When you've got the time to bake from scratch, it's relatively easy to choose recipes that are lower in fat or calories. Accomplishing the same thing in a hurry with convenience products is a bit more challenging. One well-known way to put virtuous treats on the table quickly is by substituting a fruit puree for the eggs and oil in a boxed baking mix. For example, combining a brownie mix with pumpkin puree produces rich, dark brownies or cupcakes.
Why it Works
Every ingredient in a recipe, or in a boxed mix, serves a specific purpose. Some add flavor, some make the cake rise, and some give it structure so it stays up once it's risen. The eggs and oil you add to a baking mix make it taste richer and soften the crumb so it's cake-like and delicate rather than bread-like and chewy. Adding pumpkin puree provides much the same result. The pumpkin flavor is largely masked by the chocolate, but it gives richness and depth to the chocolate and tender moisture to the crumb. It also makes the texture a bit denser, but in a brownie mix that's not really an issue.
Mix the Mix
Preparing the batter is deceptively simple. Just empty the brownie mix into a mixing bowl, and add a full 15-ounce can of pureed pumpkin. Ensure you're using pure pumpkin rather than pumpkin pie mix, which won't work. Stir the puree into your brownie mix until it's completely combined. It'll be a lot stiffer than the usual batter. With most mixes, adding any extra liquid won't improve the texture of your cupcakes. It'll just make the crust chewy and leathery.
Baking the Cupcakes
Line your cupcake pans with paper cups, and spray the cups lightly with pan spray. That step's optional, but with some mixes, the papers will be hard to remove if you don't. Divide the batter evenly between the cups, filling each one about two-thirds full. You'll get about two dozen normal-sized cupcakes, or you can use mini-cupcake pans and get up to three times as many. Bake the cupcakes as directed on the package, until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
If you're making the cupcakes to sneak some vegetables into a picky eater, you might add some chocolate chips or chunks to the batter. Usually, the mix itself is chocolatey enough to hide the pumpkin flavor, but it won't hurt to stack the deck a little. Frost the cupcakes with a regular or low-fat icing, or simply dust the muffins with sifted confectioner's sugar. You also can use the pumpkin puree with cake mixes, producing a lighter cupcake than you'd get with a brownie mix. Aside from chocolate cakes, the pumpkin puree works well with carrot cake and spice cake mixes.