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I've screwed up a lot of bread, as recently as a few weeks ago. With the bread maker in my life gone, it was incumbent upon me to get over my chronic dough dread and connect with the gluten network I long had been shirking.

In the dawn of this new year, I was determined to dust off my bad bread karma and start over. I also decided that if I could make any kind of bread, it would be raisin.

Although not practical like sandwich bread, sopable like a crusty boule, or party-fashionable like a baguette, raisin bread serves a higher purpose: breakfast. It starts your day.

Perhaps it was my new attitude, or maybe just a bit of good luck, but I finally found a recipe that I could relate to and actually replicate. Its straightforward method lends wholesome, sweet-savory results and is still delicious when stale.

My bread destiny has changed forever.

Italian Walnut-Raisin Whole-Wheat Bread

Adapted from The Bread Bible by Beth Hensperger

1 1/4 cups warm water (105-115 degrees)

1 package active dry yeast

Pinch sugar

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/8 cup honey

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

2 cups finely ground whole-wheat flour, preferably stone ground

1/4 to 1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup (5 ounces) dark raisins, plumped in hot water for about one hour and drained on paper towels

1 cup (about 4 ounces) chopped walnuts

1 tablespoon whole-wheat flour, for sprinkling

• In a small bowl, pour in 1/4 cup of the warm water. Sprinkle yeast and sugar over surface of water. Stir to dissolve and cover with a towel. Allow to get foamy, about 10 minutes.

• In a large mixing bowl with a whisk (or work bowl of a heavy-duty electric mixer with paddle attachment), combine remaining 1 cup water, olive oil, honey, salt and 1 cup of the whole-wheat flour. Add yeast mixture. Beat until smooth. Add remaining whole-wheat flour, 1/2 cup at a time. Add all-purpose flour, 1/4 cup at a time, until a soft ball begins to form away from the sides of the bowl. Switch to a wooden spoon when necessary if making by hand.

• Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead (press, turn and fold) until soft and springy yet resilient to the touch, dusting with flour only as needed to prevent sticking. Kneading will take about 6 minutes.

• Place dough in an oiled deep bowl, turning to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and a towel (working as a blanket). Let rise at room temperature until doubled in size, about 2 hours.

• Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and sprinkle whole-wheat flour on sheet. Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface without punching. Pat gently and form into a large oval. Sprinkle surface evenly with half of the raisins, and half of the walnuts, pressing into dough. Roll dough up (like closing a book) and repeat process with remaining nuts and raisins, rolling up a second time. Divide dough into 2 equal portions.

• Shape into 2 tight round loaves and place into prepared pans. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

• Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400 degrees. With a serrated knife, slash top of loaves, making 2 parallel lines (about 1/4-inch deep). Bake until loaves are brown, crusty and sound hollow when tapped with your fist, about 35-40 minutes.

• Transfer to a rack and cool completely before slicing.

Culinary questions? Contact Kim at kim.odonnel@creativeloafing.com.

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