You guys know about monkey bread, right? It’s a pull-apart loaf made from bits of dough that have been rolled in lots of melted butter and sugar. Why it’s called monkey bread is anyone’s guess (though as Nancy Reagan not-so-famously claimed, the bread got its name ”Because when you make it, you have to monkey around with it.” Yep, I think Nancy was onto something.)
It’s the right time for invoking presidents and first ladies; tomorrow is inauguration day, and this city is once again thrumming with the energy of the millions of people here to partake in celebration. We’ve got house guests, and we’ve got the tv tuned to the right channels, but this time, instead of venturing out into the cold to be part of history, we’re taking it all in from our couch. We and our house guests are planning to cuddle up with something warm and sweet and chewy and delicious. It might just be monkey bread.
A good monkey bread is a thing of beauty, if you get a chance to see it before it’s gone. One of my college roommates used to bring monkey bread back with her from winter break, at which point six no-longer-growing ladies would rush the kitchen and destroy the thing in seconds. I’d never made it from scratch before this year, but after discovering how easy it was to make, I haven’t exactly held back.
Now imagine that big pile of dough dipped in butter and sugar was also shot through with warm spices and molasses. I KNOW. What you end up with is a big pile of really flavorful dough, dipped in butter and sugar that – call me crazy – tastes way better than just plain brown sugar. Like some of the molasses secretly defected from the dough and bolted for the sticky bits.
It’s called Monkey (Ginger)Bread, and it came to me by way of Food52, of course. It’s creator is a woman named Arielle, who has several winning recipes on the site (that you should check out, and make, and eat.) We ate the monkey gingerbread with chai tea, and were chai a slightly less adult beverage, I’d have felt it totally normal to go put on one of those onesie pajama ensembles with the grippy feet. What can I say? It’s warm-cuddly food. Perfect for this weather.
Adapted from Food52
For the dough:
1 packet (1 tablespoon) dry yeast
1/3 cup warm water
4 tablespoons (half a stick) butter, divided
1 cup whole milk
1/4 cup molasses
3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter, melted
1 cup packed light brown sugar
Combine yeast and a pinch of sugar with the 1/3 cup warm water in a small bowl. Stir to combine, and let sit until frothy.
Combine 2 tablespoons butter, milk, and molasses in a small saucepan and heat until the butter has melted. Set aside to cool.
In the bowl of a stand mixer or a large mixing bowl, combine all the dry ingredients and mix until well combined. Add yeast, then milk mixture, and mix for about 5 minutes, until completely smooth. (You can do this with a mixer or with your hands. At the beginning, the dough will be quite sticky; if dough is too sticky to work with, add up to 1/4 cup extra flour, tablespoon by tablespoon, until dough is workable.)
Turn dough onto a counter and knead a minute or two longer, until dough is smooth and soft. Coat a large bowl with oil. Put dough in the bowl and turn to coat in oil, then cover with plastic and set in a warm spot until doubled, 1 to 2 hours (depending on the temperature: in winter, it took 2 full hours – in summer, about 1 hour 15 minutes.)
Meanwhile, set the remaining 2 tablespoons butter out on the counter to soften, then use them to grease a bundt pan very, very thoroughly. Set the melted butter in one shallow bowl and the brown sugar in another.
When the dough has doubled in volume, turn it onto a counter and gently pat it into an 8-inch square. Cut the dough into 64 pieces (into 8 vertically, then 8 horizontally). Dunk each square into the melted butter, then into the brown sugar, and pile the dunked pieces of dough into the buttered bundt pan, turning the pan as you work so the dough balls are distributed evenly. When all the dough has been dunked and piled into the pan, cover the pan and let rise for at least 1 more hour, until balls have puffed up toward the top of the bundt pan. (Mine rose to about 2 inches below the top of the pan; don’t sweat how high they get – just make sure they look fluffy and light.)
While the dough proofs, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake the monkey bread for 30-35 minutes, until the top is golden brown. Remove from the oven, cool for exactly 5 minutes, then turn onto a cake stand or platter and serve immediately. Monkey bread is not meant to be saved, so please: don’t hold back. Eat up.