February’s Sourdough Surprise is monkey bread or pull apart bread. Once again they’ve chosen something that’s on my “I want to try that” list: monkey bread, which I’ve never even eaten before. Given that I’ve recently done a pull-apart bread (in the American style with their ‘biscuits’), choosing monkey bread was easy.
The flavour choice came pretty easily too. My mind quickly skipped from monkeys to bananas to banoffe pie. A quick Google showed me that while adding banana to a normal cinnamon & caramel monkey bread is a popular twist, nobody seemed to have done a banoffee version. Maybe it’s because banoffee pie is more a UK thing, while monkey bread is a USA thing… Whatever the reason, I’m claiming the idea as mine now :)
With my basic flavour decided I started hunting through the inspirations on Pinterest for sourdough recipes, and checking my lists for the traditional versions (unsurprisingly including Cook’s Country (subscription required)), and generally Googling to get familiar with monkey bread. The basics seem to be bread dough balls (or American biscuits) stacked in a loaf or bundt tin, covered with melted butter, sugar and cinnamon and baked. Common variants seem to include adding nuts or chocolate, and one recipe even added Rolos inside the bread balls!
Then I decided to check I knew my banoffee pies. Various cook books and websites were consulted, and my best information came from The Guardian’s ‘perfect’, Marry Berry, and Leith’s Baking Bible. The basics are a biscuit/cookie crumb base, caramel made from condensed milk, bananas and whipped cream. Common variants were adding nuts or chocolate, and flavouring the cream with coffee.
Research done I set about planning how to create a monkey bread that I could pull sticky pieces off, which including all the basic elements of banoffe pie.
The condensed milk caramel seemed like a natural replacement for the butter/sugar/cinnamon caramel. Most recipes just seem to pour the mixture over a layer of balls, but I think Cook’s Country’s system of rolling the balls in butter then sugar then stacking sounds like a good way to ensure all the balls get a good coating and stick to each other.
The monkey bread recipes with banana in them tended to stack slices of banana in with the dough balls, but I was worried that they might not stay stuck to the balls when you pluck them off individually. Then I remembered the Rolo recipe, and decided to put slices of banana inside each dough ball.
My initial thought for including biscuit/cookie crumbs was sprinkling them on top before baking… but of course you turn it upside down to serve, so that wasn’t going to work! Sprinkling on afterwards didn’t seem right, and I was about to exclude them and come up with an excuse about how they’re not intrinsic to banoffee pie, when I had an idea: I could roll the caramel-covered balls in biscuit/cookie crumbs, similar to how Cook’s Country rolled the buttered balls in sugar & cinnamon.
The whipped cream was even tricker. Clearly I can’t cook it into the bread, and slapping it on top of the monkey bread baked in a cake tin might give a good banoffee pie look, but it’s no good if I want to pull off sticky balls… Then I remembered the pizza monkey bread from Cook’s Country I’d seen during my research: they baked the cheesy monkey bread in a bundt tin and served the tomato sauce as a dip in the middle! So I’ll do the same with the whipped cream.
Finally extras. Both monkey bread and banoffee pie commonly have nuts and chocolate added. Well: I don’t need my Flavor Bible to tell me banana goes well with that luxurious nutty chocolate spread Nutella! So I’ll add Nutella along with the banana slices in each ball of dough.
So: banana slices and Nutella inside each dough ball. Each ball gets rolled in flour then condensed milk caramel them digestive biscuit crumbs (the closest we have in the UK to Graham crackers). The balls get stacked in a bundt pan and baked. After turning it out I’ll put whipped cream in a pot in the middle for dipping the sticky balls in.
Now all I need is an appropriate sourdough recipe for the monkey bread balls. Cook’s Country’s monkey bread uses an enriched dough with butter & milk for flavour, and sugar mainly to help it rise and prove quicker. Turning to the Pinterest recipes for sourdough versions I found they all used an enriched dough:
- SourSaltBitterSweet used butter, sugar and an egg
- PJ Schnyder used milk, vegetable oil & sugar
- Tandy Sinclair used milk, butter, eggs & sugar
The amount of dough seems to be a pretty standard loaf amount of around 500g (4 cups) of flour, so I’m going to start with the recipe that worked for my focaccia, replacing the lemon with eggs, and the olive oil with melted butter.
- 50g rye sourdough starter (200% hydration)
- 150g rye flour
- 300ml warm water
- 440g refreshed starter (60g back into the fridge)
- 300g wheat bread flour (14.8% protein)
- 50g rye flour
- 60g butter, melted
- 2 eggs, whisked
- 1 tsp salt
After kneading the dough for 10-15 minutes in the mixer it’s off for a 2 hour rise.
Then it’s time to construct the bread in the bundt ‘tin’. There’re quotes there as I’ve got a silicone rode bundt, erm, bowl I guess you could call it. I plan on getting a nice Nordicware bundt tin as recommended by Cook’s Illustrated, but at £37 from Amazon.co.uk it’s an expensive purchase that’s competing with many other items on my baking shopping list.
- Inside each ball
- Banana slice
- Roll each ball in
- Condensed milk caramel
- Digestive biscuit crumbs
Then off to prove for an hour before baking.
Cooking times from the various recipes are all around the 35 minutes mark, although all the American recipes are at 350F, which seems very cool for bread, while Tandy Sinclair goes for 215C but also finishes it by taking it out of the pan and cooking some more. Given Americans are the experts on monkey bread, and Tandy’s looks drier than the sticky mess I’m aiming for, I’m going with 35 minutes at 160C fan, and then start checking the internal temperature. The only recipe to give me a temperature is SourSaltyBitterSweet, but 88C seems low for rye bread, so I’ll be looking for at least 90C before I declare it done.
Pfft: after 35 minutes it was only at 45C! So back in for another 15mins before checking again. And err it was still 45C :S Trying another section it was 70C… OK this is just going to take much longer than planned… In the end after much rotating and checking it took 1 hour 25 minutes!
This doesn’t have the sticky-gooey coating of traditional monkey bread. I was expecting the caramel to goo-up during cooking, but there we go!
This cools for 10 minutes before I turn it out.
Ahhh: it’s homogenised into the shape of the bundt ‘tin’! If we want to pull off individual balls I’m going to have to turn it back over.
Also the plan to put whipped cream in the middle isn’t going to work: there’s not enough space :( So we’ll just have to have a side-bowl of whipped cream for dipping.
Now we’re going to have to spend the next month exercising the calories off :)