Judging by the lack of yeast based recipes on this blog you’d never guess that I actually love baking homemade bread, pizzas and such. It wasn’t always this way. At one time I had a genuine fear of making yeast based goods. Because of this I may have avoided adding these recipes to the blog in an attempt to save you all from the disappointment I faced when I first began working with it. I apologize for that and you’ll be happy to know I intend on posting more yeast based recipes. Cinnamon buns anyone? Homemade donuts? how about Martha Stewart’s Chocolate Babka boasting 2 full pounds of chocolate! We’ll get to all those soon enough but in sticking with tradition you know you have to crawl before you can walk. If you already made the pizza dough I posted-kudos to you, you’re on your way to walking. If you didn’t, it’s ok, today’s post should have you running to the supermarket to grab up all the ingredients to make this mouth-watering sweet yeast bread-fears be damned!
Let me introduce you to monkey bread: soft, yeasty balls of dough cooked together to form a large clump of sweet bread. Awfully good and reminiscent of a cinnamon bun except monkey bread is unique in its appearance. Instead of one solid piece of bread you get lots of balls of bread stuck together with caramel sauce once baked. This makes for delicious fun plucking the little balls from the bread whether you do it alone or with friends (its great party food). Apparently that’s how it was named-from that plucking monkeys do while grooming and retrieving bugs off of other monkeys. No matter the origins of its name you only need to know that it is delicious.
I am hooked on this bread with its soft texture and pleasing aroma. However, I cannot in the spirit of being honest brag about how easy this recipe is. If I said that, it would be misleading and when you are elbow deep in dough and kneading until your arms are sore you will be calling me names that I would rather not be called. With that being said just know you’ve been advised it does require some work. I can tell you that by the time I had rolled, buttered, sugared and placed the 64th ball in the pan I had resolved that this would be a once a year endeavor at best.That was until I tasted one of those buttery clumps. My family proclaimed it to be like a bunch of little cinnamon buns stuck together. And the icing! I added a couple of tablespoons of real maple syrup to the cream cheese glaze just for a different taste. If I’m lucky I can stop myself from making this once a month! Make this now because I’ll tell you it’s perfect for holiday brunch and you’ll want to have one (or two) on hand when you’ve got family running in and out.
Monkey Bread, adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Note: I used a special monkey bread pan and that’s why my bread came out high. You can use a bundt pan or tube pan just know that your bread will be more wide than tall. Which is perfectly fine.
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick or 2 ounces) unsalted butter, divided (2 tablespoons softened, 2 tablespoons melted) Note: the softened butter is for buttering the pan
1 cup milk, warm about 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
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
8 tablespoons unsalted butter ( 1 stick) melted
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. Note: Warm the water and milk together until 110 degrees and remove from heat, melt butter in microwave and add to warmed milk/water along with sugar.
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. Note: I added a tablespoon or two of real maple syrup to this and it gave the glaze an awesome maple-y flavor.
Drizzle the glaze over warm monkey bread, letting it run over top and sides of bread. Serve warm.