Monkey See, Monkey Do…Bake Bread!
Being a food blogger is an interesting affair. When Mike and I started Choosy Beggars a couple years ago, it was really just a place for me to record the recipes for some of our favorite meals or dishes, and for Mike to write about….well, a lot of liquor, junk food, and celebrity chefs. We were happy in our little part of a mini-web, and I still remember the first time that Mike showed me a stats counter roughly 2 weeks into things. I was floored. Ohmigod, you mean, like, 20 people have *totally* read my article and this is the coolest thing ever and WOOOOOOOOT!!!!
A few years later I will still check our stats (a bit of a compulsion, really) and my Mom is still our biggest fan. However, by far the most rewarding part of this experience has been the interaction and collaboration with people all across this great big and wondrous world of ours. I may be a disorganized dirt-dog when it comes to responding to emails (sorry guys, I’m trying to get better), but I can’t even tell you how gratifying it was to read that, for example, a young woman in Spain loved one of our roast chicken recipes which she made for her roommates, even though her only cooking device was a finicky toaster oven. I was ecstatic to talk to a reader in Japan who made our enoki beef rolls on a glorified Bunsen burner, and I became a humiliatingly red-faced and misty eyed simperer to read that our cookies and squares made up the bulk of one young family’s Christmas dessert.
Goddammit, that still pulls at my threadbare heartstrings.
Far and above, the best part of being one of the tens of thousands of food bloggers out there who feel passionately enough about food that they want to make it, eat it, and write about it all the time, is the sharing that takes place. I love reading posts from fellow foodies and trying my hand at their recipes, or at the very least gleaning inspiration from a unique technique or combination of ingredients that I never would have thought of but must try immediately else I perish away. Sure, there are a lot of schmucks out there, but isn’t that a part of life? For us, the best part of this mutual sharing, collaboration and feasting is fueled by hunger, yeast, and a healthy dose of inspiration. In fact, it came to me through Monkey Bread.
Many people grew up eating Monkey Bread, but I was not one of the fortunate. The first time I had Monkey Bread, a gooey-sweet mass of individual pull-apart buns baked in a bundt pan, was at the home of my future parents-in-law. Mike’s sister had made a big ol’ Monkey Bread with deliciously sticky icing and as we waited for the turkey to cook we all gathered in the kitchen and pulled off chunks, licking fingers and promising that each bite would be our last…right after the next one. There was something so convivial and inclusive with our laughter and chatter as we pulled off each delectable morsel, that the thought of creating a homemade yeast bread version of Monkey Bread consumed me for weeks. When we made our first monkey-inspired bread, we went for a savory version that was filled with garlic, parsley, salty halloumi and stringy mozzarella. It was utterly delicious, but to see how popular it became with the rest of the internet was the true surprise and delight.
Garlic and Halloumi Pull-Aparts
Our very first pull-apart, this savory garlic and halloumi stuffed bread, was way back in February 2009. After two years and hundreds of recipes, this is still far and above our most popular recipe…and for good reason! Salty, briny cheese and a hearty whiff of garlic take regular ol’ garlic knots and spin them out through the Middle East and into your stomach. And believe me, you will want to eat them. All. Immediately.
The most compelling thing to me, however, was seeing how the food blogging community picked up the recipe and carried it away, or found enough inspiration in this little loaf of mini-buns to create their own (absolutely delicious looking) versions which I strongly recommend that you check out. A few examples;
- Natalie from Cook Eat Live Vegetarian made a garlic and halloumi pull apart ring which is such a charming shape and would be totally welcome at any wine and cheese.
- Kulsum from Journey Kitchen did a review on our original recipe with her Garlic and Halloumi pull-aparts, and liked them so much that she followed with Garlic and Feta pull-aparts, which include black olives and za’atar, which are two ingredients that always make me drool like a fool.
- Ivy from Kopiaste, a quintessential Greek mother and creative home cook who I adore, made Halloumi and Graviera pull aparts with Greek and Cypriot cheeses.
- Most recently, Peter from Kalofagas made his own version of Garlic and Feta pull aparts and says that they were a huge hit.
Big thanks also go to Suzy, Dawn, Christa, HoneyDijonay, Jenn, Amy, Luna and a whack of other delicious people who let us know how much they enjoyed trying their hand at this cheese filled bread.
Bocconcini Stuffed Mediterranean Bacon Pull-Aparts
About a year after Garlic and Halloumi Pull-Aparts, I was feeling a yen for some variety. Well, variety and bacon. Possibly, the two were in equal measures. My thought was that if cheese stuffed bread was good then bacony cheese stuffed bread with some of my favorite ingredients, like olives and sundried tomato, would be even better. When I referred to these as the George Clooney of pull-apart bread, I wasn’t kidding. Each herby, spiced soft nugget of bread is filled with gooey baked bocconcini cheese, and layered with bacon, olives, sundried tomatoes and scallions. If I told you that the dough was rolled in a mixture of bacon fat and butter you may be horrified, but if you’re anything like me you actually just started to tingle with glee. As with our first run at pull-apart bread, this savory and cheesy-version of Monkey Bread found it’s own fans.
- Kelly from Something Shiny clearly loved the bread as much as we did, and made hers with big chunks of gooey mozzarella.
- Mandy from Bride Junk made them to stop her fiance from freaking out. Hey Mandy, SO DID I.
- Natashya from Living in the Kitchen with Puppies, who is one of my bread baking heroes, made them too…and did such a good job that she got YeastSpotted!
- TxFarmer from The Fresh Loaf tried his hand at this bread, and his deliciously gooey picture was picked up and linked back to us by a cooking site in China!
- Danielle from The Year of Nothing New, who has the cutest dresses ever, made it for her birthday. However, she also decided it was just as good at being Superbowl Bread as Birthday Bread.
Thank you as well to Lisa, Tara, Collette, Genevieve, MK, JenB, Cindy, Sally, Melanie, Kat, Chris S, Jay, Shelly, Dan and Kris for giving this recipe a shot and letting us know how much you loved it or what you would adapt for your personal taste.
Peanut Butter, Banana and Coconut Monkey Bread
After all this culinary good-will that inspired versions of Monkey Bread have brought to people, I thought that it was only right for us to write a personal ode to Monkey Breads in general. However, let’s be honest. You knew that I wouldn’t use pre-fab biscuits and cinnasugar in my genuflection to the original, right? No, I wanted to honor Monkey Bread for all it has given us by creating the penultimate Monkey Bread, if such a thing existed.
PS…I am now pretty sure that it exists.
PPS…by that, I mean that I have eaten Monkey Goodness and want some more.
You say “Monkey Bread”. I say “Honeyed Peanut Butter and Banana Pull-Aparts rolled in Toasted Coconut with a Peanut Butter Glaze and Shattered Beer Nuts”. I think we’re on the same page.
Makes 1 large loaf
- 1.5 cups milk
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 tbsp active yeast
- 1 cup whole wheat flour
- 3.5 cups all purpose flour
- 2 tsp fine kosher salt
- 1.5 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg
- 1 egg yolk
Filling & Assembly:
- 2/3 cup chunky peanut butter
- 1/3 cup honey
- 2 very large or 3 medium bananas
- 1/2 cup butter
- 2 cups extra fine dessicated coconut *
- 1 cup icing sugar
- 2 tbsp peanut butter **
- 3 tbsp milk
- 1/4 cup candied peanuts or Beer Nuts, optional ***
* I used unsweetened coconut as an excuse to consider this a breakfast snack. However, if you want more of a dessert bread than you can use sweetened coconut.
** Chunky peanut butter is perfect to add texture and interest to the filling, but your glaze will be prettier if you use smooth pb for the topping. However, if you don’t have both varieties on hand, use what you’ve got.
*** Not familiar with Beer Nuts? They are a brand of candied peanuts with a sweet and salty flavor. You can usually buy candied peanuts in a bulk foods store, and I actually like the lumpy surface of those ones better.
Heat the milk and butter in the microwave for about 1.5 minutes or until the milk is scalded and the butter has melted. This can also be done in a saucepan set over medium heat.
Stir the sugar into the hot milk and let it come down in temperature until it is lukewarm. What exactly is lukewarm? It means that if you put a clean finger in there for 10 seconds it should only feel warm and cozy rather than uncomfortably hot. Add the yeast to the milk (seriously, lukewarm. If the milk is too hot it can kill the yeast) and set it aside to bloom. You don’t need to wait until the mixture is frothy, but do check to see that the yeast has swelled and puffed which means that it is active. If after 5-10 minutes the yeast is still sitting with morose granularity at the bottom of the bowl, that means it is likely dead and you should discard it and start over with new yeast.
Stir together the flours, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Pour the yeasty milk into the dry ingredients and crack in the egg yolk.
Stir the mixture together until all of the flour is incorporated, and don’t be shy about getting a bit brusque with it. Unlike cupcakes, a bit of rough handling is a good thing for bread doughs. The mixture will be far too sticky to knead, so just cover the bowl with a tea towel and set it aside in a warm place to rise for 1.5 hours until it has doubled in size. While my yeast is blooming, I like to turn on the oven to 200ºF for about 2 minutes and then turn it off immediately. By the time the dough is ready, the oven is warm but not hot, and that’s the perfect out of the way and draft free spot to let dough rise.
Mix together the chunky peanut butter and honey for the filling.
When your dough has risen, ready the ingredients you’ll need to prepare the balls. Put half the coconut into a shallow bowl and melt half the butter into a small round bowl. I suggest only doing half at a time and refilling your bowls as necessary because the butter will inevitably start to cool while you’re forming the balls, and the coconut can sometimes get clumpy with melted butter if you don’t shake off the excess. However, you could do it all in one fell swoop and remelt as needed or pick out buttery coconut chunks, it’s really up to you.
Peel and then slice a banana into fairly thick 1/3″ slices. Leave the other bananas whole until ready to use which will prevent oxidation.
Pinch off a small amount of dough about the size of a ping pong ball (or golf ball? You guys, I don’t “do” sports) and flatten it in your hand. The dough will be sticky, so greasing your hands a bit doesn’t hurt. Spread the dough until it is 2.5″ in diameter and dollop a generous teaspoonful of honeyed peanut butter in the center. Lay the banana on top. Draw the sides of the dough up to form a bundle and mold it in your palms until you have a small and fully enclosed ball.
Roll the peanut butter and banana stuffed dough ball in the melted butter and shake off as much of the excess as possible.
Roll the buttered ball in shredded coconut.
Space the prepared balls of dough evenly in a large ungreased bundt pan, layering the balls as you fill the pan. If there is any leftover coconut at the end, feel free to sprinkle it on top.
Cover the bundt pan with a clean tea towel and set it aside to rise for 45 minutes, or until the balls have plumped up and filled in any room between them in the pan.
While the dough rises, preheat your oven to 350ºF.
Bake the monkey bread in the center of your oven for 35-45 minutes, or until the coconut on top is well browned and toasted and the bread feels lighter and hollow when rapped. It should be firm with a slight spring rather than soft when you rap it. If the coconut is starting to brown too much, tent the top of the bread with tinfoil and continue baking. You don’t want to underbake the bread or the balls in the center will be doughy.
Let the bread cool in the pan for 15 minutes before inverting the dish onto your serving plate or cake stand.
While the bread is cooling, make your glaze by beating together the peanut butter and icing sugar and adding milk until you have a nice glaze. It should not be runny, but rather thick enough that it can be dolloped or thickly poured with a spoon.
When the cake is warm but not hot, drizzle the glaze over top and let it seep down the sides of the cake. While the glaze is still fresh and sticky, coarsely chop the candied peanuts/beer nuts and sprinkle them on like a glorious crown of sticky nuts.
(that sounded a lot dirtier than I anticipated)
So seriously, this is not your Grandma’s monkey bread with the canned refrigerator biscuits and cinnamon sugar. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, because monkey bread is delicious no matter what goes in there.
…except there’s a difference between “delicious” and “I’m going to eat you for breakfast, first snack, second snack and late night snack as long as nobody is looking”.
There is such a delightfully innocent and pure pleasure in pulling off a warm ball of dough from homemade bread, which is why pull-aparts are always such a charm. Even a foul mouthed and mean-eyed young adult like me still feels a charming sense of whimsy clawing into these twee little nuggets of peanut butter and love.
Like a Frankenstein hybrid of a peanut butter and banana sandwich mating with a cinnamon roll, to me that means that it is perfectly acceptable to eat this for breakfast. Every day. Maybe for lunch sometimes too, because pb&b with a hit of toasted coconut…who can contest the greatness of that combination??