There used to be a local restaurant downtown where we would occasionally stop for a quick bite. We liked it for several reasons. The food was good — they had freshly-made potato chips — the shirts the wait staff wore had a dot on the lower back and written right above was “attach tail here,” but, most of all, we liked the fact that, spray- painted on one of the walls was the statement: “No monkeys were harmed.” We thought that just about summed it up. Alas, Monkey Burger is long gone from the downtown scene.
As with the motto, no monkeys are harmed in making monkey bread. It’s just a name; we have no clue why it’s called monkey bread, but, like the motto, we think the name monkey bread just about sums up the look of the resulting loaf.
We didn’t follow any sort of recipe when we made this; we just followed the idea of monkey bread, or perhaps the zen of monkey bread. Besides, we doubt that monkeys would follow any recipe, so why not? (We’ll give you our recipe to follow or not. Your choice.)
Here’s a reason we use the same basic bread recipe over and over. It’s so versatile. Other, non-scratchers, would give you a specific recipe for this dough, but it isn’t needed. Most bread doughs are nearly the same anyway, so, once you find one you like, you can make almost any bread product. In fact, that’s how most bakeries work, with a master recipe for bread dough, a master recipe for brioche dough, a master recipe for croissant dough, and so on.
Procedure in detail:
Prepare pan. Use about 1 teaspoon of the butter to generously grease a 9x5x3 loaf pan. Generous is the word here, because you’ll be baking with sticky sugar and you don’t want your loaf stuck in the pan. Sprinkle the brown sugar in an even layer across the bottom and dot the sugar using half the remaining butter. The butter and sugar will combine to make a caramel glaze to coat the bread.
Make coating. In a shallow bowl — one that will be easy to roll balls of bread dough in — stir together the granulated sugar, cinnamon, salt, and pecans.
Cut dough. Using a dough scraper or knife, cut the dough into pieces about the size of a thumb. Make the pieces small enough so that when rolled up they’ll each form a ball about an inch in diameter. If some are smaller, great; if some are larger, great. Close enough is all we want.
Roll and fill. Working with one piece of dough at a time, shape each into a rough ball — it helps to keep some of the sticky dough exposed — and roll in the cinnamon-sugar and pecan mixture to coat. Place each ball in the prepared pan. Once you have a layer on the bottom, feel free to sprinkle one more cinnamon-sugar and pecans. Make another layer. Continue until you’ve used all the dough. Finally, dot the top of the loaf with pieces of the remaining butter.
Let rise. Cover the loaf and let it rise, undisturbed, until doubled in size, about an hour. During this time, the yeast is busily digesting sugars and starches and making carbon dioxide that’s trapped in the dough, making it light and airy.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Place a rack in the middle of the oven.
Bake. Once the dough has risen, bake the loaf for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the sugars have caramelized and perhaps have bubbled up around the edges.
Cool. Let the loaf cool in the pan for 10 to 20 minutes, then upend over a large plate to free the loaf and caramelized sugars.
Eat. We guess you could slice this, but we go at it the way a monkey would, grabbing a ball of bread, tearing it off, and popping it in our mouths.
Maybe it’s called monkey bread because you do eat it with your fingers — well, we do, at least. Whatever the reason, since we make bread dough once a week, making monkey bread just falls right out. It tastes like cinnamon rolls, but is less troublesome to make. You just put it together in a pan; it’s not as if you can shape it incorrectly. We had some for a dessert that night and finished the rest for breakfast the next morning. Four stars.