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Boost baking confidence. (MONKEY BREAD)

December 21, 2009

I see this recipe’s success as a beacon of good fortune in this year’s holiday baking which will start soon! Monkey bread is one of those things everyone has eaten but me, a popular treat remembered from grandmas or hometown bakeries. I have no such memory, but having heard of it so many times and after seeing this fine old recipe, I decided it was time to get acquainted with good old monkey bread. Not to mention it was snowy outside and what is more awesome than a fresh baked bread-something in all that wintry glitter. Plus all of the ingredients were on hand so, no one had to go trudging.

I might have mentioned before that I don’t love baking but once in a while, when distractions are few, I’ll flour up. This day I did not surprise myself by immediately adding too much water to the dough, followed by a great deal of swearing, also a part of my baking ritual. To remedy this problem, I added extra tablespoons of flour until the dough was just manageable. I was careful about the additions since the recipe described it as a sticky dough. I let it be pretty gooey, but floured recklessly while kneading and it was okay.

Kneading, traditionally done with one’s hands, is often replaced in recipes by food processors and/or standing mixers. Not having a piece of machinery should not discourage one from trying a recipe. Especially in the case of making dough, there is always a way to accomplish it without being plugged in. Kneading by hand involves a few more minutes of effort but it will always work, and sometimes the results will be even better since your hands get to witness all of the changes the dough will go through. A good example of this is making pasta. Pasta dough will always come out better by hand because you will know exactly when it goes from just a basic dough to actually silky and soft, with a faint sheen on it (this takes  about 15 minutes of real work). In a mixer you would never see this change happen and either stop too early or blow straight past this little miracle and overmix completely. For monkey bread, the dough only gets worked for about 5-10 minutes until it is smooth and cohesive but make sure you give it a good workout anyhow.

When making a yeasted bread, like this one, kneading is important but the crucial thing is the rise. In my experience, recipes often underestimate the time it will take for the dough to truly double in size. So my big advice is: wait. Wait not until it is almost-maybe-double-but-definitely-bigger, no. Wait for it to be definitely doubled, alot bigger, puffy and alive looking. Sometimes it is only a matter of an extra ten minutes, but it might be an extra hour. There are many factors that could cause your yeast to take more time than the yeast in the recipe. So. Just. Wait. It will make all the difference in the final product. Promise.

To make my monkey bread work I also had to rig a bundt pan since I don’t have one. The solution was a regular cake pan (10 inches) with a ceramic ramekin placed in the center. Any sort of round vessel than can stand the oven’s heat would work, a tin can, little clay pot, etc. just make sure you grease it along with the rest of the surface. Butter or some non-stick baking spray will do the job well.

With so much technical blah-blah, don’t want to forget to include how awesome this stuff is. A wreath of bread that is made up of little breads! Each ball of dough personally dipped in cinnamon butter and rolled in brown sugar, then plopped into the pan. The pieces rise and bake together into a fragrant, caramelized work of art. As forgiving as it is delicious, if all of my opposable thumbs can bake it, yours can too.

MONKEY BREAD

(adapted from America’s Best Lost Recipes)

1 stick + 2 tablespoons butter

1 cup milk

1/2 cup water

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 package rapid rise (instant) yeast

3 1/4 cups flour + extra for kneading

2 teaspoons salt

1 cup light brown or raw turbinado sugar

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

  • Grease a bundt pan or something similar. Preheat your oven to 200 degrees F and turn it off when it comes to temp. This is the perfect environment for the dough to rise.
  • Start the dough by melting the 2 tablespoons of butter in a small pot.
  • Add the milk and water and heat gently to about 110 degrees F.
  • Place the warm milk mixture in a measuring cup and add the 1/4 cup granulated sugar and the yeast. Within a few minutes the yeast should bloom, making floury looking bubbles on the surface. (If it does not….start over with new yeast!!)
  • In a large bowl, mix the flour and the salt. Make a well in the center of the flour and pour in the liquid ingredients.
  • Stir until ingredients are incorporated and the mixture becomes heavy to stir. Stop.
  • Flour your hands and the workspace. Gather the dough and turn it out onto the workspace, kneading until a smooth ball forms (adding touches of flour as necessary), about 5-10 minutes.
  • Place the ball of dough into a greased bowl and lightly coat the top of the dough with non-stick spray. Wrap the bowl with plastic and place it in the 200 degree oven that has been turned off!!!
  • Allow to double in size, at least one hour.
  • While the dough is rising, melt remaining stick of butter in a small pot. Stir in cinnamon. Place brown (or raw) sugar in a shallow dish.
  • When the dough is ready, remove it from the oven and pat into an 8 inch square. Cut the square into quarters and each quarter into 16 pieces for a total of 64 small dough pieces.
  • Dip each piece in the cinnamon butter followed by a quick roll in the sugar and place in the prepared bundt. Stagger the coated balls somewhat evenly around the center of the pan in layers.
  • Cover the pan with plastic wrap and place it in the ‘still turned off’ oven for a second rise, about one hour or until puffy and risen 1-2 inches above the rim of the pan (see photo above).
  • Remove pan from oven, and turn it up to 350 degrees F. Take the plastic wrap from the bread and bake until the top is deep brown and bubbling around the edges, 30-35 minutes.
  • When done, cool only 5 minutes in the pan or else it will stick. Turn it out onto a platter and enjoy. Wrap in plastic for overnight storage.

64 cinnamon-butter-sugar coated balls in a makeshift bundt pan.

Oven landslide….what, me worry? Those were the tastiest bits.

Oh yeah, read some of my golden baking rules here.

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