April 27, 2010
Seriously. Who came up with it, why is it called that, and why is it just one of the best comfort foods around??? My middle-schoolers made it in our baking class yesterday afternoon, and that's the first thing they asked me. And I had no idea! So I promised them I'd research it and get back with them at tomorrow's class. (Also, Zesty Lemon is still working on his restaurant review, and I thought this post would entertain you in the interim.)
This account at The Food Timeline provides the most detail I've ever read on the subject. The recipe itself derives from typical sweet roll yeast breads of yesteryear, and monkey bread (a.k.a. bubble bread or pull-apart bread) can be traced back to pioneer days, when cowboys on the range preferred one-pot cooking for just about everything, including their daily bread. Early 20th-century cookbooks described all kinds of "balled rolls," including Parker House rolls and clover-leaf rolls, with its first official mention in the New York Times coming in 1976. Nancy Reagan even began serving it at the White House in the '80s.
However, one thing's for sure--no one really knows why it was ever called monkey bread to begin with. There are several possibilities, including how it resembles "a bunch of monkeys" all jumbled together. Another account says it has to do with all the "monkeying around" you need to do with balls of dough to get this dish together!
All that said, it's a mighty tasty treat, and in these days coming into spring, where the evenings are just cool enough to still warrant some sweet-n-toasty baking, it's the perfect thing. You can get Nancy Reagan's recipe at The Food Timeline link, but try mine sometime and let me know what you think. The kids in class were all over it; so much so, I didn't even get a bubble of bread to myself!
FOR THE BREAD
1/4 cup warm water
pinch of sugar
1 package yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
3/4 cup warm milk
2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
FOR THE COATING
1 stick butter (8 tablespoons)
1/2 cup chopped nuts (pecans or walnuts work best)
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 cup light brown sugar
FOR THE ICING
2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup milk
Spray a Bundt pan with cooking spray and set aside. Spray a medium bowl with cooking spray and set aside.
Put the warm water and a pinch of sugar in a small bowl. Sprinkle yeast over top and allow to dissolve and get foamy (about 5 minutes). In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, place milk, butter, egg, sugar, and salt. Combine yeast mixture and mix well on medium for about 1 minute. Change to dough hook and add flour, kneading for about 2 minutes. (To do this by hand, combine yeast mixture with milk, butter, egg, sugar, and salt using a wooden spoon or spatula. Add flour and mix well with hands. Turn dough out onto floured surface and knead by hand for 5 minutes.) Place dough in oiled bowl, wrap with plastic wrap, and set aside. Allow to rest in warm place for 20 minutes.
Make coating: Melt butter in small bowl and set aside. In a separate bowl, combine cinnamon, nuts, and sugar. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons nut mixture into bottom of Bundt pan.
Cut dough into 1/2-inch pieces and roll into balls. Dip balls in butter, then nut mixture, and place in Bundt pan, layering as you go. Wrap pan in plastic and set in warm place to double in size (about 1 hour).
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Bake bread for 30-35 minutes. Allow to cool in pan for 15 minutes, then turn bread out onto wire rack. Cool another 20 minutes.
Make icing: In small bowl, stir milk into powdered sugar until there are no lumps. Drizzle over bread and serve!
NOTE: In the interest of time during class, we eliminated the 1-hour rising time in the Bundt pan, and our monkey bread still came out perfectly crispy on the outside and soft, warm, and sweet on the inside!