Sunday, February 3, 2013

Monkey Business

For the February Don't Call Me Chef column (which appears in The Star the first Monday each month, i.e tomorrow. Will post link up soonest), we (Jane, Ivy and I) decided to write about the one ingredient or dish that we love most. With Valentine's day around the corner and all, I decided to declare my undying love for the one ingredient I would not give up for anything (well, lets not jinx it. For almost anything): Butter.

I love butter. Don't give me margarine or shortening. It's butter all the way, baby. Butter on my toast. Butter in my omelette. Butter in pastry. Butter in my bread. Well, in this case, it's butter in and on my bread.

Monkey bread is a yeasted pull-apart bread that is soaked in butter. Oh Mamma! There is butter IN the dough. Then, once the dough is ready and shaped into tiny balls, it is dipped in MELTED BUTTER and then coated in a cinnamon-sugar mix. THEN, the leftover butter is drizzled on the balls of dough that have been staked in a baking pan before it goes in the oven.

What you end up with is a lumpy and marbled bread ring that just glistens with ... BUTTER.

I've always wondered where this bread derived its name. It sure doesn't look like a monkey. So I did a little digging (you tend to have some time on your hands when you bake bread; waiting patiently for the dough to rise). There are many theories as to the origins of the bread: that it was influenced by the crescent-shaped Parker house rolls that are baked side by side, that they were named after the Chilean Monkey Puzzle tree (I googled it and it takes some imagination to see the resemblance) or that it was named by silent film actress ZaSu Pitts and her neighbour Ann King who dubbed the neighbourhood children "meddling monkeys" for pinching the freshly baked breads the ladies used to make. King apparently went on to open a bakery some time in the 1940s which became known for this sort of bread.

The stories vary but the bread can definitely be traced back to as early as the 1940s. Apparently former US first lady Nancy Reagan amped up its popularity once again when she served a version of the bread at a Christmas tea some time in the 1980s.

No matter the history, this bread is delicious. Soft, sweet, buttery goodness. Perfect for breakfast and, if there is any leftover, for tea too.

The only issue I had was handling the dough which was pretty sticky. I tried kneading it with my hands right from the start, for I love the feel of dough as it is worked, but I had to leave off after a few minutes and let the dough hook of my mixer do the work for me in the initial stages. The dough was just a little too sticky. Not wet, but almost there. After about five minutes in the mixer, it became not just smoother but easier to handle, allowing me to switch back to using my hands. Nice!

Sticky, Gooey, Cinnamon Monkey Bread
30g butter, melted
1 cup warm milk (temp about 43 C)
1/3 cup warm water (also 43C)
1/4 cup castor sugar
1 tbsp (scant) instant yeast
31/4 cup all purpose flour
2 tsp salt

Cinnamon Sugar Coating
1 cup brown sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
1 vanilla bean, split and seeded (optional)

For Dipping
50g butter, melted

For the Glaze
1 cup icing sugar
3-4 tbsp milk

1 Bundt pan (or, as I did, an Angel Cake pan)

Generously butter the baking pan with some softened butter (not in the recipe) and set aside.

Mix the milk, water, 30g melted butter and yeast together and set aside, allowing the yeast to be activated.

Mix the flour and salt in the bowl of your mixer. With the dough paddle attached, start the mixer on low (speed 2 on a Kenwood/Kitchen Aid) and gradually add the milk-water-butter mixture (the yeast should be bubbly and the mixture, frothy). Once the dough comes together, increase the speed a notch and knead until the dough becomes smooth, about 5-6 mins. 

Transfer the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead with your hand until the dough gets smoother and more elastic and comes together in a ball. The dough will still be a little sticky but it can be handled pretty easily. 

Transfer the ball of dough into a lightly greased bowl (with oil or butter) and leave it, covered with a towel, for about an hour or until it doubles in size.

While the dough is rising, mix the cinnamon, sugar and vanilla beans together in a bowl. And, if you haven't already, melt the 50g butter for dipping.

Once the dough has risen, transfer it onto a very lightly floured surface and shape into a rectangle. Cut the dough into small squares, about 4cm X 4cm, or slightly smaller (I got about 30 squares).  Roll each square into a rough ball.

Dip the balls, one by one, into the butter first and then roll them in the cinnamon sugar and place them in the prepared pan, layering them as you go along. You should get about two or three layers of coated balls.

Drizzle the remaining butter over the balls; cover with a cloth and let the balls rise till it reaches the rim of the pan, about 40-50 mins.

Preheat the oven to 180C.

When the balls have puffed up, bake for about 30 mins or until the top layer is brown and caramelised and the sugar is bubbling around the seams and sides.

Remove, let the bread cool in the pan for about 15 mins before tipping the ring over on a plate/platter.

Prepare the glaze by mixing 1 cup icing sugar with 3-4 tbsp milk (depending how thick you want the glaze).

Once the bread has been tipped and has cooled, drizzle the glaze over the top, allowing it to drip down the sides. If you prefer a less sweet treat (but, why?), you can skip the glaze altogether. But again, WHY?

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