Joanne Chang’s Cinnamon Sugar Monkey Bread
Joanne Chang’s newest book, Baking with Less Sugar, takes recipes, such as this classic Monkey Bread and gives is a less sweet makeover. Some of the recipes explore alternative sweeteners such as fruit juice concentrates, maple syrup and moist dates among others, while others simply reduce the granulated sugar content. There is even a chapter on how chocolate (and its inherent sweetness) can create delectable desserts with no additional sugar. No easy feat, especially with a recipe such as this that depends on the buttery sugary sticky topping. I mean, come on, we all know the raison d’etre for Monkey Bread is the sweet gooey-ness, right? Joanne knows her ingredients and technique and has created a Monkey Bread that gives us the sweet satisfaction we crave with much less sugar. Also check out her Strawberry Cream Cheese Fool that uses apple juice concentrate for sweetener and adds cream cheese for body and tang.
Excerpted with permission. Baking with Less Sugarby Joanne Chang (Chronicle Books, 2015). Photos Joseph De Leo.
Certain desserts just don’t seem destined for a low-sugar makeover. I didn’t even attempt to make angel food cake—which relies on sugar to stabilize the egg whites in the batter—or caramels—where sugar is the main ingredient. One of my pastry chefs Jon and I were tossing around other desserts that would be difficult to make with little sugar when he piped up, “MONKEY BREAD!” We both stopped for a second and looked at each other—and the challenge was on! Monkey bread, according to most theories, gets its name from the little balls of dough that bake all together and then you pluck them one by one to eat them, similar to a monkey who likes to pluck at, well, everything. The bread dough is a simple, rich dough that gets dipped piece by piece into butter and cinnamon sugar. Before baking, you pour a cream-butter-sugar mixture over the whole thing and it bakes into the dough, leaving a light caramel topping on the little breads. It’s definitely not as gooey and tooth-achingly sweet as a traditional monkey bread recipe, but it is crazy delicious. After a while Jon and I kept making this under the guise of “more testing,” but in reality it was just because we loved eating it so much.
- 180 g/¾ cup whole milk, at body temperature (when you put your finger in it, it should feel neither cold nor hot)
- ½ tsp active dry yeast or 3 g/ 0.1 oz fresh cake yeast
- 280 g/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus up to about 35 g/¼ cup more, if needed
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 3 Tbsp unsalted butter, very soft
- 1 egg yolk
- 115 g/½ cup unsalted butter, melted
- 100 g/½ cup sugar
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon
- ⅔ cup heavy cream
- To make the dough: Lightly oil a large bowl.
- Using a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment or in a medium bowl, combine the milk and yeast and let sit for 20 to 30 seconds to allow the yeast to dissolve and activate. Dump the flour and salt onto the milk, and carefully turn the mixer on medium-low speed. (Or use a wooden spoon to mix the flour into the milk, and switch to using your hands to mix the dough when it gets too stiff.) Let the dough mix for about 10 seconds. (To prevent the flour from flying out of the bowl, turn the mixer on and off several times until the flour is mixed into the liquid, and then keep it on low speed.) When the dough is still shaggy looking, add the butter and egg yolk.
- With the mixer still on medium-low speed, knead the dough for 2 to 3 minutes, or until it starts to come together into a sticky dough. (If making by hand, continue to knead the dough by hand; it will be very sticky and soft, but keep turning it over onto itself and folding it in half and punching it in the middle to encourage the dough to develop more stretchiness.) The dough will be somewhat soft and tacky and have a bit of a stretchy consistency. If it is much stiffer than this, mix in 2 to 3 Tbsp water; if it is much looser than this, mix in 2 to 3 Tbsp flour.
- Transfer the dough to the oiled bowl. Cover the bowl loosely with a piece of plastic wrap or a damp lint-free cloth. Place the bowl in a draft-free, warm place (78 to 82°F [25 to 28°C] is ideal; an area near the stove or in the oven with only the pilot light on is good) for about 2 hours. The dough should rise until it is about double in bulk. (This is called proofing the dough.)
- When the dough has doubled in size, dump it out onto a well-floured work surface and stretch it into a long rectangle about 12 in by 4 in [30 cm by 10 cm]. Using a bench scraper or a knife, divide the dough the long way into four narrow strips, each about 1 in [3 cm] wide. Then divide each dough strip into eight pieces so that you end up with thirty-two little nuggets total.
- Butter and flour an 8-in [20-cm] round cake pan with sides that are at least 2 in [5 cm] high. Put the melted butter in a small bowl.
- In a separate small bowl, mix together the sugar and cinnamon. Roll each dough nugget into a little ball and dip into the melted butter, shake off any excess butter, and then roll around in the cinnamon sugar. Place the nuggets in the prepared cake pan, close to each other, but with a little space in between each nugget, to cover the bottom of the pan. When you fill up the bottom of the pan, continue by stacking them on top of each other. When all of the nuggets have been buttered and sugared, drape a piece of plastic wrap or a damp lint-free cloth over the cake pan and let sit in a draft-free, warm place for another 1 to 11/2 hours. When the nuggets have proofed—that is, when they have grown in size and feel soft and puffy— they are ready to bake.
- Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350°F [175°C]. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining butter and cinnamon sugar and then whisk in the cream. Pour this mixture evenly over the top of the nuggets (it will drown the nuggets) and place the cake pan in the oven. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, or until the tops of the nuggets have turned light golden brown, rotating the pan about halfway once during baking.
- Remove the monkey bread from the oven and let sit for about 5 minutes. Invert the bread onto a serving plate. If there is a little bit of goo on the bottom of the cake pan, scrape it directly onto the monkey bread with a rubber spatula (or whisk in 2 to 3 Tbsp cream or water to thin it out and pour it over the monkey bread). Serve warm.
- The monkey bread is best enjoyed the same day you bake it, but it can be stored at room tem¬perature in an airtight container for up to 2 days. If desired, rewarm the bread in a 300°F [150°C] oven for about 10 minutes.