creamy, costco-esque cake filling

My younger daughter turned twelve on Monday. Or three, rather, leap year baby that she is. Now that she’s getting older, her leap year status feels more special. Random people get excited about it on her behalf and that makes everything so much more fun.

It wasn’t until this year, on her very birthday, in fact, because I’m on the ball like that, did it occur to me that we don’t have a special tradition to mark her real birthday. Suddenly the error of my ways seemed completely unacceptable. Something had to be done.

So on the way home from our afternoon outing to the pool, I stopped at a novelty store to buy frogs because leap year is all about boing-oing-oinging frogs. (It kind of threw me for a loop when the Google page had bunnies on it, and then I mentioned frogs to my mom and she was like, Frogs? It never occurred to me to connect frogs with leap year, and now I’m wondering if I’m the only one? What animal do you associate with leap year? Kangaroos? Tigger?) I scoured the store for three different frogs, and we presented them to her at supper. I made a fine speech about how she’ll get one frog on each leap year birthday from now until the day she dies (I didn’t mention that we’d probably die first and someone else will have to carry on the tradition on our behalf) and about how she’ll only have to look at her collection to know how old she really is and about how when she’s eighty she’ll have twenty frogs. I don’t think she’ll really cared all that much, but knowing we had officially marked the occasion made me feel better.

Anyway, I wanted to tell you about her cake. Or rather, the filling I put between the cake layers. She wanted a fairy cake, but I vetoed that straight up. I don’t do decorating, I said. So she settled for a surprise cake instead. Her only request: that the cake be either white, chocolate, or red velvet.

So I made a red velvet cake with a white layer in the middle. It was all good, but the filling was the special part. Well, that and that my older daughter and I attempted homemade buttercream roses—that was fun. I thought my idea to use a stick of butter as the rose nail holder was especially brilliant:

I got my idea for the filling from the Costco bakery cakes. I love their cake fillings: they’re like a creamy mousse, or a rich custard, and they have that artificial bakery cake flavor that I sort of love, yum, chemicals. Whenever I get a piece of Costco cake (like all of two times in my life), I have to fight the urge to split the cake in half and spoon out the filling. 

So I Googled knock-off Costco cake filling recipes. There were a variety of recipes to choose from, but mostly they went like this: instant pudding mixed with half-and-half and then whipped cream folded in.

Instant pudding? Gross. But I bit the bullet and had my husband pick up some boxes from the store. I played with the filling recipe as I went along, enhancing it with cream cheese, and the resulting filling was exactly what I was after. If it wasn’t for that box of instant pudding, I’d be super proud of myself. I mean, I love the filling, but I feel slightly sheepish about it. Like I’m turning into some sort of floozy cook. Instant pudding, ew.

Creamy, Costco-esque Cake Filling
Adapted from all over the web.

Some recipes called for whole milk instead of half-and-half. Your call.

1 3.3-ounce package vanilla pudding mix, jello brand
1 cup half-and-half
1 8-ounce package cream cheese
½ cup confectioner’s sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla
1 to 1½ cups heavy whipping cream

Whisk the pudding mix with the half-and-half. Give it a stir every so often for the first few minutes. After five minutes, the mixture should be quite thick. Set aside.

Whip the cream and transfer to another bowl.

In the same mixing bowl that you used to whip the cream—don’t wash it—beat together the cream cheese with the sugar and vanilla. Beat it hard, for a couple minutes. Add the pudding mix, a little at a time, continuing to beat hard. Turn off the mixer and fold in the whipped cream by hand. Chill the mixture until ready to use.

This makes enough filling to cover two round cakes and still have some leftover.

Variations: try different pudding mix flavors!

This same time, years previous: kids and money, tradition!, the quotidian (3.3.14), girl party, grocery shopping, to market, to market, the quotidian (3.5.12), a monument to childhood, doctors galore, soda crackers, sky-high biscuits, and dark chocolate cake.        


  • Terese

    Thank you for this awesome cake filling recipe! I used it for a vanilla birthday cake after asking my daughter what she would like. She mentioned the Costco cake filling so I searched to see if I could find a good recipe that would be similar. The verdict from all five of us is that it is similar, definitely not the same, but much better. Everyone loved it and it’s a recipe I’ll be keeping and using for future cakes. It also was very easy to put together, didn’t take much time at all. It made 6 cups total, so I’ll probably cut it in half next time. I’m curious if you’ve tried to freeze it? Maybe I’ll try it with some of the leftovers and see how it goes. At any rate, quick, easy, and delicious is a five star recipe for sure! Thanks again very much!!

  • Anonymous

    I've been looking for this recipe and I've tried a few different iterations, this is hands down the best. It's a keeper. Look no further. I'm going to try some chocolate variations next. Thanks.

  • Unknown

    This is amazing – instant pudding and all! I made a trial run of my birthday cake and had decided on a cream cheese filling like Costco's. This is extremely close to what I remember, if not better. Thank you for researching and perfecting! This is going in my recipe book!!

  • Unknown

    You can make instant pudding mix with Cornaby's EZ Gel(aka Ultra Gel). If you search Instant pudding with EZ Gel you will find a few recipes. I was thinking maybe 1/2 cup of that powder mixture into the half and half. Could always add more if needed. Would need to bump up the amount of vanilla added to the mousse to make up for the lack of vanilla in the instant powdered mixture. I have been trying to replicate the Costco filling. Didn't think about the instant pudding. I am excited to try out your recipe, sub the homemade EZ Gel Instant Pudding mix

  • Carlos

    Hey there! I want to let you know I tried your recipe and I also tried a way to avoid using the instant stuff (which you can try if you truly hate it that much).

    The recipe as written worked perfectly, by the way, but I too share your sentiments with instant anything… So, I thought to myself, what is the pudding mix contributing? The answer: stability and sweetness (since homemade pudding is usually not as sweet). So, I made a pastry cream (basically a posh version of a pudding), but I opted for using all egg yolks instead of whole eggs (it took 6 egg yolks to match the weight of 2 whole eggs), and I mixed in 4 ounces of real white chocolate (the kind with actual cocoa butter) while the pastry cream (pudding) was still hot enough to melt it. Once it was chilled, it was even firmer than the instant stuff. Bam. More stability, more sweetness.

    I also furthered stabilized the whipped cream with 20 grams of powdered sugar.

    I'm happy to tell you that the revised, instant pudding free version of your recipe worked wonderfully! It even pipes beautifully.

    • Unknown

      I would like your recipe for the pastry cream please Carlos. I only know pastry cream as stabilized with the gel you use for canning. TIA

  • Unknown

    It totally did do the trick!!! It set beautifully. I panicked the moment I saw it, I was overwhemlmed with anxiety of the unknown!!!

  • Melodie

    Ah, get over your aversion to instant pudding in an inspired knock off like this! I've long used instant pudding in the Arnold's Cake recipe and while I get your issues, when you're making the homemade frosting yourself, that should count for something. 🙂

    And I'm definitely trying this. Thanks for your research and compilation of what you feel works!

  • Rebecca

    What a beautiful cake! I've never attempted roses but you inspire me.

    My grandmother was a professional cake baker and when she died we found, carefully saved in a box in the top cabinet, an icing bluebird. I hesitate to guess but I'm thinking… early 60s? All to say, in the world of gross, instant pudding isn't THAT great a contender.

  • Becky

    It's really easy to make pudding. I'm sure there's an easy run around to this recipe using homemade pudding. Hmmm. I may have to try that out….
    And I associate frogs with leap year, so it's not just you.

    • Jennifer Jo

      I make homemade pudding all the time, but I'm not sure it would hold up as well as the instant stuff. Wouldn't it get watery? The instant puddings have so many stabilizers… You're right, though. There's probably a way around the instant junk. If you figure it out, let me know!

    • Unknown

      If I were making the pudding homemade, I would omit the half-and-half and pudding mix and just skip straight to adding it to the cream cheese. I'd probably make a little on the thick side as well if I need it to hold up.

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