Monkey business

Ah, here we have it, one of the Great Mysteries of Life: where does the name Monkey Bread come from?

You’ve got monkeying around. And monkey wrench (as in don’t throw one in). Monkey business, monkey on your back, more fun than a barrel of… colder than a brass. For some reason, monkeys make their way into the popular lexicon WAY more often than other members of the Animal Kingdom. I mean, how often do you hear anyone say “giraffe in the middle,” or “armadillo see, armadillo do”? Point taken.

So, how DID bubble bread, a.k.a. pull-apart bread, otherwise known as monkey bread, get its name?

The official word: no one knows. Some food historians posit it’s the “monkeying around” with the dough you do while shaping. Some think grabbing pieces off the finished loaf is reminiscent of how monkeys eat. And some of the more erudite even believe that “the bread resembles the monkey puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana), whose prickly branches make it difficult to climb,” according to foodtimeline.org. Really. (Imagine me sniffing doubtfully.)

Personally, I like the “monkeying around” theory. You do fool around with this dough quite a bit before it actually gets baked: cutting it into pieces, dipping in liquid of some kind, coating with sugar or cheese or cinnamon (or chocolate), layering it into a cake pan… Come to think of it, though, maybe it’s also more fun than a barrel of. After all, whose inner child doesn’t like playing with dough?

Whatever the origins of its name, this storied loaf has been around since at least the 1950s, when it was called bubble bread. I remember making it, with biscuit dough and cinnamon, in home ec. class in the ’60s. “The New York Times” first mentioned it in 1976. Nancy Reagan served it to lucky White House guests in the ’80s. Monkey bread was highlighted in the “Chicago Sun-Times” in 1997. And now here we are in the ’00s, dredging it up (or dredging it in chocolate) once again. This is one monkey that just won’t get off our backs.

If you’ve never made monkey bread, now’s the time. This recipe walks you through all the steps, which are somewhat numerous but not at all difficult. And the end result? Get some friends together and whoop it up. Maybe with a big bowl of Chunky Monkey on the side.

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Put all of the dough ingredients into a bowl, or into the bucket of your bread machine set on the dough cycle.

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Mix till everything is well combined…

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…then knead for about 7 minutes, till smooth.

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Place the dough in your favorite dough-rising container; I like an 8-cup measure, because it’s so easy to track the dough’s progress as it grows.

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Cover the container, and let the dough rise till it’s nearly doubled in bulk.

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Gently deflate the dough. You’re going to divvy it up into 64 little balls. Yup, 64. More or less. First, divide it in half.

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Then divide each half in half again, and again.

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…and again, and again…

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…and again. Give each piece of dough a quick roll between your palms to round up; don’t fuss too much. You can see these dough balls are fairly rough; that’s OK.

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Combine cocoa, chocolate chips (hidden under the cocoa), sugar, and flour in a mini processor (if you have one), or a blender or regular food processor.

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Process until the chips are finely ground. Put the chocolate coating in a round, shallow pan, such as an 8” cake pan.

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Combine lukewarm milk and melted butter. Dip each dough ball into the milk/butter, then put 6 or 7 at a time into the pan of chocolate.

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Gently shake the pan to coat the dough with the chocolate.

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Stab the coated dough balls with a fork…

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…and drop them into a lightly greased tube pan or bundt-style pan. Don’t crowd them.

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You’ll be able to make two layers.

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Pour any leftover chocolate coating on top.

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Looks kind of messy, but it’ll taste wonderful.

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Let the bread rise till the dough balls start pushing against one another. By the way, if you ever travel and stay at hotels, grab the free shower caps—they make wonderful dough-rising covers.

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Notice how the white dough is breaking through the dark coating; this is one of the signs your bread is ready to go into the oven.

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Bake the bread for about 30 to 35 minutes, then remove it from the oven.

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Sprinkle with chocolate chips…

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…and bake for an additional 3 to 5 minutes, till the chips look shiny and have softened.

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Remove the bread from the oven, and after about 5 minutes turn it out of the pan onto a rack to cool.

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Dive in, everybody!

Read, rate, and review (please!) our recipe for Chocolate Monkey Bread.

Buy vs. Bake

Buy: Macrina Bakery, Seattle, Cinnamon Monkey Bread, 1 1/4-lb. loaf, $4.95, 25¢/ounce

Bake at home: Chocolate Monkey Bread, 2 1/2-lb. loaf, $4.92, 12¢/ounce

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

comments

  1. Jenna Hilgers

    I know this was an older post, but I just found the site and clicked through all the amazing recipes! My Sunday School Teenagers LOOOOOOVE Monkey Bread so I’m always trying to find new ways to make it. Can’t wait to try this one, but a quick question. Do you think I could prep it on a Saturday and let it sit in the fridge until Sunday morning to bake it? Or do you think it would be okay baking it Saturday and serving Sunday morning? Thanks for all the great recipes!!!!

    Sure, Jenna, I’d prepare it Saturday, bake Sunday morning. You might want to get up early enough to let it sit at room temperature for a couple of hours, to rise a bit before you put it in the oven. You can just pull it out of the fridge and go back to bed for awhile… 🙂 PJH

    Reply
  2. Rocky-cat

    Two questions/comments-
    I made the bread yesterday and the first layer stayed firmly in the pan while the rest unmolded easily. I used a NordicWare Fleur di Lis pan because that’s what I had. Was the design of the pan too elaborate to facilitate easy unmomlding?
    Also, I had the same problem as a previous poster with the chocolate chip topping. It simply fused to the plate that I unmolded the bread onto. I’m thinking it may just be gilding the lily anyhow.
    But, I actually did make the bread and the family actually did like it.

    Glad the family liked it, Rocky. Try unmolding the cake onto a piece of parchment. Once it’s cool, slip it onto a serving plate. Also, if you turn it out of the pan immediately, I think it will come out OK, even with a fairly intricate design in the pan (which does, as you surmised, make it stick more than a smooth surface would). Hope you try it again – PJH

    Reply
  3. J.

    I’ve been on an everything-sourdough kick. Do you think this would work with it? How much should I substitute in?

    I think you should just leave this recipe as is. The sweetness really wouldn’t go with the tang of sourdough. If you want to experiment and prove me wrong, though, try substituting 1 cup of fed starter for 1/2 cup of the flour and about 1/2 to 2/3 cup of the liquid in the recipe. Good luck – PJH

    Reply
  4. Robin G

    Off topic, but…the photo captioned:
    then knead for about 7 minutes, till smooth
    looks like a hand holding a foot!

    Whoa, Robin – you’re right: bread sculpture! – PJH

    Reply

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