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!
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…
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.
[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.