Savory Monkey Bread
I have been intrigued by the concept of monkey bread – which is basically a batch of biscuits (in the American sense) baked as a single loaf or cake, often in a Bundt pan. Almost all the recipes are for achingly sweet dough, but I want a savory version to go with Michael’s carbonnade tonight, so here goes…
This is based on challah or brioche dough – with eggs, without the extra sugar or honey. You can dress it up with whatever herbs you have or like, and with whatever cheese is around. I was going for a Mediterranean flavor, so raided my winter garden for fresh herbs. This recipe is two-thirds the size of my normal challah recipe, so it makes about 12 biscuits’ worth of bread.
4g (1 packet / ¼ ounce / 1 tsp) active dry yeast
125g levain (sourdough starter) or poolish (see note below)
40g (1/8 cup) honey
160g (3/4 cup) warm water, hand hot
40g (1/4 cup) olive oil
1½ large eggs – use the remaining half for the egg wash
7g (1 tsp) kosher salt
150g all-purpose flour
150g bread flour
finely chopped fresh herbs (if available)
Grated cheese, if desired
½ large egg, beaten (for the egg wash)
Electronic scale the measures in grams and ounces; electric handmixer; Bundt pan
Boil your kettle and turn the oven on to low/warm. Stand a medium-sized mixing bowl on your electronic scale, zero out, and add the honey. Carefully pour in 100g boiling water, and stir until the honey is dissolved. Set aside while you measure out the flours and salt in a separate bowl. When the water is hand hot, add the dried yeast and levain or poolish; mix well and set aside in a warm place until frothy. I suggest a warm oven – but make sure to turn it off first!
Put the bowl with the yeast mixture on your electronic scale, and zero out. Add 50g olive oil, and the eggs. Beat with an electric hand mixer, then add the salt and flour. Beat until the mixture starts to come together as a wet dough. Scrape the sides as you go. Cover with plastic wrap sprayed with oil or Pam and set in a warm place for 20 minutes until squishy. This resting time allows the bread to autolyse; the fibers relax for better texture.
Turn the mixture out onto a floured counter, and immediately wash and dry the mixing bowl. Knead the dough enthusiastically for five minutes, until it is smooth and elastic, slightly sticky but no longer picking up flour. Spray the bowl with oil or Pam, drop in the dough, and cover closely with plastic wrap sprayed with oil or Pam. Set aside in a warm place for at least an hour until the dough has doubled in bulk. [This is when to put it in the fridge overnight, if desired.]
If you fermented this overnight, bring it up to room temperature in the morning; this will take about an hour.
Spread some flour on your counter, and dump the dough onto it. Fold over on itself several times and shape gently into a log. Using your electronic scale, divide the dough into quarters of equal weight. Cut each into quarters; you should have 16 pieces of about equal size.
Optional: toss your chopped herbs and grated cheese in a wide shallow bowl.
Spray a Bundt pan with Pam or oil. If you don’t have a Bundt pan, spray an 8” (20cm) spring form pan and line with baking parchment. Roll each piece of dough into a little ball, and roll in the herb-and-cheese mixture. Stack around the edge of the pan in two layers, leaving plenty of room for rising. Set aside in a warm place until doubled in bulk.
Twenty minutes before the end of the rise, preheat your oven to 375°F/190°C.
Before baking, brush the dough one more time with the egg wash and sprinkle with sea salt. Bake in the middle of the oven for 30 minutes. It should be beautifully bronzed; if your loaf starts getting too dark too quickly, cover it with foil for the remainder of the baking time. The best way to check for doneness is with an instant-read thermometer — the center of the loaf should be 195 degrees.
Cool the monkey bread on a rack before serving. It will cut more cleanly if perfectly cool, but hey, challah is designed for pulling apart and eating warm, so that whatever works for you.
This challah contains olive oil, so it will actually stay fresh longer than most white breads. Storage is not a problem; I usually distribute portions to my neighborhood bread group, but IF any is left over, it does freeze pretty well. Slice whatever remains, and wrap 2-3 slices in plastic wrap, then pop into a ZipLok bag. Bring it up to room temperature before toasting and eating with cream cheese or unsalted butter.
Here is a printable .pdf of Monkey Bread.
Note: I use a POOLISH instead of sourdough starter, because it’s easier to keep going and makes a less ‘sour’ result. To start a poolish (or ‘polish’ as my autocorrect insists on calling it), make a thick paste of 200g flour – all-purpose or bread flour, or a combination of the two – with water (at room temperature). Add a good pinch of dried yeast, and beat incorporating air until the paste is sloppy but smooth. Leave it at room temperature for an hour or so to activate. Store in the fridge, and feed with more flour+water paste every day or so, depending how much you use in your (daily) bread-making. Baguettes require 250g, and other types of bread take 150-180g per batch. Feed your poolish every day, keep it in the fridge, and bring out an hour before you need it so that it’s live and bubbling (and room temperature) before adding to the yeast mixture. Set aside yeast+poolish in a warm place until it’s actively frothing.