Monkey Bread

When I started this blog, I thought it would be all about family-friendly recipes that could be knocked up in a few minutes, and enjoyed by the whole family, small babies included. So far, that hasn’t really happened – I’ve found it hard to resist including recipes for chocolate mousse, cakes, brownies, etc and some other things that aren’t particularly quick or family friendly. I think that this is because, while my main cooking task is to make healthy delicious meals everyday for me, Jon and Joe, I can’t just do that, and I also want to experiment and try random new things, even if they ultimately turn out to be pointless.

Pointless. What is a pointless recipe? As long as it tastes OK and fills a hole, then how can a recipe be pointless? That is what I thought, until I made Monkey Bread. It’s not that it doesn’t taste nice – it does. It’s not that it’s difficult – it’s not. It’s just that I can’t quite see why anyone invented this food and what purpose it serves in the general culinary canon.

Monkey Bread is (of course) an American invention. Essentially, it is a “tear’n’share” bread, made from balls of dough stuck together. In its original form, it is sugary and cinammony and buttery, but I made its less common savoury sister, using olive oil and herbs. I love cinammon, but I feel like it is an overused spice in the US. When I was in DC, I felt like the months of September to January were shrouded in a cloud of cinammon – as you walked part the pumpkins outside Whole Foods, as you stepped into Starbucks with their red “Christmas” cups – it was like they pumped cinammon through the air vents everywhere to give you a warm, autumnal and festive sense. It sort of worked, but it also made you feel like you were being played, very obviously, by these big consumer giants, into believing that you were skipping merrily through autumn leaves into your village market to exchange silver coins for fresh marrows grown on your neighbour’s farm. Also, I can’t think of any particular place for a sweet, cinammony bread at my table so I thought that at least the savoury one would be something to snack on with our meals. Obviously all the recipes I saw for savoury monkey bread involved cheese, so that is definitely something you can do, but clearly not what I would do. Pointless as this bread is, the cool thing about it is that you can do anything you want to it, flavour-wise.

The picture you see above is attempt number two. We first tried this the week before, and I was running late so I sent Jon an email with the ingredients and told him to stick it all in the Kitchen Aid and make a dough, and then put it into a greased bowl to rise. I got home to find that he’d done it and dilligently sought out the warmest place in the house to let the dough rise, i.e. by the boiler. What he hadn’t done was added anything to the dough that would make it rise. This was because I’d forgotten to include yeast in the list of ingredients. Jon said, “Yes! I noticed that and thought it was funny that there was no yeast. But then I thought, perhaps there’s something else in here that would cause it to rise magically!” A+ to Jon for noticing the lack of yeast and considering its effect on the rising. B+ to Jon for thinking that there may be a magical ingredient in the dough. F to me for forgetting to include the yeast in the recipe. (We’ve made this mistake with bread before, by the way – about two weeks after Joe was born I made a bread with no yeast or salt, which unsurprisingly turned out to be a small baked rock).

So – what are the advantages of this bread? It’s quick and easy to make without any special equipment (though if you have an electric mixer it takes a lot of the pain out of kneading). Depending on what you put on it, it can certainly be a good bread for babies as it’s easy to eat and tasty. It would also be a fun thing to make with children, who would probably love rolling the dough into balls and squishing them together. If you’re having a dinner party and you want bread to be part of it (maybe to go with soup), then this would look cool on the table and it’s fun that everyone can just reach over and pull a piece off (which always looks a bit animal-like if it’s done on a normal loaf of bread).

Give this a try. But don’t be surprised if, after you’ve made it, you think, WHY?

  • 450g bread flour (you can use a combination of different flours, but make sure that at least 300g is strong white flour. We did 350g white and 100g rye)
  • 1.5 tsp salt
  • 1 packet of dry yeast
  • 250ml warm water
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 egg
  • Herbs, spices, etc of your choice, plus more olive oil or melted butter or whatever you choose. We used olive oil and fresh thyme, since that was what we had, but garlic and rosemary would be nice, and so would caramelised onions. You could also use grated cheese – I think you would need about 50g grated cheese.
  1. Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl or the bowl of your electric mixer.
  2. Combine the wet ingredients in a smaller bowl, and then add to the dry ingredients. Mix with your hands, or beat with the electric mixer. Add more flour if necessary to get to the desired consistency, which is a smooth, soft, elastic dough.
  3. If doing by hand, knead for around 10 minutes. Alternatively, use the dough hook of the mixer and keep it on low for 10 minutes.
  4. Lightly oil a big bowl (which should allow the dough to rise to around double its size) and put the dough in it. Grease a piece of clingfilm and cover the bowl tightly, and then put the bowl somewhere warm.
  5. If you don’t have anywhere warm in your house, then you can put a small saucepan of water on the hob, bring it to a simmer, then turn off and put your bowl on top of that.
  6. Allow the dough to rise to double its size – it can take 30-60 minutes for this to happen.
  7. In a small bowl, combine the extra olive oil, herbs, cheese or whatever you want.
  8. Prepare your baking dish. You could use a cake tin, or a glass dish, or anything you like. I used a glass dish which had a base of about 18 cm)
  9. Divide your dough into 32 pieces, and roll each into a ball. (I did half the dough, then half again, then half again, then half again – but I’m sure you worked that out for yourself.)
  10. Dip each ball into the bowl of oil and herbs, and then place it in the dish, forming a layer of balls all squished next to each other, and then on top of each other.
  11. Cover the dish with the greased clingfilm, and leave it to rise again in a warm place for another 20 to 30 minutes.
  12. Pre-heat the oven to 180C/350F.
  13. Put in the oven and bake for around 35 mins, or until golden brown.

*Approximate nutritional values (1 “ball”)*

  • Calories: 63.5kcal
  • Carbs: 9.5g
  • Fat: 2g
  • Protein: 1.75g
  • Sugar: 0.2g
  • Sodium: 86.3mg
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