Nothing beats homemade baked goods, but sometimes when time is short it's ok to cheat and use those oh-so-convenient boxes of cake or muffin mix. In general, it's better, and cheaper, to opt for cake or muffin mix over the ready-made packaged cakes or bakery muffins because you can still exercise some control over the contents.
Bear in mind that the popular brands of cake or muffin mix will have a long list of ingredients, usually beginning with sugar, enriched bleached flour, and in many cases, despite a 0g trans fats claim, partially hydrogenated soybean oil. This is before you add the eggs, oil and water called for in the instructions. Organic cake mixes have a much shorter ingredient list, but will still require eggs, oil or butter to be added.
The good news is that it is possible to minimize the amount of extra fat and cholesterol you add to the dry ingredients by making key substitutions that will still result in perfectly delicious baked treats. Here are some suggestions:
- Use Less Oil. Cooking oil isn't so bad; it's better than using butter, but make sure you use canola oil, which has a healthier profile than most other cooking oils, with only 1 gram of saturated fat and 0mg of cholesterol per tablespoon. Even so, reduce the amount of oil called for from 1/3 cup to a 1/4 cup.
- Or No Oil. To eliminate extra fat altogether, substitute the oil with drained apple sauce, fat-free yogurt, or fat-free sour cream.
- Boost Nutrition. Add some mashed banana to muffin mixes, and a sprinkling of oats. Taking a leaf out of Hungry Girl's book, try adding pumpkin purée to a box of brownie mix for some deliciously dense fat-free fudgy brownies.
- Replace Whole Eggs with Egg Whites—two whites per whole egg—to cut cholesterol, or use an egg substitute.
- Diet Soda. No oil, no eggs, just cake mix and diet soda. Some people swear by this method.
Frosting Your Cake
So now you've baked your cake, what about frosting it? Many baked goods are perfectly delicious with just a dusting of powdered sugar. This works well on top of chocolate cake or brownies. But if it's frosting you want, don't ruin your slimmed-down cake by spreading store-bought canned frosting on it. Unfortunately, there's simply no way to dress it up to be anything other than unhealthy. Still a source of trans fats, canned frosting should be a definite no-no.
For convenience, one box of frosting mix that's worth seeking out is Dr. Oetker Organics, which offers chocolate or vanilla icing mixes (plus organic cakes mixes, brownie mixes and cookie mixes). While these icing mixes call for 1/3 cup of butter, you could replace the butter with an oil-based spread that can be used in baking, such as the "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter" sticks, which have 50 percent less saturated fat and no cholesterol per serving, or "Smart Balance Butter Blend Sticks," which have close to 30 percent less saturated fat than butter.
Alternatively, drizzle cakes with a quick and easy icing made from powdered sugar, and a little lemon juice. For chocolate cakes, blend powdered sugar, cocoa powder and a little hot water to make a chocolate drizzle.
It's Still Cake
Enjoy your lower fat cake, but do remember that just because you've lowered fat and cholesterol, doesn't mean you get to eat a bigger slice or have second helpings.
Finally, one other thing to consider is making mini muffins or mini cupcakes with the mix instead of the regular sized versions. This is a great way to practice portion control.