"These are not mixes for the organic-loving locavores or butter enthusiasts."


[Photographs: Lucy Baker]

I put Splenda in my coffee each morning and drink Diet Coke almost everyday at lunch, but, until now, I had never baked with an artificial sweetener. If you're not going to use real sugar and real butter, why bother making dessert at all? I turned up my nose at products like Splenda Brown Sugar Blend and I Can't Believe It's Not Butter Baking Sticks.

But since this month's Mixed Review coverage is all about low-fat and low-calorie mixes, I decided to give Sweet 'n Low's Chocolate Snack Cake Mix and White Frosting Mix ($3.50 each) a try.

I could write a book about the lists of ingredients in each. Suffice to say, they are horrifying: maltodextrin, aspartame, sorbitol, and something called propylene glycol esters of fatty acids.

These are not mixes for the organic-loving locavores or butter enthusiasts—but they are extremely low-calorie. One-fifth of the cake (which I baked in an 8x8-inch square pan) has only 160 calories and 2.5 grams of fat. A thick slather of frosting will set you back only another 60 calories and 2 grams of fat.

Are sugar-free baking mixes really any worse than some of the bizarre foods found at nutritional supplement stores, often with twice the calories?


Once baked, the cake turned out to be pretty flat, only about an inch thick at its heartiest point. It had an odd, rubbery consistency, vaguely reminiscent of a foam couch cushion—it was as dense and tightly woven as foam, too. I felt like I could hold the entire cake casually in one hand without fear of it crumbling or breaking.

The frosting was similarly bizarre. Once mixed, it looked like glossy meringue, but it was actually slick and gluey. I stuck my finger in the bowl and the texture made me think of shaving cream.

As for taste? The cake wasn't terrible—it was like any other cocoa sponge cake, but a bit drier and blander. The frosting, on the other hand, was inedible. Sticky and flavorless, it was like eating something squirted straight from the Gillette can.

My advice? If you must go the sugar-free route, bake the cake and top it with fat-free Cool Whip instead.


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