Pull-Apart Breads: shareable, delicious breads

Imagine a bread so soft and buttery that it pulls apart into tender pieces at the slightest touch. Is your dream bread crunchy with a caramelized cinnamon-sugar crust? Or rich with a garlicky butter and flecked with rosemary? Happily, any of the above, and many more, are easily achievable at home.

Depending on the shape, we call this bread pull-apart bread, or bubble loaf, or monkey bread. The Brits call it “tear and share,” and I think they’re onto something with that name.

Consider this a “choose your own adventure” bread. Start with one master batch of dough, and pick your ideal shape. At the final step of the recipe, the dough can easily turn sweet or savory: spread it with a garlic- and herb-infused butter, or roll it in spiced sugar.

Let’s get down to the bread-y business.

For the basic dough, I like to use the base of our Butterflake Herb Loaf. It’s easy to work with and yields consistent and reliable results.

For the dough, you’ll need:

1 cup milk
1/4 cup butter
3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons instant yeast or active dry yeast
4 1/2 to 4 3/4 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
2 tablespoons potato flour

Pull-Apart Breads via @kingarthurflour

Start by warming your milk and pouring it over your butter to melt it. Add the sugar and salt and let it cool slightly, then add your eggs, yeast, potato flour, and all-purpose flour.

Pull-Apart Breads via @kingarthurflour

Once you’ve mixed and kneaded your dough, let it rise in a warm place until it doubles in size. A good way to quickly check to see if your dough is ready is to press it with your finger. If the indentation remains without springing back, it’s ready to go.

Pull-Apart Breads via @kingarthurflour

Now you need to decide how you want to shape your dough. Today I’ll show you three easy techniques and a few tips for playing around with them.

Pull-Apart Breads via @kingarthurflour

The most basic shape is a pull-apart loaf. Many recipes instruct you to slice your dough into squares and stack them sideways into a loaf pan: Do not do this! The loaf rarely comes out looking neat and uniform, plus it’s a difficult and messy method.

Pull-Apart Breads via @kingarthurflour

Instead, roll your dough 1/2” thick. Using an English muffin ring, large biscuit cutter, or wide-mouth Mason jar lid, cut circles out of the dough.

Pull-Apart Breads via @kingarthurflour

Spread half of each circle generously with your filling. I’ve decided to use a softened butter mixed with rosemary, garlic powder, and salt. You could use any herbed butter, or butter with grated cheese for a gooey, cheesy loaf, or even butter with dried fruit and sweet spices.

Pull-Apart Breads via @kingarthurflour

Fold the circles in half and place them, round side up, in a greased loaf pan.

Pull-Apart Breads via @kingarthurflour

Pull-Apart Breads via @kingarthurflour

Pull-Apart Breads via @kingarthurflour

Press each folded circle into the pan until it’s full. Then cover it loosely with plastic wrap and let it rise for about 30 minutes, or until puffy.

Pull-Apart Breads via @kingarthurflour

When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350°F and bake the loaf for 22 to 24 minutes. It should be golden brown all over. You can see here how beautifully golden brown the bottom is, which is what you want!

Now let’s say you don’t want an entire loaf. When I want individual pull-apart breads for a party, I like to bake the breads in a muffin tin.

Pull-Apart Breads via @kingarthurflour

Roll your risen dough to a large 1/2”-thick rectangle. Using a knife or pizza cutter, divide the rectangle into two long halves. Spread the filling on top of each half.

Pull-Apart Breads via @kingarthurflour

Pull-Apart Breads via @kingarthurflour

Next, place one half on top of the other and slice down the dough, dividing it into four or five squares. Stack the squares on top of one another, so that you have three or four squares of dough in each stack. Place the stacks sideways in the tins of well-greased muffin pan.

Pull-Apart Breads via @kingarthurflour

Pull-Apart Breads via @kingarthurflour

Pull-Apart Breads via @kingarthurflour

Let the dough rise for another 30 minutes, then bake in a preheated 350°F oven for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown.

Pull-Apart Breads via @kingarthurflour

Pull-Apart Breads via @kingarthurflour

That’s all well and good, but what about dessert? Our last variation is the classic monkey bread. Take your risen bread dough, and instead of rolling it out as we did in the last two variations, place it on a lightly floured surface.

Pull-Apart Breads via @kingarthurflour

Pull-Apart Breads via @kingarthurflour

Grease a 9” round pan. Pull pieces of the dough off (aim for about 2” chunks) and roll them into balls. Dunk each ball in water and then roll it in cinnamon-sugar. Place the sugared balls into your pan, pressing them against each other in concentric circles until the pan is full.

Pull-Apart Breads via @kingarthurflour

You can easily make monkey bread in a tube pan or in miniature round pans. Just adjust the size of the dough balls to fit your pan. You can also dunk the balls in melted butter instead of water if you want to get decadent. I prefer the water method, as it gives the bread a fantastically syrupy crust and doesn’t taste too rich.

Instead of cinnamon-sugar, try other sweet combinations. Use a caramel or peanut butter glaze, or roll the balls in a cardamom or lemon zest sugar.

Bake the rolls in a preheated 350°F oven for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until puffy and golden brown. The baking time will change if you use a different size or shape of pan, so just keep an eye on your bread as it bakes.

There you have it: a world of delicate, buttery pull-apart breads at your fingertips. Go forth and experiment, and don’t hold back! We love to be inspired by our fellow bakers, so tell us your favorite flavor combinations in the comments.

comments

  1. Megan

    My dough kept shrinking in size when I would roll it out. Any reason why? It is baking now and looks very full and good.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Megan. When dough shrinks up that’s a sign that the gluten is very tight and the dough simply needs to relax. If it’s ever happening, cover the dough with plastic wrap or a damp towel and check back in 20 minutes. The gluten should have relaxed by that point and the dough will be much more cooperative. Annabelle@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Steve, the most common reason why yeast dough turns out heavy and dense is because too much flour is used. To ensure you’re using the right amount, we recommend either measuring your flour by weight using a scale, or fluffing and sprinkling the flour gently into your measuring cup one spoonful at a time before leveling off with a knife. (Watch this video to see a demonstration of how it’s done.) This will help you measure light cups of flour that weigh about 4 1/4 ounces per cup, and should produce soft dough that rises nicely. Kye@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Angel, this recipe makes two standard-sized loaves (baked in loaf pans that measure 8 1/2″ by 4 1/2″), or it can make one tea loaf pan (which measures 12″ x 4″ x 2 1/2″). Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  2. Jade

    I gave this a go using the 1/4th butter, I also rolled my balls in the butter and then in cinnamon sugar – they were awesome but I noticed the bread was quite dense, like a slice from a bag of bread. Is there any way to make it lighter and more holey? I don’t know the sciencey term but I thought it would be more delicate and soft roll like, but it hardened on the outside (which was nice I liked that) and the inside was quite a bit denser than expected. Can you help? Maybe I can add more yeast? Or do I need something else? 😀 Thanks so much, recipe is super awesome :D.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Jade, the term you’re looking for is “open crumb,” which refers to the small holes on the inside of bread. To make light and tender rolls, it’s important to use just the right amount and kind of flour. Be sure you’re using King Arthur All-Purpose Flour if you’re not already doing so, and measure your flour by weight for best results. If you don’t have a scale, you can use this technique to fluff and sprinkle your flour. Using less flour will make a soft dough that rises nicely and has a beautiful open crumb. Good luck! Kye@KAF

    2. Jade

      THANK YOU!! I was definitely measuring wrong. I wondered why it was so dry, I ended up adding a little milk and needing it in. Also I forgot eggs until the flour was half in so I was pretty certain this was my fault ha ha. Shouldn’t be cooking while recovering from a concussion but I can’t help it ha ha. Really appreciate your help and thank you for the quality products and recipes!! I will be retrying this one tonight…no disasters :D.

  3. Jade

    Hello

    Your recipe calls for 1/4 cup butter, but you’re using a whole stick which is 1/2 cup butter. That’s double the amount. Which amount do I need to use please? 🙂

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid

      Either will work, Jade. 1/2 cup butter will give you something more like a brioche’s texture but the bread will still be tender and yummy with 1/4 cup. Susan

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Lani, if you’d like to make a pumpkin pull-apart loaf, use this recipe for Pumpkin Yeast Bread to make the dough. Then use this technique shown here to shape the loaf into lots of little pieces. Cinnamon-sugar and perhaps a few pecans would make a lovely filling, but if you’re feeling experimental, you’re welcome to spread a bit of sweetened cream cheese between the layers. It might get a little messy, as cream cheese tends to melt as it bakes. Consider adding a few tablespoons of sugar to the filling to help it bind together. Good luck! Kye@KAF

  4. Penny

    I love this recipe and have used it several times — cinnamon sugar is my favorite. I seem to be ending up with excess butter/sugar/cinnamon in the bottom of the pan so I have to promptly remove it. I’m using 1/2 cup softened butter, 1/2 cup sugar and about 1-2 Tbsp. of cinnamon. Do you have any suggestions? Seems like the first time I made it there wasn’t enough flavor!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Some bakers simply shake the small rounds of dough in a bag of cinnamon sugar to coat the dough, others wet the dough with water and then roll in cinnamon sugar mixture. Either of these methods may help you get less excess in the bottom of the pan – especially if you omit the butter. Happy Baking! Irene@KAF

  5. Luna

    Oh my wow this turned out well! I baked a loaf and then a few muffins with the left over dough, all flavored with lemon zest and thyme. The bread is chewy and fluffy and absolutely tasty. I’ll definitely come back to make a savory version!

    Reply
  6. Jessica Cornelius

    Thank you for this awesome recipe! I made the dough in my bread machine, with a few tweaks (used flax egg instead of chicken egg, almond milk instead of cows milk) and I “stuffed” the circles with a heavily herbed olive oil blend. It came out so good! I cant wait to try out sweeter versions!

    Reply

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