Shabbat dinner at our house just got a whole bunch more fun this week. If you have never heard of monkey bread, let me enlighten you. Essentially it is a yeast dough that is rolled into small balls, dipped in melted butter, then rolled in sugar and cinnamon and layered in a Bundt pan to rise. As it spends time in the oven, the little balls fuse together like pieces of an interlocking puzzle-cake. Once it is baked, everyone pulls off the little balls of delicious dough with their hands and pops them in their mouth. As much fun to make as it is to eat. More fun than a barrel of monkeys!
How it got the name, “monkey bread” is up for debate. Some say that since monkeys are known for pulling at everything, when humans pull the warm butter drenched, cinnamon and sugar coated balls of baked dough off the finished loaf, we resemble a bunch of monkeys. Others have suggested that the way it is eaten, torn, piece by piece off the loaf resembles how monkeys pick at their food. Whatever the explanation, monkey bread is irresistible.
When I opened my inbox earlier this month and saw that Alexandra Penfold at Serious Eats was struck by the genius idea to create monkey bread from challah dough, I knew I had to try it. I make challah every week. My favourite challah dough is made with 2/3 all-purpose white flour and 1/3 whole wheat flour. Alexandra said that bread flour is best for making this version, so I followed her recipe. My mom was visiting me this week, so we made it together. I made the dough on Thursday and stuck it in the fridge for a slow overnight rise. You can make this all in one day if you like, but I find it easier to make the dough a day or two ahead of time and let it sit in the fridge until the day I want to serve it.
The dough gets divided into 64 pieces and then each piece is rolled into a ball. My mom has lots of patience for these kinds of projects. It would also be a perfect thing to do with kids! My daughter wants to make it with me when she comes to visit later this month.
Then each little dough ball is plunged into a bath of warm melted butter, followed by a dip into a tub of brown sugar and cinnamon.The challah dough balls are then layered in a greased bundt pan. After a 90 minute rise, the bread is ready for the oven. Once baked, it needs to cool for a bit before you can turn it out of the pan and cover it in cinnamon bun type of icing.
The monkey bread elicited lots of oohs and aaahs as I brought it to the table. We made the blessing on the challah monkey bread and then everyone tore into it. If you envision the best part of a cinnamon bun, that gooey center bit of dough, then you will understand the genius behind monkey bread. Each piece of monkey bread that you rip off is coated in that perfect sticky goo! After dinner, I left the remainder of the bread on the counter. It was gone by morning. I suspect we may have been visited by a barrel of monkeys in the middle of the night.Thrilled as I was by the results, I was a little disappointed that the finished bread was a bit squat, not tall and majestic as I had hoped. I suspected that Alexandra used a smaller sized Bundt pan. I used a standard 12 cup Bundt pan. So, I did a little research and discovered that there is a smaller size Bundt pan, a 6 cup size. I ordered the smaller one and made a second challah monkey bread.
I used my challah dough in this version. The smaller pan filled up quite nicely.As the bread was baking, and filling the house with the insanely delicious aroma of cinnamon and brown sugar, I decided to take a peek into the oven. Ooops!I failed to take into account that the dough would continue to rise. I felt like Goldilocks in the Three bears story. The first pan was too big for the dough. The second pan was too small. Then I emailed Alexandra to find out what size pan she used. Apparently there is a 9 inch silicone Bundt pan that holds 10 cups… just right!
The overflowing disaster monkey bread disapppeared just as quickly as the first one. The feedback I got was that everyone preferred the softer texture of the dough made from the all purpose flour and whole wheat flour combo dough, over the chewier texture from the bread flour dough. I did briefly consider ordering the 9 inch pan and remaking it a third time so my photo would be perfect for this post. My family told me that as much as they loved the Challah Monkey Bread, a third one in the span of one week was just too much fun for them to handle.
If you are curious and would like to try Alexandra’s bread flour Challah Monkey Dough, click here.