Baked Sunday Mornings: Monkey Bubble Bread

I have been meaning to try making monkey bread for some time -- in October 2009, the Los Angeles Times food section ran a feature on monkey bread, including recipes for sweet and savory variations. I have the physical copy of the newspaper that I asked my father to save for me, but for over a year, it's just been sitting in my pile of recipes that I intend to get to someday. So I was happy to see monkey bread on the Baked Sunday Mornings baking schedule.

I made this bread last weekend, and the first time I made it, I realized too late that I probably did something wrong. My normal everyday baking flour is White Lily all purpose, which is bleached and fairly low in gluten. But I also keep King Arthur all purpose, King Arthur bread, King Arthur whole wheat, King Arthur white whole wheat, and either Swans Down or Softsilk cake flour on hand. Since the monkey bread recipe specified all-purpose four, I just grabbed the White Lily and used it without thinking. As the dough was going around my Kitchenaid mixer with the dough hook, I noticed that it looked quite soft, even after I added more flour. It dawned on me that I probably shouldn't have used a low-gluten flour for a yeasted bread. Nonetheless, I decided to follow through and see what happened. My dough was quite soft, very floppy, and very difficult to handle. It was extremely difficult to divide the dough into balls, and the balls were sticking to everything (including parchment paper).

Worried about how my bread would come out, I started another batch using King Arthur all-purpose flour. The difference was obvious -- the King Arthur dough had much more body and was very easy to handle. I was able to very cleanly and quickly divide my dough into 64 balls (I made 64 balls because it was just easier than trying to get 60 -- you divide your dough in half, divide each half in half, and so on and so forth until you get 64 pieces, all roughly the same size). After the second rise, my King Arthur bread was quite poofy and was much taller than the White Lily attempt -- the picture below is the King Arthur version, and the bread was almost level with the top of the pan by the time I put it in the oven.

As for the final results, I was surprised at the results of my unintentional low-gluten vs. high-gluten flour experiment. The White Lily version came out of the oven first. It looked absolutely fine. After it had cooled for a few minutes, Tom and I peeled off a ball and tasted it -- it was unbelievably good, like the lightest, fluffiest, most tender cinnamon roll in the world. Hot out of the oven, this bread was irresistible -- I was marveling at the gossamer melt-in-your-mouth texture and I am not exaggerating one bit when I say that the first thing that came to mind was, I wonder if this is what cinnamon rolls taste like when angels make them in heaven? After Tom and I were left alone with the bread for about five minutes, this is all that was left:

The King Arthur version was finished a little later, and it looked just lovely. For some reason, the King Arthur version came out of pan covered in more liquid and syrupy caramel coating, as you can see in the picture below. The texture of the King Arthur bread was not as delicate and tender as the White Lily version. But it was delicious nonetheless.

However, this bread really does have to be enjoyed warm. The bread's deliciousness and wow factor drops off sharply over time, and when it's cool, I found that the solidified caramel had cemented the bread balls together and I couldn't pull pieces off without ripping them. Tom took the leftovers to his office, giving everyone strict instructions to reheat the bread in the toaster oven before eating it.

In the future, I will probably stick with King Arthur flour to make this bread -- while the White Lily version was exceptional, the hassle to make it was a real headache. And make no mistake -- both versions were delicious!

Recipe: "Monkey Bubble Bread," from Baked Explorations: Classic American Desserts Reinvented by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito, recipe available here at BAKED Sunday Mornings.


Sheri said…
Really interesting experiment! I'm in California so we don't have White Lily here but I really need to order some so I can experiment with it. I used KAF also.

And I agree, I'm looking forward to having brunch just so I can serve this again!
Elaine said…
I have been wanting to make this for the last year too. And I was so happy when I saw it was one of the recipes selected for BAKED. I used Gold Medal unbleached all purpose and my dough was just right and I was able to easily pull it apart to make the balls. Yours looks really good with the extra caramel.
mike said…
Well - kudos for King Arthur! Wow, very impressed you tested this out! For some reason I had way too much syrup... a plate full! But oh so good! Need to try KA flour... just never had before. A beautiful loaf!