I have always assumed that monkey bread gets its name from the fact that you need to pull it apart with your fingers to eat it, getting all sticky from cinnamon and caramel as you indulge in bite after bite of warm, sweet bread. The bread is nothing more than a big pile of dough balls that have been dunked in butter and sugar before baking. If you like gooey, sweet cinnamon rolls and warm, sugary donuts, you will love monkey bread.
There are a lot of recipes for monkey bread that use refrigerated biscuit dough. This bread is made entirely from scratch, starting with a simple, yeasted bread dough. The dough only has a little bit of butter and sugar in it to give it some flavor; the vast majority of the flavor of monkey bread comes from the butter, cinnamon and sugar coating that the dough is dipped into. I did give in and add a tiny bit of vanilla to the dough – although you could certainly leave it out – for a little bit more flavor.
It’s helpful if you have an assistant (or child) for making this recipe, as your fingers tend to get a bit messy when working with the dough. The balls are formed by hand, loosely rolled from small pieces of dough. Each one needs to be dipped in butter and rolled in sugar before it goes into the bundt pan for baking. The process doesn’t take too long and certainly isn’t difficult, but it’s nice to have two sets of hands moving things along (plus, the dough is easier to handle if your fingers aren’t covered in butter and sugar).
Monkey bread can really be made in any size or shape of pan, but it is most often found in a ring shape, like that of a bundt or kugelhopf pan. This large ring makes for a great presentation, and it also makes the hands-on food easily accessible to a big group – making it perfect for a family brunch or other get together.
Classic Monkey Bread
1/4 cup water, warm (100-110F)
2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast (.25-oz)
3 – 3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3 tbsp sugar
1 large egg
2 tbsp butter, melted
3/4 cup milk, warm (100-110F)
2 cups brown sugar
1 1/2 tbsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/2 cup butter, melted
Lightly grease a standard 10-in bundt pan with vegetable oil. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer (all mixing can be done by hand, as well), combine warm water and yeast. Let stand for 2 minutes, until yeast is slightly foamy.
Stir in 1 cup of the flour, along with the salt, sugar, vanilla, egg, 2 tbsp melted butter and warm milk. Mix well, until dough is fairly smooth. Put the dough hook attachment onto your mixer and gradually add in the remaining flour, mixing at medium speed until dough comes easily away from the sides of the bowl. Knead for 3-4 minutes on medium speed. Remove dough hook and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest for 30 minutes.
In a small bowl, whisk together brown sugar and spices. Place melted butter in a nearby bowl and get a fork out, as well.
Turn dough out onto a very lightly floured surface and gently deflate so that dough is relatively flat (maybe 1/2-3/4 inch thick) Using a knife or a bench scraper, cut off small pieces of dough to form 1/2 to 1-inch balls (I prefer slightly smaller ones, personally). As you cut each piece of dough, roll it into a ball in the palms of your hands. Dunk each ball in butter, use the fork to remove it and transfer it to the sugar mixture to be thoroughly coated. Place all coated dough balls into prepared bundt pan.
Once all balls have been coated and places in the pan, cover the pan lightly with plastic wrap and let bread rise for 60 minutes, until almost doubled in size.
Preheat the oven to 350F while the bread rises.
Bake for 30-35 minutes. Bread will spring back when lightly pressed.
Let bread cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a serving platter. Eat immediately (or reheat leftovers), as the bread is best served warm and gooey.
Serves 10 (or 4-5 people with big sweet tooths!)