Monkey Business March 21, 2007

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I find Southern cooking – especially baking – fascinating. Truly. It’s at the heart of the cuisine here in the South, which is too bad because baking is something I don’t take nearly enough time to do. There are also all sorts of odd tricks and intricacies to the recipes that seem to be clear to, well, those people that wrote down the recipe. In the end, though, if you have your secret decoder ring on…you’ll come up with a winner almost every time.

Almost at the start of this blog, I wrote about the notion of "Mom’N'Em" and how much of Southern cooking is almost like folklore. A friend had a recipe that he wanted me to make for him…but in order for me to do that, he had to call his Auntie who then called someone else to get Mom’s recipe. Whenever I talk specifically about recipes that friends and family from the South have, it’s often more of an oral history than anything else.

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That post, over a year ago, was the catalyst for my friend Brandon and I to embark on a little personal project. Being from a family rooted in a Southern town, as well as growing up there, he was reminded of his Nana’s cooking. On a trip home during the holidays, he went scavenging for the recipes and did not come back to Atlanta empty-handed. Brandon returned with a note pad and some loose cards full of the history of his Southern family’s traditional recipes. We have vowed to make these recipes & chronicle them – gradually – in hopes of preserving them for himself…and sharing them, as well.

We chose "Monkey Bread" as our first project for a number of reasons. First, it’s something that I had never had before. I have seen someone make it once before…but never tasted it. It’s doughy goodness with sugar and cinnamon on it. Why not start with something guaranteed to be delicious? Also, it has one of the most complete recipes written down – the actual recipe is scanned above. Remember that secret decoder ring I mentioned 3 paragraphs earlier? Many of Nana’s recipes have gaping holes in them: How long do I bake it for!?! How many teaspoons is a pinch!? Good gravy. In this instance, cooking really is a science – a science experiment, that is.

In the end, it turned out to be delicious. Brandon was sort of amazed that it turned out – in every way – just as he had remembered. Pulling off chunks of the warm, gooey bread…it was a clear send-back to Brandon’s childhood and a beautiful introduction to tradition for myself.

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Monkey Bread - Nana’s recipe provided by Brandon Winslow – makes one bundt pan sized loaf

  • 1/2 cup nuts – we used roasted pecans in this case
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 cup brown sugar – i think either light or dark sugar would work
  • 1/2 cup melted butter – equal to one stick butter
  • 3 10 ounce packages of buttermilk biscuits

- Preheat oven to 350. Sprinkle nuts in bottom of Bundt pan. In a side bowl or shallow dish, combine the sugar and the cinnamon. Cut each biscuit section into quarters & roll each section in the sugar/cinnamon mixture. Layer pieces in the bottom of the pan , building rows until all pieces are layered.  Combine melted butter and brown sugar and pour mixture over the dough. Bake for 30-40 minutes until golden brown and puffy. Cool pan for 10 minutes. Invert bread onto cake stand and serve.

Editors note: The one unanswered question for me was…"Why is it called Monkey Bread?". Via the magic of the Internet, I found this very inconclusive information on The Food Timeline. While no clear answer on that front, I did find out that Monkey Bread is not just a Southern thing, despite what I thought. If anyone knows where the name comes from, leave a comment here!

Comments

doodles Mar 21, 2007 02:03 pm

I love monkey bread.now I’m gonna have to go make some THAKS!

alex Mar 21, 2007 03:03 pm

Monkey bread is a flash back for me.
I think there are a few reasons why Southern recipes tend to be vague.
1. As you mentioned it is an oral tradition. You start at an early age in the kitchen with you mom or grandmother, and from then on it is just mimicking actions.
2. Southern food tends to be variations on the same staples. In my opinion this encourages creativity and again you never get around to writing it down, you just try to remember what you did last time.
3. A lot of you “Country Style” goes back to using what was fresh and in season, This is why you see recipes that simply say “nuts” or “fruit” You can use walnuts or you can use pecans, is all depends on what is available to you at the time.
4. Southern cooks rely heavily on things like texture, scent and visual cues. Once you learn the correct consistency of biscuit dough or cake batter you stop paying attention to the note cards and just start doing it. At some point you loose the recipe and never get around to writing it back down. This also goes back to using what you have available, “walnuts tend to be a little bit more bitter, I’d better add some extra sugar” kind of thing.
5. Some things just can’t be written down. My grandmother still makes biscuits the way she always has. Start with a bowl of flower and add shortening and buttermilk until it “feels right” this is something that can’t be recorded.
6. Southerners tend to be very independent and don’t really like anyone telling us how to do it, even if it is just a cookbook.
I grew up around great cooks, that never used recipes. I’m sure this isn’t exclusive to the south, but we like to think it is.

Chris Mar 21, 2007 06:03 pm

I am such a sucker for monkey bread. I have never made it, but everytime someone makes it and brings it to work (or whereever), I am done…racing to the dish before anyone else gets to it.

peabody Mar 22, 2007 04:03 am

Many a Sunday morning was spent with monkey bread…mmmm.

valentina Mar 22, 2007 06:03 am

These pictures already catch your attention, senses, stomach..I expected to see banana in it so it was a surprise to actually learn that there are none. I am also really looking into cookery traditions.I am trying to do the same with Brazilian recipes. Loved this post.

Oda Mae Mar 22, 2007 02:03 pm

I think it’s called monkey bread because you snatch off a piece with your fingers, like a monkey would pinch a piece of banana. Not very ladylike, but fun eating!

Jessica Mar 24, 2007 02:03 pm

Just watched a show on Food Network in which the pastry chef made monkey bread. She said it was called monkey bread because the biscuits look like bananas–they sort of had a banana shape after she rolled them in the cinnamon and sugar. She also made gorilla bread–cream cheese was placed in the middle of the biscuits (so the finished bread was larger) and then she stacked the monkey bread on top.
I think I will give it a try!

Jon C. Mar 25, 2007 08:03 pm

When i lived in Hawai’i, a friend of mine — she Taiwanese from Queens and possessed of a similar sense of the priority of eating to good living — always wanted me to make/provide/explain “Shoofly Pie” to her. I never really could. I moved to the South in 1978, but from the North, so we did not have this sort of dessert in my house growing up. I figured it must be sticky and have pecans. As a perceived element of Southern cookery mythology I surely could understand her fascination each time we came to choosing and could not find Shoofly Pie amongst the Maupia and Dobash amongst the offered desserts. Having just searched, i discover: “Perhaps no other single dessert is so identified with Amish Country as is the shoofly pie.” I wonder it it was simply the folksy name that made her think it was a Southern treat?

littlepurplecow Mar 28, 2007 08:03 pm

Yum! Especially love seeing the recipe card. A beautiful tribute to Nana.

Julie Mar 29, 2007 03:03 pm

We love monkey bread,at our house we also do gorilla bread which is almost the same as monkey bread except we put cream cheese in the middle of each biscuit.

Bradley @ Sauces and Stuff Mar 30, 2007 05:03 am

I saw something like this made on the Food Network cake bake off. It looks delicious ten and still does. It would make a perfect kids cake as it is supposed to be eaten with you fingers.

adoxograph Apr 1, 2007 11:04 am

My favorite version of monkey bread is very not traditional – we made it in pastry school with croissant dough scraps, to which we added more butter and the sugar and cinnamon. Not very French, they don’t do cinnamon like we do, but I’m sure every culture that bakes has a recipe for what to do with dough scraps. The bits are the best part.

Ari (Baking and Books) Apr 3, 2007 05:04 pm

Looks delectable!

bubba Apr 3, 2007 06:04 pm

You had me until this: 3 10 ounce packages of buttermilk biscuits
:eyeroll:

tami Apr 3, 2007 06:04 pm

bubba-
as you can see from the recipe, this was made straight from an old recipe.
if you have the energy to make your own biscuit dough, i’m sure that would be spectacular.

Tony Clark Apr 3, 2007 08:04 pm

I’m pretty sure you can proportion to your desired quantity…myself, I’m going to try and eat the whole thing.

Erin Apr 4, 2007 03:04 pm

I got my recipe for monkey bread out of an Elvis cookbook my grandma gave me for Christmas one year. It’s great, but I can’t wait to try Nana’s. It’s good to make with kids, too. I made it once with a little girl I used to take care of and she loved rolling the dough pieces in cinnamon and sugar.

Tony Clark Apr 11, 2007 03:04 pm

OMG, I am in monkey heaven! I finally made the bread and I could barely wait till it cooled enough to taste. Is it acceptable to eat it for dinner?

Kitt Apr 14, 2007 08:04 pm

Fun funky monkey bread! My version, similarly handed down from a grandmother, this one in Milwaukee (decidedly not Southern), calls for 18 frozen Rhodes white dinner rolls, plus butterscotch instant pudding powder, brown sugar, lots of butter, and pecans. You put it all together in the bundt pan and then let it sit overnight. The rolls thaw and rise to fill the pan, and then you bake it.
Always a hit when you have a large crowd for brunch.

Eileen Sep 12, 2007 09:09 am

I always thought monkey bread got its name because you pick at it like monkeys pick at each other to clean themselves. Not appetizing but could make sense. Also, Ive heard the shoo fly pie got its name from sitting on the window sill and they would shoo the flies away. These are not for sure reasons but they sound good to me!

miche Jan 28, 2008 08:01 pm

I got curious myself and isn’t Wikipedia a wonderful thing?
Monkey Bread, also called “Affenbrot” (German, literally meaning “ape bread”) Hungarian coffee cake and bubbleloaf, is a sticky, gooey pastry served as a breakfast treat. It is made with pieces of sweet yeast dough which are baked in a cake pan at high heat after first being individually covered in melted butter, cinnamon, sugar and chopped pecans.

dstuart Dec 20, 2008 08:12 pm

It’s called monkey bread because it looks like monkey brains.

Whitney Edwards Apr 16, 2009 12:04 pm

Just made this and posted about it on my blog. YUM! Thanks so much for the recipe!
-Whitney

Nancy Calvaresi May 3, 2009 10:05 am

I made Monkey Bread with a partial batch of Pizza dough that was leftover from the night before. I used 1/2C chopped pecans and just winged it on the amounts of sugars and cinnamon. I also use much less butter (I was out) and it was devoured by noon. This will be a new family favorite!