Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Challah and Red Gold Nectarines

According to my cousin, two short weeks out of the year these beautiful, delicious red gold nectarines are available at her farmer's market. Given the limited period of availability, she buys them by the caseful, and recently we met to have lunch and make an exchange: 8 nectarines for a loaf of fresh-baked challah bread. I have to admit, I got the better end of the deal.

I've been eating two a day, and frankly I wish I could indulge in more, but I don't want them to be gone too quickly. They are unbelievably sweet, which is reason enough to love them, but the best thing of all is that they are not mealy whatsoever. Mealiness ruins all fruit, but these have the perfect juicy flesh that makes nectarines and peaches such a delight. (I'm particularly thrilled, since after the wonderful donut peaches I blogged about earlier, I've only had one good peach/nectarine while the others have been disgustingly mealy.)

Random aside: I know peaches and nectarines are supposedly exactly the same except for their skin (fuzzy and smooth, respectively), but I swear they taste different to me. My cousin agrees.

These nectarines are so good that when they're gone I'm going to go into withdrawal, I just know it.

And while the challah bread I exchanged was decent, it was nowhere near the nectarines on the deliciousness scale. I've never had challah bread before, but I was expecting it to be sweeter and not so dry. Then again, I've never made challah before either, so maybe it was the recipe I used or my technique. Aesthetically, I'm fairly pleased with how the loaves came out.

I'd had the urge to 'play' with dough and decided on challah, which would give me the fun of braiding it. I was prepared to tackle complicated 5- and 6-braids; I was not prepared for how tiring it was to roll each braid length out! The elasticity of the dough made it hard work to shape it into those long rolls, I must say. The braids were easy compared to that! I used a 5-braid technique on one of the loaves from Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice (since that's where I got the recipe), and a 6-braid technique that I read about on Wild Yeast.

I liked how both came out once baked, though in terms of presentation I think the 5-braid looks better (that's the one I gave my cousin). Plus it rises higher, which makes it more useful for sandwiches and toast and what not.

The 5-braid:

The 6-braid:

The one bit of trouble I had (other than my tired arms) was that, as usual, my oven seemed too hot and the loaves were well browned before the minimum baking time was up. I threw a sheet of foil over them for the last 5-10 minutes. Maybe they would have been less dry if I'd taken them out earlier; maybe I need to set the oven 5 degrees cooler to bake bread. More experimentation is necessary to get to know the eccentricities of my oven!

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