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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Monkey Bread

I’m kind of fascinated by 1950’s cookbooks. My mom gave me a collection and I always look for more so I can browse through the delicate pages when in a thrift store or an antique shop with vintage housewares (which, incidentally, is also the best place to buy pre-seasoned and well-loved cast iron pans). I get a little queasy when I get to the jello mold section or the tuna casserole or chicken salad heaped onto a bed of lettuce. Or anything made with the canned cornstarch goop called creamed corn. Yikes! But still, there is just something about them that says home. I imagine that food in that time came to be closely associated with the comfort of home.

One day, my boyfriend’s father was pouring over some coveted recipes he had collected while in the military. If you’ve seen popular military recipes before, then you know that they involve obscene amounts of meat, salt, fat and carbs. And sometimes they have “dirty language” names. One of his recipes that caught my eye was for Monkey Bread—a seemingly harmless pull-apart bread made with bits of dough baked in butter, cinnamon and brown sugar. I had seen this dish in plenty of old cookbooks, but I had never actually had it and, these days, I think you could even call it a bit of a dying art. Sometimes Monkey Bread was made with a homemade sweet yeasted dough, but once refrigerated biscuit dough rolled out onto the scene, you couldn’t pay housewives to stop serving it. Apparently, even Nancy Reagan served Monkey Bread at the White House. Now, that’s a dish that says A-m-e-r-i-c-a.

There are a few naughty, naughty recipes that I feel completely guilty making, usually due to the high fat content or artificial/hydrogenated ingredients. Like buffalo chicken dip. Or anything else that calls for a whole block of cream cheese or butter. It’s like I have to close my eyes and hold my breath while making it just like I would do when trying to hold my breath and swim a lap or drive through a tunnel. I just wait to get to the end and then declare that the dish has been made and there is nothing I can do about it, except eat it or share it. That's when I a) whisk it away to a picnic or party before I eat it all, b) invite friends over impromtu, or c) leave it on a neighbor's doorstep, knock and then run away.
Monkey bread is one of those kind of recipes. I find it really satisfying to pick off the nub that calls out to me. You bite into a soft dense pillow-like biscuit enrobed in a sweet carmelized sugar glaze. Plus, you would not believe how easy it is to make in comparison to how delicious it tastes. You cut up some biscuit dough and toss it in a bag with some cinnamon and sugar. Then you melt a ballsy two sticks of butter and some brown sugar. Dump the coated dough bits into a bundt pan (shape is totally irrelevant). Pour over the butter-sugar glaze and bake. That's it. The ratio of work to pleasure is so disproportionate, it's shocking.

You should also take comfort in the fact that any (and possibly all) potential guilt about making this dish will be quickly soothed over by an overwhelming cascade of compliments and oh-my-god-I-need-that-recipe praise. And with good reason. It is down right addicting in some magical way that couldn’t possibly just be broken down into dough, cinnamon, sugar and butter. The sum of these parts transcend this dish to a whole other ethereal galaxy. Just make it. You’ll see what I’m talking about. And then people will ask you for the recipe. And you can share it. And so on and so forth. And, together, we can revive this dying culinary art from 1950’s called Monkey Bread.


* 1 cup white sugar
* 3 tsp. cinnamon
* 3 cans of refrigerated biscuit dough (buttermilk is good, but I don't recommend using the artificial butter flavor)
* 2 sticks of butter
* 1/2 cup brown sugar
* 1/2 cup pecans (optional)


* Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
* Cut the rounds of dough in half and then cut in half once more (so you have 4 pieces of the same size)
* In a resealable bag, mix the white sugar and cinnamon together and add the wedges of dough.
* Close the bag and gently toss the dough to coat all pieces.
* If you are going to use nuts, sprinkle them around the bottom of the pan--be sure to use a bundt pan or angel food cake tin (do not use a springform pan because the sugar syrup will leak out and create a big burnt mess in your oven!).
* Pour the dough pieces and any extra sugar mixture into the pan.
* Over medium heat, melt the butter in a saucepan and add the brown sugar.
* Continue stirring until the sugar melts into the butter to create a syrupy glaze.
* Pour the butter glaze over the biscuit pieces (try to evenly coat all of it).
* Bake for about 35-40 minutes until top is golden brown.
* Allow to cool for 15-20 minutes and then invert onto a serving platter.

Note: I try my best to avoid hydrogenated products, so I look for an all-natural version of biscuit dough (yes, it does exist). Or you can make your own dough.


Jase said...

I can vouch that this dessert will melt your face off. Ridiculous.

Brian Yaeger said...

It didn't come out quite as good as yours, but the fact that it was devoured proved it didn't need to be. Proof that even I can't mess up bread, sugar, cinnamon, and buttah. An instant staple.