The ‘Modified’ Powder that Makes Cakes Better

Generations of home-bakers have known the
secret: You can achieve an exceptionally moist and dense yet light and fluffy cake by adding
instant pudding powder to your batter. I’m going give you a recipe for just such a cake,
and we’re going to learn the science of how and why this works so well. Also, if you don’t
want to put a box of instant pudding in your cake, I’m gonna show a DIY method for achieving
the exact same effect. So we were just up in the Tennessee foothills
of the Great Smoky Mountains — visiting my mother-in-law, Gretchen. This is her signature
cake. She got it from her mother, who got it from a neighbor lady named Hattie. “So we’ve always called it Hattie’s cake.
And a 75-year-old woman in my Sunday school class tasted it and said she calls this ‘the
better-than-sex chocolate cake,’ so I think that kinda describes it.” Now sneer all you want, but this starts with
a 15-ounce box of yellow cake mix. Damn good stuff. Then comes the 6-ounce box of instant
chocolate pudding powder. It’s important that it be “instant” — I’ll show you why in a
minute. Then come three eggs, an 8-ounce tub of sour cream, 3/4 of a cup of water, 2/3
of a cup of vegetable oil and a teaspoon of vanilla. Beat it up until nice and smooth.
Oh look at that, it looks pudding-y, doesn’t it? Mix in a cup of chocolate chips, and it’s
time to put this in a bundt pan, and here is another secret ingredient: “Baker’s Joy.” Non-stick spray with flour inside it. “That’s what you spray on the pan so that
it doesn’t stick, and it really is kind of a miracle.” Bake at 350 F for 50 to 55 minutes. You’ll
know it’s done with the edges start to brown and pull away from the sides, and a knife
or a skewer or something to the center comes out clean. Let it cool for a few minutes before
turning it out onto a plate, and here is when we’ll find out if it stuck. “So cross your fingers.” “Ah, perfection.” Now what I love about this cake is the texture.
Look at how kinda jiggly it is. It kinda moves like pudding. It’s gelatinous. Hence, “Jell-O.” Now I think that I can bake a cake this moist
and dense without pudding powder in it, but it wouldn’t be as soft, and it wouldn’t be
as light — light in the sense of there would be a lot more fat in it. Furthermore, this
stays soft and moist for days after baking, if it lasts that long. Why is that? Well let’s
wrap up a piece and take it over to Dr. Curtis Luckett, a food scientist at the University
of Tennessee, Knoxville. He says the secret here appears to be the second ingredient listed
on the pudding box after sugar: modified corn starch. “The modified starch of instant pudding is
gonna have a higher water-binding capacity. Basically, they’ve modified the starch enzymatically,
physically or even chemically to better interact with water molecules. So maybe in this cake,
they’re binding to the water molecules, helping to create a more moist, a more dense cake.” If you have any regular cornstarch in your
kitchen, you can see this water-binding capacity for yourself right now. Just whisk it into
some water and bring it to a boil. The starch molecules, which are normally in tight little
grains, will open up and form what Dr. Luckett would call a matrix. That’s a structural web
that holds all the water inside it in a gel. How is this different from the “modified”
stuff in the pudding box? “This is probably a pre-gelled starch. To
disrupt that granular structure, you often need to cook in the presence of water to get
the amylose amylopectin, the two actual macro-molecules that make up starch, to leach out into solution
and start forming the food matrix.” But in the case of this modified stuff, you
don’t have to cook it. You can mix it right into cold liquid and it gels. The manufacturers
busted up the starch granules in advance, with enzymes, or chemicals — maybe even
just by boiling it in water and drying it out again. And look — this, in effect, is
what is in your cake — holding more water and fat than a cake can normally hold without
collapsing. Dr. Luckett figures another way the pudding
starch has been modified is to prevent the amylose and amylopectin from bunching back
together into a hard structure. This is a process called “re-associaiton” that leads
to a result called “retrogradation.” “That’s the primary mechanism of staling.
So, when bread stales, it’s because those starch molecules have migrated close to each
other and started to re-associate, and it kinda pushes water out in that process called
retrogradation.” This is why Hattie’s cake stays moist and
soft for days after you bake it. And there you go — all the reasons why instant pudding
powder is magic inside cakes. Now some people might be freaked out by the idea of adding
a “processed food” to their cake. For what’s worth, Dr. Luckett has little kids, like I
do, and I asked him: “Anything in that ingredient list that you’d
pause before giving to your kids?” “None.” And get this, you don’t even have to use instant
pudding powder if you don’t want to. I mean, it’s got sugar and flavorings and stuff that
you might not want or need in your cake. You can buy unflavored, pre-gelatinized starch
on the internet. How much should you use? According to this 2001 study out of Turkey,
the magic number is 10 percent. Replace 10-percent of the flour in your recipe, by weight, with
pre-geletanized starch. Any more than 10 percent, they found, makes the batter too thin — it
can’t trap gas when it bakes, and you get this flat, overly-dense cake. But yeah, replace 10 percent of your flour
with this magic powder and Bob’s your uncle, as the Brits say. Or you could just buy the boxes and make Hattie’s
Cake — it’s a family tradition for a reason.

100 thoughts on “The ‘Modified’ Powder that Makes Cakes Better

  1. I'm sure someone, somewhere has already mentioned this. But you really remind me of Alton Brown.

    Super tasty looking cake by the way

  2. okay so i need help.

    i want to make this so bad but imma make this extra hard for me:
    instead of a chocolate cake i want to make a lemon blueberry version of this.

    unfortunately i live in germany and i am having a hard time getting the ratios right.

    i found a 375g lemon cake box mix and a 80g package of instant vanilla pudding mix. now Hatties cake calls for i think 6oz of Jello which is like ~170g of pudding mix. i bought two but it seams like a lot!
    also… the cake mix calls for Butter and other shenanigans. should i ditch the package instructions and do it like in the video (with the oil and the sour cream) ?

    i‘m like… this is so easy bUT ALSO SO HARD

  3. Obviously the content is great, I just want to point out that I really like the editing, too! In particular the shot(s?) of the faculty page.

  4. or just make good cake… Ik this is meant to help people who are just casual home cooks but if you learn how to make good cake you dont need to use these sort of 'cheats'

  5. Hey, I paused the ingredients list. Thought you'd be interested, BHA is restricted as a carcinogen in the EU, and Red 40, as well as yellow 5 are found to have adverse effects on children's activity levels.

  6. The retarded Wayne Rooney lookin ass scientist literally says there are no ingredients in that cake mix that he wouldn't give to his children. Think pal! There is artificial colors and flavors in the mix which are petroleum based and can lead to irregular behavior in kids. That dumbass Tennessee school should fire this schmuck

  7. We have a traditional family cake recipe similar to Hattie's, but my great-grandmother would add Kahlúa Liqueur to a Devil's Food Cake mix with vanilla pudding!

  8. So, if I were to cook the starch myself and just add that into the cake mix, would I be able to get the same effect? Or would it not have that retrogradation effect? I’ll be looking more into this now that I’m interested, thanks for this video 😮

  9. "A 75 year old woman in my Sunday school class tasted it and said she calls this the better than sex cake" is such an extreme sentence

  10. Why does the Clearjel website say "Instant ClearJel is not suitable for use in home canning where the products will later be baked, cooked, or heated.". At 0:58 you said "It's important that it be instant" but I still don't know why. Could you elaborate?

  11. I find that putting 1-2 tbsp of the frosting I plan to use into the batter gives me the moistness I'm looking for.

  12. hey i cant find modified starch (in small quantities) or instant pudding (weirdly enough) where i live, would it work the same if i just use regular cornstarch and just cook it in water before adding it to the cake batter?

  13. Anything in that ingredient list that you would pause before giving to your kids?
    Such confidence in his knowledge, made me shudder.

  14. So I was super curious and I just made this. The only thing I did differently was that I didn't add the chocolate chips because I forgot those. It was very soft inside though and held its form well. It didn't taste like pudding but it smelled like pudding, and I'm not sure how I feel about that. It did tasted good though. I think the smell is just throwing my brain off from what I expect it to taste like.

  15. Where are y'all getting these supposedly decent-tasting cake mixes? I've tried all the ones in my grocery stores: they are universally inferior. And yes, I include Ghirardelli in this. The chocolate in the chocolate cakes is weak af, the yellow ones are basically vanilla cake mixes with yellow food coloring added, and the red velvets are just vanilla cake mixes with with red die and (sometimes) a tinsy little bit of cocoa powder. Vanilla cakes are the only comparable ones to homemade, flavor-wise, and even that doesn't fix the texture problem that all of them have in common. The only thing worse than store-bought cake is store-bought frosting.

  16. It sould be noted that a similar practice is common in Japanese baking, with the addition of a Tangzhong, or starch gel.

  17. I'm finishing university and need to write an article about China economic development in the last 18 years and it's pretty hard to find stuff like that. The other side is you, that can find a turkish study about chocolate cakes…

  18. Wait, you mean to tell me that cooking/baking something from scratch without adding this strange american Jell-o powder makes brilliant cakes?! Wow I always wondered how the french did it so well… I thought it was centuries of refinement but those pesky scheme must have come up with something after hearing about… Ah feck it

    GET A LIFE FUCKNAUT. There's a reason why home bakers are the best! They don't use chemical crap! And the yellow cake mix btw is just perfectly balanced cake-mix, duh. SHUT UP!

  19. Has anyone made this cake?? In the video Adam says 6 oz pudding mix, but in the description it says 4 oz. Does it matter? I want to make this cake but I don't know which is the right one! In Hattie's handwritten recipe card at the beginning it just says "small pudding mix" haha so I'm assuming 4 oz? Or maybe the 2 oz difference doesn't have much of an impact? HELP

  20. On the ingredients list, Red 40 really isnt good for you, but its not like it will do any serious harm in low doses. I mean people smoke for christs sake.

  21. Q: So how many ounces or grams equates to the necessary 10% amount of non gelatinized gelatin? Great video. I actually had not heard of this recipe in many years. Indeed had certain members of my family still been alive they would have recognized it, too. Also, I think gelatin or a gelatin pre-cursor began to be used sometime around 1875 or 1880??

    Your mother in law's friend was pretty much on the money about the ingredients of this cake. I have 2 relatives (now deceased) who lived past the age of 100. The older of the two lived to be 108 yrs. old. When they were journeying through different stateless territories of the United States (roughly the 1860's) they remember having something called, 'pioneer cake'. The preparation and ingredients were more or less what you have mentioned.
    Your food scientist friend was correct as well. The real game changer in the cake recipes was actually another 2 items later invented: manufactured "pot ash", later known as baking soda which later was trademarked under the name of, "Clabber Girl" (baking soda); and "starched corn" (not to be confused with parched corn which was the forerunner to today's popcorn).
    At a family gathering when my gr-grandfather was about 105 he saw a modern day container of Clabber Girl at someone's home. Looking a bit puzzled at the product itself yet somehow recognizing something familiar about the picture, he points to the picture and said (in very slow metered speech), "I remember when we didn't need nothing fancy for cakes. All we did was wait for the fire to burn out & scoop up the ashes and put it in the pot ON the fire". We all looked around bewildered 4 a moment and could only surmise he wae remembering cooking / baking or seeing someone else cook in the open frontier in a makeshift (outdoor) dutch oven. The only thing we could gather from his story was that he was remembering events which took place sometime between 1860 and 1903 — the year he got married to my gr-grandmother.
    Thanks for sharing a great nostalgic recipe!!

  22. Yuk, I have an in-law that throws instant pudding mix in cakes and cookies. And it makes everything taste like corn. It's gross.

  23. Where I live we use powdered whip mixes like dreamwhip in the cake. It has a similar effect. Add a table spoon or so to the cake mix

  24. My family has a similar recipe but it's more fo a white wine/ nutmeg flavor! I never expected to find anything like it online! This is such a cool experience!

  25. AHHH! Your mother-in-law's voice sounds SO familiar to me. Her accent, her vocal tone, everything — but I don't know who she is. Has she ever been told she sounds like someone famous? I can't even place whether she sounds like a famous person or someone I've known in the past. So weird!

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