But heck, life gets busy, I was
Monkey bread and I go way back, like, way back to 1993 when my now-Aunt Trish was first dating my Uncle Erik and she would bring a pan of it to family picnics and parties. It's sort of her thing. I was completely enamored by it, the cinnamon and sugar, the tiny bit of biscuit pulling away from the full loaf with a gentle tug. The fact that each piece was rolled in warm, melted butter probably had a lot to do with my little love affair, but I can't be sure. I bet that's why he married her.
Aunt Trish showed me how to make it in the olive green kitchen of my Pop's old house, busting the biscuit cans open with the back of a spoon and quartering the pieces of dough, sloshing butter and cinnamon and sugar and happiness into the pan. Even now, at Christmastime, it's the first thing to disappear from the snack table despite the fashionable spread of peppermint meringues and clementines - we all want the monkey bread.
It never occurred to me that there might be another way to make it until I stumbled across this recipe and it, of course, blew my mind. In exchange for the biscuits came a soft, pleasantly pliable yeast dough, swathed in browned butter for an extra heft of nutty, buttery taste, rolled in brown sugar and roasted cinnamon instead of white sugar and baked until it's bubbly and crispy on the outside and gooey-soft on the inside. Have mercy.
It does take a quite a few more steps than the standard biscuit method, but the syrupy glaze coating each piece (which I've never found in the old-school method) makes it worthwhile. My only beef with this recipe? The shelf life. This cake, err - bread, was delicious when we first took it out of the oven but the next morning when I headed straight for the cake stand in lieu of a bowl of cereal, I was disappointed to find the bread wasn't quite as soft and tender as the day it's baked. I'm still asking myself how it's possible that there were any leftovers in the first place.
The original recipe called for a cream cheese glaze to top it all off, and I'm sure it would be just fine, but I don't like anything to hide all that cinnamony-goodness.
Browned Butter Monkey Bread
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick or 2 ounces) unsalted butter, divided (2 tablespoons softened, 2 tablespoons melted)
1 cup milk, warm (around 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 (CI advises against dark brown, which they feel imparts too strong of a molasses taste; I suspect it wouldn’t bother me)
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick or 4 ounces), melted and browned
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 large measuring cup, mix together milk, water, melted butter, sugar, and yeast.
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.
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 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. 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.