Childhood Monkeys and Monkey Bread
An American classic (also called African coffee cake, bubbleloaf, golden crown, and pinch-me cake), this sweet pull-apart bread is like cinnamon rolls in bite size form, but with more cinnamon and sugar caramel with every bite. The homemade dough takes about two 1-hour rising times, but it will be worth the wait. You will be rewarded with gooey, sticky, soft bread after baking in the oven.
Oh, I’m sorry, did that sound loony?
We were nostalgic over Monchichi. How could we forget the monkey doll with its soft dark chocolate hair that’s almost pixie-ish around the face — that rubber-plastic cheeky freckled face (what kind of monkey has freckles?), tucked lower lip that fits its right thumb, and those innocent looking eyes begging for you to hold it. This, my friends, is a glimpse of our 80’s childhood.
I’m not even sure how we arrived at that discussion. I sort of jumped right in, just like when somebody (I’m talking about you, CrippleCreekBBQ!) suggested Monkey Bread when I tweeted about being unsure what to bake. That’s what I love about Twitter. Everything can be so random and yet somehow make sense in the end.
Was it a coincidence my ape-etite (sorry, there I go again!) conceded that it’s about time to bake Monkey Bread? I think it was fate.
According to Wikipedia, this American favorite is also called African coffee cake, pinch-me cake, bubbleloaf and golden crown. I like it as it is, in all its non-ape-etizing glory [I swear, last time]. You and anyone around you, will be reduced to helpless monkey behavior, tearing apart and eating this bread like it’s nobody’s business. I’ll let you sit with that image for a bit.
Or you can turn to this:
Monkey Bread Making begins with dough balls taking a dip in melted butter (for this recipe, it’s dough from scratch), rolling happily in brown sugar mixed with cinnamon, and reaching their final destination in a Bundt pan, piled on top of each other. And then they’re baked until the they rise, puff from side to side, squishing themselves while liquid caramel ooze through and out of crevices of soft pastry bread. The resulting sticky, gooey fortress is inverted onto a plate and allowed to cool down to eating temperatures before serving. I should warn you that it is so easy to get carried away, pulling-apart each piece, and if you sit down alone you can very well finish it alone.
My initiation into the world of this fragmented cinnamon pull-apart bread was through Dan’s mom, whose own version is revered in Arizona, often baked only for special occasions, each morsel coveted like prized truffle. You should see how everyone’s eyes light up at the mere mention of it. It’s something you’ll come to know when you try it.
For those who have never seen or tried Moneky Bread, I’ll give you a point of reference:
if you love cinnamon rolls, then Monkey Bread is your friend.
But, but! not all Monkey Breads are created equal. Beware.
I made them once before. The photo you see on the right is the actual photo taken in 2006, showing cut-up thawed frozen biscuit dough. Don’t cringe, most of the recipes call for the packaged stuff! If you want to cut down prep time, it is the way to go.
Having ready-made dough as a bread base meant that you have to up your game when it comes to the caramel. I didn’t realize it could be a frustrating task to get the taste right, given just 3 ingredients. I used a recipe I found online and it wasn’t that good. It was okay at best. Disappointed, I then continued to rely on bake-me-downs, a smuggled slice every now and then. [I’m just joking on the smuggled part — it’s not illegal to bring over baked goods like this to Canada.]
The era of MB Fear has ended. Folks, this is my second attempt at baking Monkey Bread in FOUR years. It took a leap of faith in Cook’s Illustrated, even though their recipes have worked for me without fail. I’m not going to lie, I was hesitant. I received tweets (from TwoPeasandPod and MelleCotte) pointing me to blog posts from browneyedbaker and smittenkitchen, which turned out to be adaptations of the C.I. recipe. That made me feel a better.
The yeasted dough from scratch requiring 2 proofing cycles was the the catalyst for ending my fifteen hundred days or so of Monkey Bread Baking Exile.
It sounds like such a long commitment to be in the kitchen when one speaks of dough rising once, twice. I’ll break it down for you: there are two 50 to 60 minutes blocks of time when you can do other things. You won’t regret it…
…until you realize it’s gone so fast. Well, that’s not such a bad thing.
It’s worth it.
It’s really not hard to make, but it takes time. There’s barely any kneading required. Bring your patience and it will be rewarded.
Are you ready?
MONKEY BREAD RECIPE
Makes 6 to 8 servings
An American classic (also called African coffee cake, bubbleloaf, golden crown, and pinch-me cake), this sweet pull-apart bread is like cinnamon rolls in bite size form, but with more cinnamon and sugar caramel with every bite. The homemade dough takes about two 1-hour rising times, but it will be worth the wait. You will be rewarded with gooey, sticky, soft bread after baking in the oven. ~ Joy
This recipe was adapted from Cook’s Illustrated magazine (February 2005 issue).
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided, 2 tablespoons softened and 2 tablespoons melted
- 1 cup milk, warm (about 110 degrees)
- 1/3 cup water, warm (about 110 degrees)
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 package rapid-rise yeast (or instant), about 2 ¼ teaspoons if measured from a jar
- 3 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra for work surface
- 2 teaspoons table salt
Cinnamon Sugar Coating
- 1 cup packed light brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), melted
1. Preheat oven to 200°F with the rack in medium-low position. Turn off when the temperature reaches 200°F. Butter a Bundt pan with 2 tablespoons softened butter.
2. For the Dough: Combine milk, water, melted sugar, and yeast in a small bowl.
Using a Stand Mixer: Mix flour and salt in the bowl of the standing mixer using a wooden spoon. Place on the mixer fitted with a dough hook, turn to low and slowly pour milk mixture. Wait for the dough to come together and increase speed to medium. Wait until dough is smooth and shiny and pulls from the sides and bottom of the bowl, about 6 to 7 minutes. Transfer onto a floured work area.
By Hand: Mix flour and salt in a large bowl using a wooden spoon. Create a well in the flour, add the milk mixture into it and blend until dough becomes shaggy and difficult to stir. Transfer onto floured work area and knead until dough becomes smooth and satiny, about 10 minutes.
For Both: Apply cooking spray on a large bowl. Tuck dough into a ball and place in the coated bowl. Mist the surface of dough with cooking spray and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Place in the warmed oven for about 50 to 60 minutes, until the dough doubles in size.
3. For the cinnamon sugar coating: Mix brown sugar and cinnamon in a bowl. Melt butter (melting in the microwave is fine) in a separate bowl.
4. After the dough has risen, turn over onto your floured work surface, and flatten into an 8-inch square with your fingertips. Divide dough in 8 strips crosswise and lengthwise using a knife or bench scraper, leaving you with 64 pieces.
5. Tuck each piece into a ball, pinching together the ends. [Note: the original recipe instructs you to roll each piece into a ball, which could lead to a sticky mess. I prefer to tuck and pinch, they will not be circular balls once they are baked anyway. – Joy]
6. Dip each ball in melted butter; placing them on a fork (not piercing) works really well. Let the excess butter drip back into the bowl. Roll individual balls in cinnamon sugar and layer in the Bundt pan until evenly segregated at the top.
7. Cover Bundt pan with plastic wrap and place in (still turned-off) oven for 50 to 70 minutes, until balls become puffy and risen 1 to 2 inches from the top of the pan.
8. Remove pan from the oven. Heat oven to 350°F with the rack in the upper middle position. Remove plastic wrap, and bake until the top becomes deep brown and caramel bubbles through the dough crevices, about 30 to 35 minutes.
9. Allow to cool in the pan for 5 minutes before inverting onto a platter and cool for another 10 minutes before serving.
Monkey Bread is best served warm. It can be kept at room temperature for 2 days and warmed up in the microwave for 15 minutes. Slice and/or pick apart.