a kind of dessert soup, which, although delicious, is nowhere near as elegant as the recipe intended.

Cornstarch is regularly used as a thickener, and as the main ingredient in many instant pudding mixes, it provides sturdiness to pie fillings without compromising their flavor or silky texture. The quickest way to turn pudding mix into pie filling is to follow the instructions on the package and pour the resulting mixture into a pie shell. If you want a little more complexity, however, pick a recipe for a pie with a creamy filling and add a package of pudding mix. Our easy banana cream pie recipe, for example, uses bananas and milk for the freshest flavor, but incorporates banana pudding mix and Cool Whip to provide structure and added sweetness.

6. Make frosting with the perfect texture

Frosting is often the most challenging part of making a cake. Either the cake is still too warm and the icing immediately starts to melt, or the first layer is so full of crumbs that the second layer is bumpy and uneven. Then there's the issue of the cake layers. They might seem uniform when you slice them, but immediately become misshapen and slanted the moment the frosting is on. Whether you're making a buttercream frosting or keeping it simple with a cream cheese and powdered sugar frosting, slipping and sliding feels like an inevitability. But just as it has the power to stabilize whipped cream, so too does pudding mix have the power to make frosting stiff, workable, and fluffy.

If you're making buttercream frosting, add the dry pudding mix to the milk or cream in the recipe and cut back on the powdered sugar (you can always add more later if it's not sweet enough). Adding it to the liquid first ensures that it will not leave you with grainy frosting. Whether you're piping the frosting onto cupcakes or spreading it over cake layers, pudding mix is the secret ingredient that will make the process worry-free.

7. Supercharge your milkshakes and smoothies

If you're going to make a milkshake, you may as well go all the way and make it as velvety and decadent as you possibly can. And if you're going to make a smoothie, don't you want it to taste and look more like a milkshake? Whichever blended drink you prefer, pudding mix will elevate it to new heights.

Making a milkshake is so simple that it's hard to believe it can taste so good. All you need is milk, ice cream, a blender, and about 60 seconds to put them all together. Of course, there is no limit to the things you can add to your milkshake, including fresh fruit, condensed milk, avocado, and liquor, but pudding mix should be at the top of the list. Not only does it add sweetness and an array of flavor options, but it also creates a silky smooth texture that even ice cream can't accomplish on its own.

Smoothies are equally transformed by this simple ingredient, but since they are often made with a more health-conscious approach, they benefit even more. Instead of enduring the taste of earthy protein powder, add pudding mix and enjoy a smooth, lightly sweet smoothie without adding extra fat or excessive amounts of sugar.

8. Add it to fruit salad

Incorporating more fruits and vegetables into your diet can be a struggle, but when you're able to make fruit seem like dessert, it's a breeze. Pudding mix allows you to enjoy fruit salad as a treat without making it unhealthy. For a hot summer's day, the combination is refreshing, light, and oh-so delicious.

There are several ways to incorporate pudding mix into fruit salad. The lightest option involves combining the instant pudding mix with fruit juice (such as the leftover juice from a can of pears or mandarin oranges), and whisking it until the mixture becomes smooth. Then, pour it over the sliced fruit. A richer, more dessert-like option is to combine the pudding mix with whipped cream or Cool Whip and add it to the fruit. The latter option will make it similar to an old-school ambrosia salad or a classic Watergate salad, especially if you toss in some marshmallows for good measure.

9. Add it to bread or rice pudding

The definition of pudding is a bit nebulous, which is why the category in the U.S. alone (the U.K. is a whole different story) can include everything from a baked dish made with stale bread to plastic cups of chocolatey goo. Instant pudding may be more associated with the latter, but that doesn't mean the varying forms of pudding have to be mutually exclusive. Adding pudding mix to bread or rice pudding can produce such delicious results that you'll probably end up making it a standard ingredient.

Classic bread pudding is usually made with custard rather than pudding, requiring the slow thickening of eggs and milk over heat. If you love the taste that the eggs provide and are confident with the process, the addition of pudding mix will simply be a bonus thickening agent and source of flavor. If, however, you're intimidated by the prospect of making custard or simply don't have the time, swapping it out for instant pudding mix is an easy solution. Simply follow the instructions on the package and proceed with the bread pudding recipe. Rice pudding is even easier to make. In most recipes, the rice is the only starch, but adding some pudding mix to the pot will make it thicker and creamier.

10. Make extra fudgy brownies

It's hard to imagine anything that could top a basic homemade brownie recipe. Dense, chocolatey, and tender, they are a stone-cold classic that no amount of nuts or icings could improve. And yet, if you like your brownies to be fudgy and gooey, pudding mix may be your new favorite hack.

Just as it does with cake, the sugar in the pudding mix holds onto moisture in the brownies while the starch tenderizes their texture. If you use a chocolate version, you'll also be compounding the main flavor by several layers of magnitude. If you don't have all the ingredients for brownies, chocolate pudding mix can also act as a stand-in. All you need is flour, baking powder, and eggs, and no one will be able to tell that you didn't use a box of top-quality brownie mix or use cocoa powder and melted chocolate. For extra gooey brownies, you can make a cross between brownies and pudding by whipping up a brownie recipe, adding chocolate pudding mix, and baking it in a water bath to produce something akin to a casserole dish-sized molten lava cake.

11. Make a cake filling

There are many ingredients that will upgrade a homemade cake, but one of the most underrated is adding a filling. Sure, you could use frosting between the layers, but isn't it more interesting (and impressive) when there's a surprise layer in the middle when someone cuts the first slice? Pudding mix is an excellent option for caking filling because it is much easier than making a second type of frosting. It's also an excellent last-minute option when you realize you didn't make enough frosting.

All you have to do is make a cake recipe (such as our copycat Costco sheet cake), make the frosting (if you plan to use it), and whip up some pudding mix with cream and milk. Instead of putting frosting between the cake layers, use the stiff, fluffy pudding mixture and save the frosting for the outside of the cake. Depending on what type of cake you're making, you can use any pudding mix flavor to add another layer of deliciousness.

12. Make extra chewy cookies

Depending on your preferred cookie texture, pudding mix is the perfect addition. Thanks to the tenderizing and moisture-enhancing properties of instant pudding mix, you'll end up with soft, chewy results that melt in your mouth. It's particularly effective with chocolate chip cookies which lend themselves to a chewy, gooey texture. You can choose any pudding mix flavor, but while chocolate and vanilla might be the default, butterscotch is the unexpected option that will give your cookies an irresistible caramel flavor. Simply add the pudding mix after creaming the butter and sugar, then marvel at the final product. If you're adding the pudding mix to a recipe that doesn't call for it, make sure to reduce the sugar accordingly so you don't end up with sickly sweet cookies.

While pudding mix is the secret ingredient that will elevate many cookie recipes, it's important to note that it is not a good option for all types of cookies. Biscotti, for example, will not benefit from adding pudding since they hinge on being crunchy.

13. Make any recipe a pumpkin spice recipe

Pumpkin spice is a highly contested flavor that seems to have no limits. You can buy pumpkin spice cheese, pumpkin spice hummus, and even pumpkin spice-flavored caviar. If there's one place this controversial spice mix does belong, however, is in baked goods and desserts. Milkshakes, cookies, doughnuts, and muffins all taste delicious with a hint of pumpkin spice, which is no surprise given that the flavor is just a combination of beloved baking spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, and allspice.

Pumpkin spice pudding mix is easy to find, especially during the fall, and it provides all the benefits of pudding mix with the definitive flavor of the season. Add it to a regular cookie recipe and you'll end up with chewy, perfectly spiced cookies that will have everyone asking for the recipe. Add it to a carrot cake or coffee cake recipe and the results will be moist, light, and bursting with warming flavors. It will make milkshakes smooth and lightly spiced, doughnuts tender and fragrant, and don't even get us started on how delicious it will make pancakes. When fall rolls around, make sure to stock up on your favorite pumpkin spice pudding mix so you won't be without it for a single month out of the year.

14. Add a colorful swirl to your cakes

One of the easiest ways to make a cake look like it belongs in a bakery window is by adding a swirl or marble effect. Many recipes call for using chocolate syrup or jam or adding cocoa powder to a portion of the dough before swirling it in with the rest, but you can just as easily use pudding mix instead.

To add a swirl or marble effect to your cake, start by preparing any cake recipe, though keep in mind that the lighter in color the batter is, the more visible the contrasting color will be. Next, choose the color and flavor of pudding mix you'd like to add to the recipe. Chocolate will create the strongest color contrast if you're making a vanilla cake, while pistachio and strawberry will add subtle but playful colors. Prepare the pudding as the package instructs until it forms a smooth, liquid consistency. Pour the neutral-colored batter into the prepared pan (or pans if you're making multiple layers), and then drizzle the pudding mixture on top. With a knife, swirl the pudding into the batter, making sure to stop before the colors blend into a single hue.

15. Add filling to your doughnuts

Homemade doughnuts are one of the great joys in life. Crispy on the outside, soft and cakey on the inside with just a hint of fried oil flavor, they are decadent and moreish. It's no easy feat improving upon a near-flawless formula, but adding a filling to your doughnuts can take them to new heights of flavor and texture. Even better, adding a filling isn't nearly as tricky as you might fear.

Start by preparing a yeasted doughnut dough, forming the doughnuts into discs (you can get more filling into them if you make them into flat dinner roll shapes rather than rings), and frying them. Pick your pudding mix flavor of choice –- just plain vanilla is heavenly, but butterscotch and strawberry will knock your socks off –- and proceed with the instructions on the package. Once the doughnuts have cooled, slice holes in them and use a piping bag or plastic bag with a hole cut out of the corner to pipe the pudding into them.