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Boxed cakes feel homemade

By Jim Romanoff
For The Associated Press
During the holidays it’s nice to have baked goods on hand for guests. Even nicer would be finding time to make them.
One solution is store-bought baked goods, but these often are loaded with excess fat, trans-fats and preservatives. Plus, they lack the personal touch that can make friends and family feel special.
Doctoring prepared cake mixes is an alternative that can yield great results that have much of the homemade feel you get with from-scratch baking. But you do need to be vigilant about reading labels.
Like store-bought baked good, many mixes are loaded with preservatives and artificial ingredients, as well as partially hydrogenated oils. Check the labels to be sure you’re getting ingredients you feel good about.
Many larger grocers and natural foods stores offer a wide variety of healthy, whole grain cake and cookie mixes. Even wheat- and nut-free versions are becoming more common.
Once you’ve found a mix you like, it’s easy to add your own flourishes. For example, this cranberry-mandarin orange upside-down gingerbread cake starts life as a boxed mix, but you’d never know it by the results.
It calls for a boxed whole-wheat gingerbread mix such as the kind made by Hodgson Mill. Mixes of this type are almost always free of trans fats and are a good source of healthy fiber.
Gingerbread cake is perfect for pleasing those who haven’t warmed to whole-wheat baked goods. The intense flavors of molasses and spices mask the earthy flavors that can come with whole-wheat flour.
Convenient, canned whole-berry cranberry sauce and mandarin orange segments make an attractive topping for this upside-down cake. If you prefer, you could substitute sauteed apples or pears for the oranges.
The recipe lowers the fat by substituting applesauce for the butter that normally is called for by the mix. Alternatively, you also can use canola oil instead of the butter, which will reduce the saturated fat.
Of course, if you have a favorite recipe for gingerbread cake batter ó and have the time ó this recipe will work just as well with that.Cranberry-Mandarin Orange Upside-Down Gingerbread
Start to finish: 45 minutes (10 minutes active)
Servings: 14
1 Tbsp. butter
1 1/2 C. skim milk
1 egg
2 Tbsp. applesauce
15-ounce package whole-wheat gingerbread mix (such as Hodgson Mill’s Whole Wheat Gingerbread Mix)
11-ounce can mandarin orange segments, in light syrup, drained
1 1/4 C. whole-berry cranberry sauce
Heat oven to 350 degrees.
Place the butter in a 9-by-9-inch baking dish. Place the dish in the oven until the butter melts, about 2 minutes. Tilt the pan to coat bottom with the melted butter. Set aside.
In a large bowl, use the milk, egg and applesauce to prepare the gingerbread mix according to package directions (substituting the applesauce for the butter). Set aside.
Arrange the mandarin orange segments in an even layer over the bottom of the buttered baking dish. Spoon the cranberry sauce over the oranges, making sure to fill in any empty spaces. Pour the batter over the oranges and sauce.
Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted at the center comes out clean.
Cool on a rack for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edges of the baking dish to release the sides of the cake. Invert the cake onto a serving platter. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 312 calories; 20 calories from fat; 2 g fat (1 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 37 mg cholesterol; 65 g carbohydrate; 6 g protein; 5 g fiber; 516 mg sodium.

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