Monkey bread was a featured recipe in various women's magazines in the 1950s. Back in the day, savory, buttery monkey bread was as popular as the cinnamon-sugar coffee-cake type bread. But now, the sweeter bread seems to have driven the savory to the point where it's nearly forgotten. I seem to remember a recipe for the savory version in a cookbook with recipes from the Harlem restaurant owned by Billie Holliday's mother, "the Duchess." Unfortunately, I can't confirm the memory -- at least not yet. I've loved savory monkey bread since I was a little boy, and feel compelled to do my bit to save it.
This stuff is wonderful. Try it.
(Makes one bundt pan)
1-1/4 cups (2-1/2 sticks) butter
1 cup half & half or light cream
4 tbs sugar
1 tsp salt
4 tsp instant yeast (such as SAF or Fermipan), or 2 pkgs dry yeast (such as Fleischmann’s Rapid Rise)
1 Egg, beaten lightly
4 cups AP flour, sifted after measuring
Grease a bundt pan well with a tbs of the butter. Don't worry if it seems like a lot of butter. You ain't seen nothin' yet. Set aside.
Scald the half & half, by bringing it to a boil (or near boil) and removing it from the heat.
Stir in the sugar and salt, and allow the mixture to cool.
When the mixture has partly cooled, no hotter than 120F, and no cooler than 115F, stir in the sugar and salt. If you’re using the packaged yeast, open the pacakges and sprinkle it on the warm cream. Allow the yeast 5 minutes or so to start bubbling – called, “proofing” the yeast. (Note: If you are proofing, the temperature range is very important. If you’re using commercial type instant yeast, the yeast will do best at a slightly cooler temperature. Allow the mix to cool to baby bottle temperature, 95F - 100F, before adding.)
While the cream is cooling, melt 1 stick plus 2 tbs butter in the microwave. Measure 1/2 cup of butter, and set it aside for the moment; set aside the remaining butter (2 tbs) as well. Also, measure, then sift 4 cups of AP flour. Beat the egg as well.
When the cream has cooled to 100F or a little below, pour it into a mixing bowl. Add the beaten egg and the measured 1/2 cup of melted butter; if using instant yeast, stir it into the liquid now. Add the sifted flour in stages, no more than one cup at a time, stirring to incorporate at each addition. You will have a very soft dough when all of the flour is added.
Brush a little butter into a large bowl to grease it all over. Turn the dough into the bowl. Brush a little melted butter onto the surface of the dough to keep it pliable, during the rise. Cover the bowl with cling wrap and allow the bread to rise until doubled in volume.
When the dough has risen, turn it out onto a well floured board and, and stretch or roll into a disc or rectangle about 1/2 thick. If you roll, (a) roll gently so as not to knock out too much air; and (b) don’t forget to flour your pin so it doesn’t stick.
Use a knife or pizza cutter to cut the dough into 2" x 2" squares or diamonds. Melt the remaining butter in a bowl large enough to dip the dough pieces. Set the bowl next to the greased bundt pan.
If some of your pieces are smaller than others, start with the smallest pieces. Dip them one by one in butter, and arrange evenly on the bottom of the pan. Then, dip the larger pieces, one by one, in butter, and arrange them in even layers, until all the dough is used. If there is any butter left over, pour it as evenly as possible over the dough. Cover the pan tightly with cling wrap.
Allow the dough to rise, until it reaches the wrap – about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, set a rack in the middle of the oven, and preheat the oven to 400F.
Set the pan on the rack, and bake 25 to 30 minutes until the top of the bread is one shade darker than golden brown. Remove from the oven, allow to cool for about ten minutes, and turn out onto a plate. Serve warm.
When my mom threw important dinners and cocktail parties she had a caterer, Katherine, who used to make monkey bread like this. The point being, this bread goes unexpectedly well as a passed or buffet appetizer with cocktails. Also, surprisingly good with barbecue.
Thanks to Katherine and to the Duchess.
PS. This is an original recipe. If you want to share it or post it elsewhere, you have my permission -- provided you attribute it to me, Boar D. Laze. I would consider it a kindness if, in addition, you would mention my eventually forthcoming book, COOK FOOD GOOD: American Cooking and Technique for Beginners and Intermediates.