Family Classic: Wine Cake (from scratch!)

Wine Cake // The Pancake PrincessAt  the beginning of this year, I had the intention of sharing some of my classic family recipes on a monthly basis. One finished business degree, trip to Australia and Thailand, start of a semi-demanding new job and continued freelance work later…that goal had to be moved down the list of priorities.

To the readers who have stuck with me through my irregular posting schedule this year–you are the best! Part of my spotty posting has been due to the fact that I’m still trying to figure out where I want to go with The Pancake Princess in the future. I think the opportunity is ripe to expand beyond a recipe-only blog, so we’ll see if 2017 brings more time to flesh out some ideas.

About this recipe: throughout my childhood, my mom had three go-to baking recipes (apart from holiday baking)–this banana bread, the Neiman Marcus chocolate chip cookies and wine cake.

Wine Cake // The Pancake Princess

Wine cake was often made for bake sales, or occasionally for when people came over. After letting the steaming, craggy-bottomed cake cool in the pan, we would breathlessly (though the fear of ripping off the top of the cake due to sticking wasn’t really real thanks to the magic of cake mix) unearth the whole cake by plopping it upside down on a plate and dust the top with a gentle cloud of powdered sugar.

The ridges of our bundt cake dictated the size of each slice (alternating thick and thin) and the thick pieces were far superior, not only for the obvious size difference, but also because of the greater surface area of browned, gently crisp yet-still-tender crust that formed around the pale, plush, wine-scented interior (the alcohol bakes out leaving just a mild flavor, don’t worry). I always ate the middle part in short geometric fork strokes, leaving the caramelized crusts for last.

Wine Cake // The Pancake Princess

Hilariously, I had plan to recreate the exact cake, but when I found the recipe my mom always uses in the recipe card box, I almost had a heart attack. You guys, the original recipe uses Orville Redenbacher Butter Flavor Oil. As oil. In the cake. And a lot of it. Plus yellow cake mix. Plus packaged pudding mix.

I mentally wrestled with the recipe for approximately 10 hot seconds and then decided to scrap it and try a from-scratch version (for some reason, 95% of wine cake recipes with yellow cake seem to be made with cake mix! Is this some 80s conspiracy?!). Taking inspiration from this DIY instant pudding mix, I added a smidge more sugar and cornstarch to the recipe to act as the pudding replacer. Then, I used this recipe as a guide to replicate the boxed cake mix-type cake.

In the end, the cake turned out deliciously–maybe it was just my imagination, but I think the from-scratch version cake had a more natural, less synthetic-buttery taste to it. The crust was also crisper (major bonus!) and though I have to admit the crumb was slightly less fine (boxed cake mix, why u so darn magical), there’s still a really fresh and plush tenderness to it. This cake makes for great holiday baking and gifting in case you’re looking for inspiration!

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Vegan Ziti

This post is part of a social shopper marketing insight campaign with Pollinate Media Group®  & La Moderna but all my opinions are my own. #pmedia #MyExceptionalPasta #GoldenHarvest

It’s vegan ziti!

La Moderna Vegan Ziti // The Pancake PrincessI was shopping for a Halloween party at Walmart the other day and omg dangerous. I came away with so much stuff. I had enough food for a small army and a million pasta recipes in mind. This seems to be becoming part of a pattern because this ziti is actually enough to feed an army. La Moderna Vegan Ziti // The Pancake Princess 

You may or may not know that I freelance for the Houston Press (which is why my posts have slowed down of late)…one of the recurring series I write for them is “taste offs” of the best food items around Houston–I started with chocolate chip cookies, then holiday cookies, then doughnuts, then pizza, chocolate cake and most recently, pie.

The handful of friends who lingered in the sugar-ridden aftermath after sampling and scoring 25 different pies draped themselves over my furniture yesterday. To my surprise, when I unearthed this giant pan of ziti from the fridge, nearly half of it disappeared (probably thanks to the deep cravings for savory foods after an avalanche of sweets).

La Moderna Vegan Ziti // The Pancake PrincessLa Moderna Vegan Ziti // The Pancake PrincessThis pasta recipe is basically a mish mash of all the leftover vegetables I had in my fridge–carrots, celery, a zucchini. I sauteed a huge bunch of carrots, celery and onion into a tomato sauce (inspired by Smitten Kitchen’s naked sauce) tossed it with La Moderna pasta, a new-to-me brand that had a nice chew, was high in protein, and held up well in the dish (I cooked the pasta to just al dente before baking it in the casserole–you can find the pasta here), topped it with sauteed zucchini slices and then a thick layer of vegan ricotta. Made out of tofu, the ricotta is so easy to make–just a whirl in the food processor with some herbs, nutritional yeast and lemon juice, and it’s ready to go.

La Moderna Vegan Ziti // The Pancake Princess

And it will feed a HUGE amount of people, so if you need an easy vegetarian entree for feeding a crowd for the upcoming holidays…keep this in mind.

Vegan Ziti
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 1 9x13 pan
  • For the tomato sauce:
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ½ large onion, diced
  • 1 cup diced vegetables (a few large carrots or a mix of carrots and celery)
  • 1 28 oz can tomatoes
  • ½ can tomato paste
  • dried basil, oregano, salt
  • For the tofu ricotta:
  • 1 14 oz container firm tofu, drained
  • 1.5 tablespoon nutritional yeast
  • 1 teaspoon each: garlic powder, basil, oregano
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • juice from half a small lemon
  • For the pasta bake:
  • 4 cups La Moderna penne pasta
  • 1 large zucchini, sliced
  1. To make the sauce:
  2. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, carrots and celery, season with salt and cook for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until caramelized. Add the diced tomatoes, tomato paste and season with your desired amount of basil, oregano and salt. Simmer for 20 minutes over medium-low heat, then turn off heat and set aside.
  3. To make the tofu ricotta:
  4. Blend all ingredients together in a food processor. Set aside.
  5. To make the ziti:
  6. Cook the pasta according to directions. Saute the zucchini in olive oil over medium heat until lightly browned.
  7. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Toss the pasta and sauce together. Pour the pasta into a prepared 9x13 pan. Layer the zucchini on top, then dollop the tofu ricotta over the top, using your fingers to help spread it around evenly. Bake for 20 minutes until ricotta is browned.

Stovetop Pumpkin Bread Pudding

Today is a special day in the blogosphere: tons of amazing food bloggers are uniting to celebrate one of my all-time faves: Cynthia of Two Red Bowls!

Stovetop Pumpkin Bread Pudding // The Pancake Princess

…because she recently just made the world a little more awesome by adding a tiny new third bowl to the world! Cynthia, who was already one of the world’s cutest humans–as I discovered when we briefly convened over an otherwordly Dough doughnut above Grand Central Station when she kindly took a work break to meet up with me!–was also possibly the world’s cutest and most productive pregnant lady, posting this insane french toast and these ugh-inducing biscuits while also rocking her new law job in sunny SoCal. Just another talent to add to the list in addition to being an absolutely stunning food photo composer, incredibly talented photographer and THE most thoughtful and uplifting commenter to grace the blogosphere.


Stovetop Pumpkin Bread Pudding // The Pancake PrincessStovetop Pumpkin Bread Pudding // The Pancake PrincessBecause Cynthia is the queen of small-batch desserts, I made a small-batch version of pumpkin bread pudding for her virtual baby shower (in a bowl, because we’re honoring her with bowl food). It’s also fully decadent in honor of Cynthia because she is somehow the queen of fully decadent dishes while also remaining tiny because she is magic.

The behind-the-scenes story behind this pudding is: I made Smitten Kitchen’s pumpkin loaf for a Halloween get-together.* Normally I am team no-slice-of-quickbread-left-behind, but after multiple hours of sitting out uncovered, I had a small army of slightly stale pumpkin bread slices on my hands. For maximum ease, I tried cooking it on the stovetop and guess what? You can totally make bread pudding on the stove! (I am mildly obsessed with stovetop cooking.) The pudding turned out dense, cushiony and eggy in the middle with a fluffier outer ring that was basically like normal pumpkin bread, but with super toasty, caramelized edges. I topped it with a dollop of lightly sweetened vanilla cream, but I later added a swoop of caramel on top–and that, my friends, is how you really elevate this creation.

Stovetop Pumpkin Bread Pudding // The Pancake Princess


Ideally, you would let the bread become extremely stale and dried out and then let it bathe in the sweet custard mixture for a few hours before cooking for maximum soft and custardy bread pudding nirvana, but whether you wait or not, it’s a great way to use up perhaps an overzealously large loaf of quickbread or leftovers from a party.

Congratulations again, Cynthia! You are WONDERFUL!

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Strawberry Swirl Biscuits

The first time I met Alanna, I’m pretty sure we spent upwards of 5 hours together making, styling and photographing these chilaquiles. I met her grumpy-adorable cat, Catamus, learned about camera lenses, admired her props cabinet, we chatted about our mutual contact (my food photographer uncle) and a bunch of other topics–one of which was potential book deals.

Raspberry Swirl Biscuits // The Pancake PrincessRaspberry Swirl Biscuits // The Pancake PrincessA second and a third visit brought a dinner party with the incredibly talented PangSarah and Lucas, and a visit to Alanna and Jay’s favorite local Mexican spot. I’m pretty sure the third visit was when she not only fed me a slice of an incredible banana tart chilling in her fridge, but also some chestnut financiers she was testing for the cookbook–and then sent me home with a bag full of raspberry swirl biscuits that for some reason or another hadn’t turned out quite right (in Alanna’s mind, anyway. My family and I promptly consumed her generous offering and I proceeded to dream about the “not-quite-perfect” biscuits for the next 8 or so months).
Raspberry Swirl Biscuits // The Pancake Princess

Now that Alanna’s BEAUTIFUL new cookbook is out, I had to honor it and her with those same biscuits. Alternative Baker celebrates alternative flours in gluten-free recipes where the focus is really on how delicious flours like chestnut, mesquite, oat and corn can be rather than the fact that gluten is missing.

Raspberry Swirl Biscuits // The Pancake Princessimg_8789I’ve made five recipes from the book so far, recipe testing included–the apple, buckwheat and gruyere pancake, chocolate zucchini cake, chocolate cranberry pecan tart with Alanna’s amazing cocoa buckwheat tart crust, pluot poppy muffins and buckwheat pear galettes with walnuts and salty caramel. All of them, without fail, were so much more delicious than any gluten-free recipe I’ve tried in the past. I am really tempted to bake my way through her entire cookbook because each photograph is more beautiful than the last and promises amazing results.

I can’t recommend her cookbook enough, whether you adhere to a gluten-free diet or simply want to expand your baking horizons with completely unique, beautiful and incredibly delicious recipes. Congratulations Alanna–your book is an absolute work of art!!


Alanna makes these biscuits with raspberries, but I was out both times I was ready to make them–one time I subbed strawberries and 1/3 cup of chocolate chips and the other I added 1 1/4 cups of cranberries tossed with 2 tablespoons of sugar (pictured). The optional glaze was a bit sweet in conjunction with the chocolate, but well-received with the tart cranberries. A couple tasters noted a slightly bitter taste in the dough that I didn’t detect, but just something to note–this might totally be resolved by just using raspberries as Alanna wisely advises.

These biscuits have a moist, open, slightly coarse crumb that crisps beautifully at the edges. The fun thing about these is that the texture varies widely with temperature–cold, the dough takes on a sandy consistency that I’m kind of addicted to–warm, the dough is soft, yielding and slightly sticky. Alanna recommends using Bob’s Red Mill’s flour since alternative grains can vary widely in consistency depending on the grind and I found this out the hard way–the first time I made these biscuits with flour that I had (lazily) ground in my nutribullet, the biscuits turned out slightly lumpy and craggier than I remembered. After I ground the flour more finely in the Blendtec for the second round of biscuits, the dough turned out much more smoothly, the rolls of my dreams.

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Wowbutter Cookies (nut-free)

Wowbutter Cookies // The Pancake PrincessIs it really September? Is it just me or like……


Wowbutter Cookies // The Pancake Princess
Wowbutter Cookies // The Pancake Princess
img_8558Wowbutter Cookies // The Pancake Princess
I’m not ready to let the magical summer of Australia and Thailand go…but admittedly, it’s been nice to have down time at home. My roommate and I recently made the move from our 960 sq ft apartment to a duplex in Montrose (the, shall we say, trendy part of Houston) and let me tell you: you should NEVER not hire movers. People told we had to, but neither of us had ever done a big (read: non-college-esque move) on our own, and we figured doing it on our own would be 1) way cheaper 2) a good way to super appreciate movers whenever we need to move again in the future.

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