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It has been one busy month. I neglected blogging because I was in the midst of getting accepted to the Peace Corps, celebrating Christmas with my family, finishing work, saying goodbye to all my friends, and moving from Seattle back home. Being in transition, my kitchen was packed up, my camera had disappeared, and blogging was the last thing on my mind. Now I’m all settled back into home-sweet-home (phew!), and I have a whole list of recipes that I’m eager to try.

In the midst of that busy month, we had CHRISTMAS! I love Christmas, especially when I find some perfectly creative or funny gift for my friends/family. This year, my brother and I scored. Seeing as he was the one to introduce me to Mad Men, I saw this gem of a book at Powell’s and knew I had to get it for him. He was thinking along the same lines, and when he went to Barnes and Noble he found The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook. If you haven’t heard of The Hunger Games, you need to get your head out of the sand and go find (and read) these books. I won’t spoil anything by talking about the ending, except to say that it’s hard to have a well-formed opinion until you’ve read them all, and then you can discuss what you think about it FOR DAYS. I’m serious. I’m anxiously awaiting the release of the movie and thanking my lucky stars that it comes out the week before I move to Indonesia.

Back to the cookbook, it is not affiliated with the actual series by Suzanne Collins (you could probably figure that out by the ‘unofficial’ part of the title), but the author Emily Baines has a whole introduction about how food is crucial to the plot line of The Hunger Games. She took that concept and looked at every instance of food in the books and created recipes that correlate to the food that you read about. Each recipe has a (pretty cheesy) title that relates to a character or plot twist, and there’s a little blurb describing something from the book that relates to this recipe (including book and chapter references). There’s some with exotic animals that are probably not do-able, but some sound pretty amazing and simple to make. This bread is the first recipe I’ve tried from the book, and it’s DELICIOUS.

Cinnamon Raisin Nut Bread
Adapted from The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook

1 (.25 oz) package (or 5 teaspoons) active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1 1/2 cup warm milk
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/3 cup honey
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons white sugar
2 eggs
3 cups whole wheat flour
3 cups all-purpose flour (possibly more for rolling dough)
1 cup raisin (original recipe said 2, but that was too many for me)
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 egg white (for glaze)
2 Tablespoons cold water (for glaze)

Note: It’s important to not kill your yeast! Activating yeast is the first step in making bread, so if you kill your yeast it’s game over from the start. Avoid that step by making sure that the temperature of your water is not too hot. Boiling is too hot. A good piece of advice is to use warm tap water: turn the faucet to hot, run until you put your finger in and want to pull it out but not so hot that you burn your finger. For additional yeast tips, see my last bread-making post.

In a mixing bowl, dissolve yeast in the warm water until foamy, about 5 minutes. Stir. Add the milk, butter, honey, salt, cinnamon, sugar, eggs, and whole wheat flour. Beat until smooth. Stir in enough all-purpose flour to form a soft dough.

(Confession: as I was adding in my all-purpose flour, I was surprised to see that after adding one cup, my dough couldn’t hold any more flour! I then re-read the directions and realized I had only added 1/2 cup milk when I needed to add 1 1/2 cups. I thought my dough was ruined, but I decided to keep trying anyway, and I left my half-formed dough to soak in the additional cup of warm milk. After five minutes I added more flour and kneaded the whole goopy mess into some presentable dough. Surprisingly, it turned out great! My bread was delicious. Moral of the story: just keep trying. Some mistakes, like killing your yeast, will drastically change your end product, but others will not. With bread, you often won’t know until the end, so my advice is just experiment and see what happens.)

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to coat. Cover with a damp towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about one hour. (In my case, my kitchen was pretty chilly, so I turned the oven on to 500 degrees for exactly one minute, switched off the oven, and put my dough in there to rise.)

Meanwhile, soak raisins in a bowl of tepid tap water. Be sure to drain and pat dry before you use them (I didn’t do this and my bread got really sticky – yuck!).

Grease two 8.5″ x 4.5″ loaf pans (sizes that are slightly different, as mine were, will also work).

Punch dough down. Turn out onto the lightly floured surface; sprinkle with raisins and walnuts and knead them in. Divide dough in half. Roll dough into loaves, place loaves in greased pans. Cover and let rise until doubled, about one hour.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Beat egg white and cold water; brush over loaves. Bake at 375 for 40 minutes, or until golden brown. If the tops are browning too quickly, you can cover them loosly with foil for the last 15 minutes.

Cool in pans for 15 minutes. Remove from pans to finish cooling on wire racks.

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