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An easy way to have your cake and diet, too

Ah, sensible January. New year's resolutions in place, sweet temptations are out with the old year.

But if you've resolved to shed pounds, beware the occasional office birthday party complete with butter cream frosted sheet cake. Forget about that extra cupcake from the batch you've baked for your preschooler's winter carnival. And ignore that craving for devil's food, even after a Spartan weeknight dinner.

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Too much to bear? Manufacturers have an alternative -- reducing the fat when preparing the cake mixes that have become staples in American pantries.

Prepare a regular cake mix with a fat substitute, such as applesauce or Sunsweet's new Lighter Bake butter and oil replacement. Or choose a reduced fat cake mix that requires a smidgen of oil or none at all. Dust these cakes with powdered sugar, or drizzle them with pureed fruit. If you must frost them, try a ready-made, reduced-fat frosting. Your taste buds won't know the difference.

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I was skeptical at first, having produced a rubbery compound Goodyear would envy whenever I tried fat alternatives in scratch cakes. But I gave reduced-fat cake-mix baking a shot, and I got moist and fluffy results. In fact, among my guinea pigs of family and friends, no one could tell these from regular cakes.

"Get it All!" blares the jazzy, bright insignia on selected Duncan Hines Moist Deluxe cake mixes, urging me to substitute Mott's applesauce for oil. Using 1/2 cup applesauce instead of 1/2 cup oil eliminates 60 percent of the fat from the devil's food cake recipe, the box proclaims.

Rather than develop a separate reduced fat cake mix, Duncan Hines chose to promote applesauce as a viable fat substitute. The "Get it All" formula also appears on the company's chocolate chip cookie mix and its brownie mix, says Lisa Jester, a Duncan Hines spokesman.

We can thank pectin for this fat cutting option, Jester says. When baked, the gelatinous substance found in fruits becomes a thickening agent that adds moisture and density to recipes much like fat.

Some bakers have actually used baby food fruits in a similar fashion, but Duncan Hines liked the convenience of applesauce. A company survey shows that more than half of us keep applesauce on the shelf more than half the time.

Applesauce is roughly a one-to-one substitute with butter or oil, and it doesn't affect taste or appearance, says Katherine Van Evans, a Mott's USA spokesman. It worked with the yellow and devil's food Duncan Hines mixes I tried. Van Evans says it'll work in icing too, if you can tolerate a runny frosting.

A new baking alternative is Sunsweet's Lighter Bake butter and oil replacement, a puree of prunes, plums and apples. It's more expensive than applesauce, (A 14-ounce jar costs $2.39.) but a company spokesman says it's a better choice, because it's specially formulated for baking.

Skip the fat in your recipe and substitute half as much Lighter Bake, the jar advises, but don't try it in pastries or pie crusts. I tried Lighter Bake with a Pillsbury Moist Supreme lemon cake mix, and my only complaint was a slight change in the cake's color.

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No tinkering with fat substitutes for Betty Crocker. Instead, the company specially formulated its Sweet Rewards line of reduced fat cake and muffin mixes to work with a fraction of the usual amount of oil. The yellow cake mix requires only 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil and has a third less fat than the regular cake mix version.

Betty Crocker spent years devising this formula, because consumers found fat substitutes unpalatable, says Pam Becker, a company spokesman.

"They produced tough dry cakes with no flavor," she says. "That's fat's contribution to food, texture and flavor." I frosted a Sweet Rewards yellow layer cake with Sweet Rewards prepared chocolate frosting. The cake passed for a regular layer cake, but I found the consistency a little crumbly compared with the other reduced fat versions I tried.

That ubiquitous little Snackwell's man has made his way to the cake mix aisle. The familiar green box bears the Snackwell's logo above the Pillsbury insignia in a joint marketing effort.

The Snackwell's/Pillsbury cakes and brownies are prepared with neither oil nor applesauce. (The cake must be held together by the hydrogenated vegetable oil in the mix. The company spokesman swore there were no fat substitutes.) Perhaps even more drastic, the mix prepares only one 8-by-8 cake instead of the usual two.

"For many people, that's really a benefit," says Marlene Johnson, director of product communications for Snackwell's cake mixes. "They don't want to be tempted."

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The Snackwell's/Pillsbury devil's food cake mix proclaims a 71 percent reduction in fat content over the usual Pillsbury version. Still, it was among the moistest of the reduced fat cakes I tried. Topped with the Snackwell's/Pillsbury prepared vanilla frosting, a slice supplies 330 calories, 7 grams of fat.

But let's not get carried away. Flossie Fitting, clinical nutrition manager at Good Samaritan Hospital, says cake should be a treat, even if it comes from a reduced fat mix. "If we're eating it every day, we're just fooling ourselves."

This cake is traditionally served with North Carolina barbecued pork, hence its strange name.

Pig picking cake

Makes 1 3-layer cake

1 box regular yellow cake mix

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2/3 cup applesauce

4 eggs

1 10.5-ounce can mandarin oranges, undrained.

Mix all ingredients on low speed of electric mixer for 30 seconds, then on medium for 2 minutes. Bake in three 8-inch cake pans at 350 degrees for 24 minutes. Remove from pans and cool thoroughly before frosting.

Pig picking cake frosting

1 12-ounce container of frozen nondairy topping, thawed

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1 3.4-ounce package of instant vanilla pudding

1 8-ounce can crushed pineapple, lightly drained

Combine pineapple and pudding, mixing by hand. Fold in nondairy topping. Frost cake. Refrigerate cake for up to 3 days.

Pub Date: 1/29/97


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