I was asked the other day what it is that like like about baking/cooking. Is it the eating? Is it the construction process? Is it the challenge? Is it the making something that people enjoy? When I think about it, I am sure that its a combination of all of the above, but mostly – I enjoy the construction. The mixing and whisking and folding and beating and kneading and (you get the picture right? I thought so. I’ll stop going on and on now) and then seeing if it all turns out ok. Even if it doesn’t I still enjoy it. Weird, right? I also hugely enjoy making people smile. I have been given this opportunity a few times recently and honestly, nothing beats it. It is wonderous what a little thought and a little sugar can do for someone who is having a bad day. Its like the saying (I don’t know who originally said it) which goes something along the lines of ‘a baker is a witch who conjures smiles’.
Why do I blog then? I was asking myself that same question this morning while reading an article in the latest Delicious Magazine about food bloggers. I don’t write because I think people are reading, because I am really not convinced that anyone (besides my mum) reads what I write. I don’t write because I have any aspirations to become famous or gain any type of notoriety. So why do I write? Because I enjoy riting, I always have. When I was a teenager I would start writing novels that never got beyone a dozen pages or so before I lost inspiration, but I just loved reading and wanted to write. And teh easiest thing to write about, is something that you love. I could never blog about cars or fashion, but cooking… I like to cook and I like to write about it. So I guess I do it for me. If there is anyone else out there reading this, I am doing it for you too. Thank you for reading. You’re fabulous.
So, back onto the topic. This weekend I decided to finally make Monkey bread. I had first read this recipe on Smitten Kitchen (thanks Deb, you are a rockstar). It intrigued me then as I had never seen anything liek it before, and it screamed at me. Delicious! BIG Challenge! So it was immediately stored in the recesses of my mind on the even expanding ‘to do’ list. It happened that this weekend I had a couple of hours to kill, and what better way to do it, than in attempting such an enticing endeavour.
The foundation for this ‘bread’ is a typical bread-like dough, full of yeast and flour with a bit of butter and sugar thrown in for good measure. Its absurdley easy with my trusty Kitchenaid, but if you don’t have a stand mixer, don’t despair. Just roll your sleeves up and let it be your upper body workout for the day.
I just love the look, smell and feel of dough that has risen. Its simply lovely to behold its pillowey puffy smoothness. Its soooo much fin to stick your hands in and scoop it out of the bowl onto the counter and start doing something wonderful with it. I have to confess that I was rather dubious about the whole cutting the dough into 64 pieces part. Sounded hugely labour intensive to me. I mean, 64 is a big number. But I discovered, after deciding that a butter knife was not sharp enough, and I didn’t want to leave track marks on my counter top with a hardcore knife, that with the assistance of a pizza wheel – 64 is no problem :). Just separate them as you go otherwise they have a tendency to get stuck back together in no time.
Then the little puffy balls were dipped in beautiful browned butter, and the sparkling cinnamon sugar, and laid t rest in the bundt tin. Its a rather theraputic process, the rolling, dunking, rolling and dropping. Calming and serene and accompanied by the most wonderful aromas of fragrant butter and sweet cinnamon. At first I was a bit worried about the placement of the delicate coughey rounds in the tin. How should I space them? How close together should they be? should they be in even layers? But in the end it works out best if you just drop them in. They need some space in between each other so that they can rise, and non-uniformity in the plcment makes the bread look all the more intersting. So just drop them in however you please, as long as they are not tightly packed.
The bread cooked in just 30 minutes in my fan oven, and After its 5 minutes of resting I could not wait to turn it out onto a plate. And what a sight! The sugar at the bottom of the pan had melted so as I removed the tin, the top of the bread was exposed, glistening with liquid caramel. And the smell of it was sublime. It makes my mouth water just remembering it. I managed to leave it to cool for half an hour or so before drizzling over the glaze and immediately tucking in, and boy was I not disappointed. It was worth every second of the work. The dough was soft and light and the sweet cinnamoney sweetness was complimented perfectly by the tang of the cream cheese glaze. Wow. Its fantastic. take an afternoon. make it. You won’t regret it. I promise.
Monkey Bread with Cream Cheese Glaze
From Smitten Kitchen
2 ounces/60g unsalted butter (half softened, half melted)
1 cup milk, just warm
1/3 cup water, just warm
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for work surface
2 teaspoons table salt
Brown Sugar Coating
1 cup packed light brown sugar (CI advises against dark brown, which they feel imparts too strong of a molasses taste; I suspect it wouldn’t bother me)
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
4 ounces/120g butter, melted, and browned if you wish. I recommend it. Its awesome.
Cream Cheese Glaze
3 ounces/90g cream cheese, softened
3 tablespoons icing sugar, plus extra if needed
2 tablespoons milk, plus extra if needed
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Get oven and pan ready:
Adjust oven rack to medium-low position and heat oven to 200°F. When oven reaches 200, turn it off. Butter Bundt pan with 2 tablespoons softened butter. Set aside.
In a measuring jug, mix together milk, water, melted butter, sugar, and yeast.
If you have a stand mixer: mix flour and salt in standing mixer fitted with dough hook. Turn machine to low and slowly add milk mixture. After dough comes together, increase speed to medium and mix until dough is shiny and smooth, 6 to 7 minutes. (The dough should be sticky but if it is too wet to come together into a viable dough, add an additional 2 tablespoons flour.) Turn dough onto lightly floured counter and knead briefly to form smooth, round ball.
If you don’t have a stand mixer: mix flour and salt in large bowl. Make well in flour, then add milk mixture to well. Using wooden spoon, stir until dough becomes shaggy and is difficult to stir. Turn out onto lightly floured work surface and begin to knead, incorporating shaggy scraps back into dough. Knead until dough is smooth and satiny, about 10 minutes. Shape into taut ball and proceed as directed.
Coat large bowl with nonstick cooking spray or a tablespoon of neutral oil. Place dough in bowl and coat surface of dough with more cooking spray or oil. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and place in warm oven until dough doubles in size, 50 to 60 minutes.
Make brown sugar coating:
Place melted butter in one bowl. Mix brown sugar and cinnamon in a second one.
Form the bread:
Flip dough out onto floured surface and gently pat into an 8-inch square. Using a bench scraper or knife, cut dough into 64 pieces. I found it helpful to immediately separate them from the rest of the “grid” or they quickly reformed a big doughy square in 64 parts.
Roll each piece of dough into ball. Working one at a time, dip balls in melted butter, allowing excess butter to drip back into bowl. (I found a fork to be helpful for this process.) Roll in brown sugar mixture, then layer balls in Bundt pan, staggering seams (something I didn’t do, but should have) where dough balls meet as you build layers.
Cover Bundt pan tightly with plastic wrap and place in turned-off oven until dough balls are puffy and have risen 1 to 2 inches from top of pan, 50 to 70 minutes.
Remove pan from oven and heat oven to 350°F. Unwrap pan and bake until top is deep brown and caramel, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool in pan for 5 minutes (no longer, or you’ll have trouble getting it out) then turn out on platter and allow to cool slightly, about 10 minutes.
Beat cream cheese with icing sugar until smooth and light. Add milk and vanilla and beat together well. Drizzle the glaze over warm monkey bread, letting it run over top and sides of bread. Serve warm.