I'm never one to shy away from a competition, so when my roommate in college challenged me to a banana bread bake-off (due to the excessive amount of spotty, overripe bananas we'd somehow amassed), I immediately agreed. The next order of business? Get my hands on a winning recipe ASAP.
I began polling my family and friends on their favorite banana bread recipes in hopes there'd be an obvious pick — one incredible recipe that everyone said was their favorite. I had no such luck. My twin sister voted for Cook's Illustrated's banana bread, in which you microwave the bananas, drain them, and reduce the liquid to intensify the banana flavor. She claimed it was worth the extra 25 steps, but I wasn't convinced.
My mom voted for an old family friend's recipe from a cookbook compiled by my elementary school. But the bake-off was scheduled for that evening — and I could picture that old spiral-bound cookbook buried deep in a pile in the basement — so I knew I didn't have time for her to hunt it down.
But then, my older sister pitched her suggestion with such enthusiasm that I was sold on making it before even looking at the recipe. A banana bread from Averie Cooks, she claimed, was the best quick bread she'd ever made: moist, fluffy, and packed with banana flavor. When I got to the store and looked at the recipe, the first thing I noticed wasn't the decadent brown butter glaze or perfectly golden exterior — it was the addition of vanilla pudding mix in the ingredient list.
Instant Pudding Mix Is the Secret to Better Banana Bread
Let me skip ahead to the end of the story: I won the bake-off in a unanimous vote. The second I sliced into the bread, I knew I had a winner. It was moist but not wet, with a light, tender crumb and a beautiful golden crust. As it baked, it released a heavenly vanilla scent that wafted over to the judges (a few of my other friends), giving me an early advantage.
I'm certain the addition of the vanilla pudding mix was key to this banana bread's perfection. You don't actually make pudding — you just stir the powdered mix directly into the batter — but it adds a rich vanilla flavor (reminiscent of banana pudding) and gives the bread its moist, fluffy, melt-in-your mouth texture. It was great as dessert, but not too sweet for breakfast, and best when warmed and slathered with salted butter.
If You Don't Believe Me, Believe Chrissy Teigen
After doing some research on this new-to-me banana bread ingredient, I realized it's not all that uncommon. A variety of food magazines and blogs have shared recipes with pudding mix as an ingredient, including, most famously, Chrissy Teigen, whose recipe for banana bread went viral before she'd even released it, thanks to a series of Twitter posts.
You can now find her recipe on USA Today, as well as in her second cookbook, Cravings: Hungry for More. She claims the pudding gives her bread "a fluffy, moist texture I could have never imagined." She specifically recommends using Jell-O Brand and sticking with the vanilla flavor (banana-flavored pudding mix, though tempting, is gross, she says).
Buy it online: Jell-O Vanilla Instant Pudding & Pie Filling, $11 for 4 (3.4-ounce) boxes
(Note: Online shopping is always going to be a few more dollars. Head to your local grocery store for the best deal!)
If you want to add pudding mix to your favorite banana bread recipe, try stirring one 3.4-ounce box of Vanilla Instant Pudding Mix into your dry ingredients and omitting 1/4 cup of the flour and 2 tablespoons of the sugar.
Do you have a secret banana bread ingredient? Let me know in the comments!