A while back, knowing my love of any and all baked goods with awesome names, a reader tipped me off to something called monkey bread which turns out to be one of those doughy delights people have either known about their entire lives and cannot believe I have been deprived of or are 54 words into this post and still have no idea what I’m talking about. Don’t worry, prior to that, I’d been in the latter category too.
I researched it briefly but it turned out to be one of those things that I’m sure I’d polish off in ten seconds flat if you placed it before me, but that I’d never make myself because it turns out people largely make it with canned biscuit dough and I knew I’d never be able to bring myself to. Or at least not when I make such damned fine biscuits without cans.
But it came back on my radar a few weeks ago when my mother, Alex and I shared some, warm and gooey from the oven, at a local restaurant and all three of us have been obsessed since. Can you blame us? Their version contained marbles of a sweet, rich yeasted dough that had been dipped in melted butter, rolled in brown sugar and cinnamon, piled in a ring mold, allowed to puff and dome then baked until caramelized, flipped out onto a plate, glazed and eaten warm, our fingers pulling the bits of dough back apart. They were like cinnamon rolls and doughnut holes got together and made beautiful dough monkeys. Cinnamon buns. Cinnamon swirls. Dough babies. Monkeys. I think we all know that it was no longer in my power to resist.
Which led to this.
And this too.
Then more of this and that.
And then some.
Which led to this.
Which led to…
Whoops! If you’ve made monkey bread before, I needn’t explain to you why there are no pictures of the insides, as they’re never long for this world. And if you haven’t made monkey bread before and still need some convincing, understand that it might just divide your existence into Life Before Monkey Bread and Life After Monkey Bread. Come, join us on the Cinnamon Brown Sugar Butter Caramel Dark Side. We’ve been waiting for you.
One year ago: Hot Fudge Sauce (psst, I’ll be renovating this recipe soon!)
Two years ago: A romantic meal to remember! “Whore’s” Pasta and a Bitter Salad with Broken Artichoke Hearts
Three years ago: Mom’s Chocolate Chip Meringues
Monkey Bread with Cream Cheese Glaze
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated, who does not use a cream cheese glaze, but should
So here’s my favorite thing I learned about monkey bread when I was researching it: although it’s descended from the kind of buttery sweet yeasted breads that begat the kuchens and galettes of today and it began showing up in women’s magazines and community cookbooks in the 1950s, it was Nancy Reagan who put it on the map for a lot of people: she served it in the White House at Christmas. Her version involves a buttery brioche dough, dipped only in butter (no cinnamon or sugar, brown or white) and she suggests you eat reheated, with jam. It is fairly subdued. This one here is anything but. You’re welcome.
CI says this serves 6 to 8; we served it to far more people at a potluck brunch
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick or 2 ounces) unsalted butter, divided (2 tablespoons softened, 2 tablespoons melted)
1 cup milk, warm (around 110 degrees)
1/3 cup water, warm (also around 110 degrees)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 package or 2 1/4 teaspoons rapid rise, instant or bread machine yeast
3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for work surface
2 teaspoons table salt
Brown Sugar Coating
1 cup packed light brown sugar (CI advises against dark brown, which they feel imparts too strong of a molasses taste; I suspect it wouldn’t bother me)
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick or 4 ounces), mleted
Cream Cheese Glaze
3 ounces cream cheese, softened
3 tablespoons powdered sugar, plus extra if needed
2 tablespoons milk, plus extra if needed
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Get oven and pan ready: Adjust oven rack to medium-low position and heat oven to 200°F. When oven reaches 200, turn it off. Butter Bundt pan with 2 tablespoons softened butter. Set aside.
Make dough: In a large measuring cup, mix together milk, water, melted butter, sugar, and yeast.
To proceed with a stand mixer, mix flour and salt in standing mixer fitted with dough hook. Turn machine to low and slowly add milk mixture. After dough comes together, increase speed to medium and mix until dough is shiny and smooth, 6 to 7 minutes. (The dough should be sticky but if it is too wet to come together into anything cohesive, add an additional 2 tablespoons flour.) Turn dough onto lightly floured counter and knead briefly to form smooth, round ball.
To proceed by hand, mix flour and salt in large bowl. Make well in flour, then add milk mixture to well. Using wooden spoon, stir until dough becomes shaggy and is difficult to stir. Turn out onto lightly floured work surface and begin to knead, incorporating shaggy scraps back into dough. Knead until dough is smooth and satiny, about 10 minutes. Shape into taut ball and proceed as directed.
Coat large bowl with nonstick cooking spray or a tablespoon of neutral oil. Place dough in bowl and coat surface of dough with more cooking spray or oil. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and place in warm oven until dough doubles in size, 50 to 60 minutes.
Make brown sugar coating: Place melted butter in one bowl. Mix brown sugar and cinnamon in a second one.
Form the bread: Flip dough out onto floured surface and gently pat into an 8-inch square. Using a bench scraper or knife, cut dough into 64 pieces. I found it helpful to immediately separate them from the rest of the “grid” or they quickly reformed a big doughy square in 64 parts.
Roll each piece of dough into ball. Working one at a time, dip balls in melted butter, allowing excess butter to drip back into bowl. (I found a fork to be helpful for this process.) Roll in brown sugar mixture, then layer balls in Bundt pan, staggering seams (something I didn’t do, but should have) where dough balls meet as you build layers.
Cover Bundt pan tightly with plastic wrap and place in turned-off oven until dough balls are puffy and have risen 1 to 2 inches from top of pan, 50 to 70 minutes.
Bake bread: Remove pan from oven and heat oven to 350°F. Unwrap pan and bake until top is deep brown and caramel might begin to bubble around edges, 30 to 35 minutes. (The reason for the “might” is that CI says that it should, but mine did not bubble, leading me to bake mine for an extra 5 to 10 minutes, during which it still did not bubble but go the dark crust you see in the photos. Next time, I’d take it out sooner.) Cool in pan for 5 minutes (no longer, or you’ll have trouble getting it out) then turn out on platter and allow to cool slightly, about 10 minutes.
Make glaze: Beat cream cheese with powdered sugar until smooth and light. Add milk and vanilla and this is where you can kick me because I completely forgot I was a food blogger for a minute there and know I added a touch more milk and sugar but did not write down how much. I have some nerve! Just taste and adjust — you’re looking for something that tastes equally tangy and sweet, and texturally thin enough to drape over the bread but thick enough that it will not just roll off completely.
Drizzle the glaze over warm monkey bread, letting it run over top and sides of bread. Serve warm.
Variation: So, as you all know, I have a little monkey to attend to while I am trying to cook and on Saturday morning, he was particularly distracting (read: cute) and I managed to accidentally slightly brown the melted butter you roll the balls of dough into. Do I need to tell you how amazingly delicious this was? Next time, I will do it intentionally, and get it all of the way brown. And then you can call it Brown Butter Cinnamon Brown Sugar Monkey Bread.