IDEA ALLEY: Addressing changing package sizes and recipes for easy pralines and cake mix ‘upsizer’

(Illustration by Kelly Brant)
(Illustration by Kelly Brant)

It was a simple question: What size box did cook and serve pudding come in 30 to 40 years ago?

A concerned reader wanted to know, curious if she needed to adjust recipes calling for boxes of pudding mix in the same manner we've learned to adjust older recipes that use cake mix (more on that in a minute).

Pudding mix, whether instant or cook and serve, comes in different sizes depending on the flavor. Sizes also vary by brand. For consistency I limited my search to Jell-O brand vanilla.

Looking through old recipes and advertisements from the 1970-90s, I figured out cook and serve vanilla pudding was sold in 3-, 3.25-, 4.6- and 4.75-ounce boxes.

Today cook and serve vanilla pudding is sold in 3.4- and 4.6-ounce boxes. So the difference is marginal.

What isn't marginal is serving size. Old recipes sometimes call for a 4- serving box or an 8-serving box of pudding. The 8-serving box in 1986 was 4.3-ounces. Today's nearest equivalent is 4.6 ounces, which contains 6 (½-cup) servings per box. So rather than boxes getting smaller, it seems serving sizes have gotten larger. This is significant because it means that if your old recipe calls for an 8-serving box, you shouldn't use two small boxes as logic would dictate.

So what's a cook to do when an old cake recipe calls for pudding mix without giving an exact size?

Fortunately, not much. The addition of pudding mix in cakes is often for moisture, flavor or texture, not structure so if you use a different size box than what the original recipe was written for, it likely won't be problematic.

If the recipe is for something like a poke cake -- my husband's preferred birthday cake -- where the pudding will go on top rather than inside, opt for the larger box as a little excess is better than not enough.

If it's for something entirely different, say candy, I still doubt a half ounce of sugar and starch will make that much of a difference in the final result.

Speaking of candy, while researching this question, I came across this interesting praline recipe that appeared in Idea Alley back in 1994. And considering we're in peak candy-making season, it's fitting to share it again. The 1994 version called for a 3-ounce box of pudding.

Pralines the Easy Way

  • 1 (3.4-ounce) box cook and serve vanilla pudding
  • 1 cup brown sugar, packed
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 (5-ounce) can evaporated milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups pecans

Combine pudding, brown and granulated sugars, and milk in a saucepan. Bring to a full boil and cook 5 minutes.

Remove from heat and add vanilla. Beat 3 minutes. The candy will be shiny. Add pecans and stir. Drop by teaspoonfuls on wax paper. Let harden for 1 hour.

Makes 24 pralines.

It isn't your imagination. Cake mix is shrinking again.

Over the past decade or two cake mix manufacturers have reduced the size of their mixes from 18.25 ounces down to 16.25 ounces, and then to 15.25 ounces (the most common size today) and most recently to 13.25 ounces.

So, what's a cook to do when a not-so-old recipe calls for an 18.25-ounce box of cake mix?

The simplest option is to buy an extra box of cake mix and keep it stashed in the freezer and use it to make up in the difference -- 3 ounces is about 6 tablespoons.

Cake Mix Upsizer

  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour (see note)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda

Whisk all dry ingredients together and store in a glass jar or other airtight container. To use, measure 3 ounces (about 6 tablespoons) and add to the boxed mix.

Makes enough to extend 6 (15.25-ounce) boxes.

Note: For a chocolate cake, replace 5 tablespoons of the flour with 5 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder.

Recipe from Better Homes & Gardens

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