I’d never heard of Monkey Bread until a few weeks ago. The name immediately caught my attention. The image of monkeys picking at a loaf of bread as they would nits off each other’s backs came to mind. Charming, I thought. I wanted to know more about it.
Not that there’s much to know.
The etymology is vague. The term “Monkey Bread” has several possible origins: some people believe that the bread resembles the shape of a monkey puzzle tree, but I feel that these people are out of their heads, perhaps having fallen from the top of one the trees themselves. Other people believe that the name derives from the act of pulling the pastry apart with the fingers, much like monkeys might do, if they were presented with such a treat. I have ruled out the theory that this was a bread frequently baked and fan-mailed to the likes of Mickey Dolenz or Davy Jones by swooning teen-aged girls in the 1960’s because the spelling is all wrong. The timing, however, is only a decade away from being correct.
Also known as Hungarian Coffee Cake, Bubble Loaf, and, my favorite, Pinch Me Cake, the term Monkey Bread didn’t start popping up until the 1950’s in various women’s magazines. The dessert itself– basic yeast rolls coated in cinnamon and buttery caramel– is close kin to both the Sticky Buns of the Pennsylvania Dutch and the more savory Parker House Rolls of, say, Parker Posey.
Whatever the origin, it’s a wonderful treat that lends itself to lazy weekend mornings. Pinch off a loaf for loved ones to wake up to. Or, if you have no loved ones, bake one for yourself and then neglect to shower, change clothes, or leave your house all day, revelling in your own, sweet, cinnamon smell.
It’s a very easy treat to make. If you’re paying attention, that is. I had gotten up early to make a simple yeast dough, because I prefer making my own dough to buying pre-packed goods, as most food snobs who rebel against their ready-made childhoods do. I flipped on the oven, set the timer, and then sat down at my computer and started over-sharing on my Facebook page. I knew something was wrong when I smelled something burning after only 18 minutes of baking time.
Readers: I would suggest not cranking your oven up to “Broil” if you want to have any sort of successful baking venture. Not for monkey bread, anyway.
A quick clean up and several salty phrases later, I decided that ready-made biscuits didn’t seem like such a bad idea, after all. This is Pinch Me Loaf and I certainly was in a pinch. So I trundled off to the store and bought a couple of packages of Pillsbury Buttermilk Grands.
I am now grateful for my initial stupidity. It caused me to re-examine the dessert and the recipe. Rather than blindly follow a recipe– cooking temperature not withstanding, I now thought to make the Monkey Bread differently. The way I wanted it to taste. Perhaps, I thought, to compensate for cheating with store-bought dough. I added a pinch of clove to the cinnamon sugar, some orange zest, and a fine sprinkling of Amaretto, which made me rather happy. I hope it does the same for you.
Monkey Bread version 2.0
Home made yeast dough makes for a wonderful, from-scratch dessert but, since this is really a treat for lazy weekend mornings, I am going to place the emphasis on the word lazy and go for the store-bought variety. Scream and howl all you want, but this monkey hears no evil. Besides, slamming those biscuit packages on the side of your kitchen counter is oddly satisfying.
Serves 8 to 10 people, number of monkeys uncertain.
2 cans of refrigerated biscuits, like Pillsbury Grands
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground clove
1/2 cup whole pecans
1 tablespoon of orange zest
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
3/4 cup butter, melted
About 2 to 3 tablespoons Amaretto. I don’t know, really, since I’ve never been good at measuring alcohol.
1. Heat oven to 350 F. Lightly grease a bundt pan or other sort of tube pan with butter.
2. Combine sugar, cinnamon, and clove in a bowl (or a big Ziploc baggie if you’re feeling wasteful). Stir to combine.
3. Check oven temperature.
4. Cut the sixteen biscuits into quarters and roll them into 64 little balls. Count them, if you like. Roll balls in the cinnamon sugar. Arrange in pan, adding bits of pecan and orange zest as you layer.
5. Check oven temperature.
6. Combine brown sugar and melted butter. Pour over biscuits.
7. Bake for about 30-35 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from oven, letting the Monkey Bread rest in the pan for about 10 minutes to let the caramel cool a bit. Invert onto serving plate. Serve warm and do not cut. To serve, pull off bits and pieces comme des singes. Perhaps one might smear a bit onto whomever one is sharing it with for added effect.