Everybody Monkey Bread

Is it just me or has there been excessive numbers of “pull apart” breads in the food blog area of the internet lately? I’ve always called such things Monkey Bread, which is a much more apt name; food so fun shouldn’t be named so literally[i]… Well, at the risk of trend chasing I’ll be adding to that number right now- I noticed so many yesterday evening during the first rise of some experimental bread dough that I was practically brainwashed to add a second experiment: use half of that dough to create Caprese Monkey Bread!


Caprese Monkey Bread


You may be asking, “what made it ‘experimental’ dough”? The answer is a bit of a story. When I started baking bread frequently I used the same recipe every time[ii], only occasionally changing the proportion of different kinds of flour or what shape I baked it in. Baking the same thing a couple times a week you soon memorize it and within 6-8 weeks begin instinctively changing the flour to water ratio, rising time, and baking temps based on the weather[iii] and ambient room environment. Also, thanks to the presence (at the time) of the “Pretzel Logic” episode of Good Eats on Hulu I also added soft pretzels to my bread rotation.


 It stayed this way a long time. Then after a failed batch of dough at a friend’s house I became obsessed with trying lots of different recipes to find the reasoning behind them all. Sometimes, you get lucky and find cookbooks that explicitly say ‘we do x this way because it has y affect’, but mostly you have to try 20 or so similar recipes to figure out what each minute difference leads to in the end loaf.


I decided I understood the science, mechanics, and optional additives/processes well enough that I felt confident winging it to make any yeast bread. So today’s experimental dough was to create a French-style crusty bread with a moist interior using at least 1 cup of rye flour[iv].



On to the Monkey-ness of it all…

Pull Off a Piece of Caprese Monkey Bread


 I made a dryish small dice relish of cherry tomatoes, dried basil, mozzarella[v], and Kalamata olives. While shaping I put a spoonfull in the center of ten roll sized flattened piece of dough and pinched them closed. I dipped each roll in a melted butter-balsamic vinegar mixture and placed them in a glass baking dish. The whole dish was topped with a bread crumb mixture that included a bit of Maldon sea salt, some grated parmesan, and ground flax seed[vi]. It came out pretty amazing, tender and tasty with that silly kitsch of getting to “pull apart” a pretty “loaf”.


As per usual, improvements can be made. I think the glaze mixture should be closer to equal parts balsamic and butter[vii]. This would add to both the fragrance/flavor and the sticky caramelization around the outside of each roll. Also I would put a single cigolini piece of mozzarella in each roll instead of small dicing them to match the tomatoes and olives, there wasn’t much of the melty-stringy-cheese I was looking for. Giving the rolls more space would probably be good too. During the second rise the filling was forced upward into domes[viii] just under the crust of each roll as opposed to centers because there was no room to rise outward. Improvements aside it was tasty and I encourage everyone to experiment until you feel you understand that elusive organism that is bread dough.

Caprese Monkey Bread Interior

[i] Unless it’s a funny literal translation from a foreign language, of course!

[ii] From the 2008 edition of Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, “Fast French Bread or Rolls” pg.  856-857

[iii] Or you know, just a whim.

[iv] I used 1 ½ cups rye soaked for 2 hours in ½ cup water and 1 tablespoon butter, 3 cups bread flour, some active wheat gluten, 2tsp yeast activated in 1/4cup 110degree water, kneaded in the food processor with a dough blade rising once about 1 ½ hrs before shaping, then again for an hour baked at 450.  

[v] Thus CAPRESE Monkey Bread

[vi] I will add this nutty goodness to anything.

[vii] I just haphazardly cut, poured and microwaved today, but I would guess it was between 3:1 and 2:1 butter to balsamic.

[viii] You know, like the mysterious crawlspace between the inner and outer shells of Brunelleschi’s dome.