The ‘Modified’ Powder that Makes Cakes Better

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.

Only registered users can comment.

  1. Why would you want to add poison processed chemical-laden powder to your food? Pastured butter or ghee would be better. Vegetable oils are poison too.

  2. If you’re in the uk you can use ‘angel delight’. It’s basically the same thing and contains modified starch and gelling agents.

  3. 👍😍Well….thank you. I love rhe science of it all. 🧐🤓
    💡Now….if you do what my mom used ro do…. use the Jello pudding AND add….sour cream AND shredded zucchini AND high quality baking chocolate chips…. you’ll have a decadent beautiful cake!!! 💞

  4. Ok…great
    ….for me, this is way too much info for making a cake…… but the finished product did look good tho😋

  5. I’ve always baked from scratch, but I thought, oh what the hell. It’s ONE boxed cake. Made it for my brother and let me tell you. It was DAMN GOOD STUFF

  6. Sounds a little like the tangzhong (water roux) method that Asian bakeries use for milk breads.. precooked flour and water paste added to the rest of the dough acts as a sort of gelatin, perhaps in the way a modified corn starch might.

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