Sunday, February 17, 2013

Sweet (and Savory) Sunday - Herbed Oatmeal Bread and Champagne Cake

How is your President's Day weekend going?  I hope its great and not too cold!  Yesterday for us in St. Louis we had a high of 37 degrees F..... which made for a really chilly day for this:


And see how I'm dressed?  Other than crazy, I know, I was on the very CONSERVATIVE side of what people were wearing!  The rules of the run, which was a mile-long charity event designed to benefit the Children's Tumor Foundation, stated that no pasties and no thongs were allowed.... they didn't say no jock-straps, which is what one guy was indeed wearing!  That was quite a site to see.  You know what was awesome though?  Coming in second place for the ladies!!  And that also put me at fifth or sixth overall!!  I was really excited for that!  Here I am coming to the end behind a William Wallace look-alike:


Was it cold?  Yes.  Was it windy?  Yes.  But was it fun, and would I do it again?  OH YES.  And the charity was really great.  Anything that supports children's services, especially with us being no strangers to Children's Hospital here due to James's metabolic disorder, is a very worthy cause.

Okay, on to some other things I want to share with you finally, DELICIOUS things.  I made this bread to go with Valentine's dinner:


And we finished the night off with this delicious champagne cake, complete with a champagne pastry cream, and a champagne-and-strawberries buttercream:


I'll show you the stratified sample at the end (or you can scroll down if you just can't wait!).  But first, here is the recipe for the bread, slightly adapted:

Herbed Oatmeal Bread

For the bread:

2 packages active dry yeast (about 4 1/2 teaspoons if you're measuring from a jar)
2 teaspoons sugar
2 cups water, divided
1 cup rolled oats (I used quick-cooking)
3 tablespoons butter
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 egg

For the herbed butter:

1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
6 tablespoons butter, melted, and divided

To  make the bread:  Combine the yeast with 1/2 cup of warm water and 2 teaspoons of sugar.  Set aside for 5-10 minutes to proof (get foamy).  While the yeast is proofing, bring 1 1/2 cups of water to a boil, remove from heat and stir in the oatmeal, followed by the butter.  While the oatmeal is cooling, mix the flour, sugar, and salt together.  Check on the oatmeal - you want it cool enough that you can put your finger in it without getting burned.  Add the oatmeal, yeast mixture, and the egg to the dry ingredients and mix on low for 5-8 minutes until the dough comes together (you may need a bit more flour, add it a tablespoon at a time).  Your dough will be a bit stiff, but still a little sticky.  Cover the bowl and allow the dough to rest for 15 minutes.

While the dough is resting, grease a 9x13 pan.  After the 15 minutes are up, punch the dough down and press it into the greased pan.  Use a sharp nice to (as evenly as possible) slice your dough into 24 pieces.  In a warm place, allow the dough to rest and rise for about 45 minutes.

After 45 minutes, preheat your oven to 375 degrees F.  With a pastry brush, gently brush 4 tablespoons of butter over the dough, being careful not to deflate it.  Bake in the oven for 15 minutes.  While the bread is baking, combine the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter with the parmesan, basil, oregano, and garlic powder.  After the initial 15 minutes, remove the bread from the oven and again, using a pastry brush, spread your herbed mixture over the dough.  Return the pan to the oven and bake for 10-15 minutes more, until the bread is a nice golden brown.  TRY not to eat all of the bread!

If you look at the original recipe, you will notice that my beginning techniques are quite a bit different.  Working with active dry yeast, I was afraid to skip the proofing step (which isn't necessary with instant yeast for example), so I modified things a bit.  If you have more confidence than I did, by all means, follow the original recipe exactly.  Whatever you do, you will LOVE this bread.  When it cools down, it is very reminiscent of restaurant breadsticks.  It tastes fantastic warm, fresh from the oven, and still tastes fantastic today, a few days later, having been stored at room temperature, covered.  The texture is so light and fluffy, thanks to the butter and the oatmeal.  Its OH SO delicious and I highly, highly recommend it.

Original bread recipe from The Cooking Actress

And now for the dessert!

Champagne Cake with Champagne Pastry Cream and Champagne and Strawberries Buttercream

For the champagne cake:

2 sticks butter, unsalted
1 cup champagne
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup cake flour (or make your own by measuring 1 cup of all-purpose flour, remove 2 tablespoons and replace with 2 tablespoons of cornstarch, sift the mixture 3 or 4 times to really incorporate)
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 eggs
1/2 cup plain yogurt (I used nonfat, plain Greek)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F, and butter 3 6-inch cake pans (or 2 8-inch pans), and then line with parchment paper.  In a large bowl, combine the flours, sugar, salt, and baking soda.  In a small bowl, combine the eggs, yogurt, and vanilla.  Set these bowls aside.

In a sauce pan, melt the butter, and then, over medium-high heat, add the champagne and allow to come to a boil.  Remove from heat and add to the dry ingredients, stirring quickly to incorporate.  Follow with the egg mixture, and stir until just combined.  Divide the batter between pans and bake for 25-30 minutes, though my cakes took about 45 minutes (you want a toothpick inserted into the center to come out clean, or just with a few moist crumbs).

For the champagne pastry cream:

1/2 cup heavy cream, divided
1/2 cup champagne
2 tablespoons cornstarch
5 tablespoons sugar
1 egg
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla

Combine 1/4 cup of heavy cream with the cornstarch, whisking well until combined, then set aside.  Add the remaining cream, champagne, and sugar to a saucepan, and allow to come to a boil, whisking frequently.  Once this mixture boils, remove it from the heat and, in a slow, steady stream, add it to the cornstarch/cream mixture, whisking the entire time so that you don't cook the eggs.  Then, return the mixture to the saucepan and cook over medium heat until the mixture is thick and glossy.  Remove from heat and stir in the butter, followed by the vanilla.  Allow the pastry cream to cool, then transfer to an airtight container, but before placing a lid, lay plastic wrap flush with the surface of the cream (this prevents a skin from forming).  Refrigerate until ready to use.

For the champagne and strawberries buttercream:

1 cup plus 1 tablespoon champagne
2 sticks butter, unsalted, room temperature
3-4 cups powdered sugar
2-3 large strawberries

In a small saucepan, place 1 cup of champagne over medium-high heat and allow it to simmer until reduced to about 2 tablespoons.  Remove from heat and set aside.  Place strawberries in a food processor and puree until fairly smooth.  In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter with 2 cups of sugar until smooth.  Add the strawberries and all remaining champagne and beat until well-combined.  Add remaining powdered sugar about 1/2 cup at a time until the buttercream is your desired thickness.  It may take a little more than 4 cups, it may take less.

To assemble, remove the cakes from their pans, peeling off any parchment paper stuck to the bottom.  Slice any domed tops from the cakes so that they are nice and flat.  Feel free to nibble on your cake scraps, as I did.  Quality control is important after all.  Place one cake layer on your chosen serving plate and top with the pastry cream, leaving at least a 1/2 inch of space between the the pastry cream and the edge of the cake.  Place a second cake layer on top and repeat.  Once you have your third and final cake layer in place, you are ready to frost your cake.  I have no instructions for that, just go for it however you want.  Garnish with fresh strawberry slices if you want, like I did.  It doesn't have to be pretty because this cake is so incredibly delicious!  Just take a look at the lovely cross-sections:



I have already said it more than once, but this cake is incredibly delicious.  Its moist, but not dense like a pound cake.  And the champagne flavor comes out surprisingly well.  That was my skepticism with making a champagne cake - that you wouldn't actually be able to taste the champagne.  A few days later now, Chris and I both agree that the flavor has only intensified.  This cake is a fair amount of work, sure, but its worth it, and made an excellent Valentine's dessert.

If you're off tomorrow, enjoy your President's Day Monday, and regardless, I hope you'll have a great start to the week!

Cake recipe adapted from Lovely Layer Cakes

Pastry cream and buttercream recipes adapted from Mrs. Schwartz Kitchen