Mixed Review

We bake from the box.

Mixed Review: Jell-O Instant Pumpkin Spice Pudding

Ever wonder about a boxed mix you've seen in the store? Is it any good? Could it replace something you'd otherwise make from scratch? Welcome to Mixed Review, where the whole point is putting boxed mixes to the test! —The Mgmt.

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[Photos: Lucy Baker]

Every October, pumpkin-flavored dessert mixes explode onto grocery store shelves. There are always muffins, cupcakes, quick breads, and pie-making kits, but this year, there is also pudding. Jell-O instant pudding. And it only costs $1 a box. Just how good could it be? I put the packaged powder to the test two ways: first in the basic pudding, and then in the suggested mousse variation.

Is there anything easier to prepare than Jell-O instant pudding? Toasting a bagel is more difficult. All I had to do was whisk 2 cups of milk (I used 2%) into the mix for two minutes. Then I divided the mixture between four ramekins and let it stand and thicken for five minutes. Preparing the mouse was only slightly more complicated: this time I whisked 1 cup of milk into the mix, then folded in 1 cup of thawed frozen whipped topping (I used low-fat Cool Whip). It took me less than ten minutes to make both desserts from start to finish.

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How did they taste? Let's start with the pudding. Normally I'm strictly a cook-and-serve kind of gal, but the consistency of this instant pudding was actually quite good. It was thick, smooth, and extremely creamy. While it was sweet and tasty enough, it didn't exactly scream "pumpkin" or even "pumpkin pie spice." Instead, it tasted overwhelmingly of cinnamon. Unfortunately, after just a couple of bites my taste buds needed a break.

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As a mousse, the mix fared much better. Folding in a cup of whipped topping diluted the strength of the cinnamon and let the other flavors--nutmeg, allspice, ginger--come through a little bit. The whipped topping also gave the pudding a pleasing milky flavor not unlike soft-serve ice cream. The overall effect of the mousse was much mellower than the pudding. Instead of tossing my spoon in the sink after tasting it, I found myself sneaking back to the fridge for a few extra scoops.

I served the mousse to several tasters, and the general consensus was that it was "cinnamony," "pretty good," and "festive." One friend suggested mounding it on top of pound cake in place of whipped cream or ice cream, which I think is an excellent idea.

The verdict? If you buy this mix, prepare the mousse variation and not the straightforward instant pudding. For a seasonal fall dessert, dollop it over your favorite pound, spice, or unfrosted single layer cake.

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