Ever wonder about a boxed mix you've seen in the store? Is it any good? Could it replace something you'd otherwise make from scratch? Welcome to Mixed Review, where the whole point is putting boxed mixes to the test! —The Mgmt.

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[Photos: Lucy Baker]

Thanksgiving may be over, but the holiday baking season has just begun. 'Tis the season of school bake sales, office parties, and cookie swaps. If you're feeling overwhelmed and overcommitted, don't worry. There are a number of mixes out there that are so deceptively delicious no one will ever guess you baked your treats out of a box.

Since I can't get enough of gooey, toasty, nutty desserts (and I suspect many of you can't, either) this week I baked a batch of Krusteaz Pecan Bars (about $4 at supermarkets). Ever wonder how Krusteaz got their name? According to their website, in 1932 some women in a Seattle bridge club came up with a method for baking a super-easy, never fail press-in pie crust. Crust + ease. Get it?

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Fortunately, the crust lives up to its name. All I had to do to prepare the bottom layer for my pecan bars was combine the "crust" pouch with four tablespoons of softened unsalted butter and cut them together until the mixture resembled wet sand. Then I pressed it into the bottom of an 8x8-inch baking pan. The Krusteaz instructions only called for greasing the pan, but I went an extra step and lined it with foil first. I suggest you do the same--the bars are very sticky.

After eight minutes in the oven the crust was just beginning to brown at the edges. I spread the generous contents of the pecan packet over the top. Then I prepared the filling by mixing together the "filling" packet with 1/2 cup of water and one egg. I poured that over the pecans and slid the pan back in the oven for another 30 minutes.

Even when the baked pecan bars had cooled completely, they were still too loose and gooey to cut into clean squares. I found that chilling the whole pan in the fridge for an hour was the perfect solution. Once they were cold and set, cutting them neatly was a breeze.

They tasted pretty fantastic, too. The crust was crisp and just the right thickness—not so dense as to overwhelm the filling, but not so lean that it collapsed or crumbled. It tasted faintly of graham crackers. The filling was smooth and buttery with hints of toffee, and each bite was loaded with toasted pecans. Delicious as they were, I found myself wanting a bit more flavor. A sprinkle of sea salt or, better yet, a drizzle of chocolate, would be the perfect finishing touch.

I highly recommend the Krusteaz Pecan Bars if you need a last-minute holiday dessert. No one will guess you weren't slaving for hours in the kitchen.

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