Giant Interactive Sticky-Bun Hurrah!
Earlier this year, I posted the recipe for a savory cheesy garlic monkey bread, with a note about the name (to recap: it’s either a reference to the monkey puzzle tree or the process of assembling the loaf or the process or eating it, no one really knows). This one is more like what most people call “monkey bread,” with the pieces of dough covered in cinnamon and brown sugar, which caramelize in the oven until the whole thing resembles a giant sticky bun.
Most recipes start with refrigerated biscuit dough, which is a bit easier and quicker. However, if you have a sourdough starter that needs regular feeding & culling, you can use it to make a soft, slightly-sweet yeast-risen dough that works just as well. Depending on how active your starter is and how long you let the dough rise, the final product can have as much or as little sourdough flavor as you like (longer rise = more sour). I think a little tanginess is a nice counterpart to all the butter and sugar. Someone at the potluck I took this to asked if there was any alcohol in it, I think because the sourdough starter gives it a mildly boozy flavor. Speaking of which, adding a shot of whiskey or rum to the butter probably wouldn’t be a terrible idea.
Like basically all kinds of monkey bread, you assemble it by dipping small pieces of the dough in melted butter. In this version, the buttery pieces get a second coating of brown sugar and cinnamon (although you could substitute cardamom or ginger or cloves or whatever else you like—Alton Brown recommends rosemary). For a little extra sticky-sweetness, you can sprinkle a few tablespoons of brown sugar in the pan before filling it with bread. For a lot of extra sticky-sweetness, you can combine more brown sugar and melted butter and pour half in the bottom of the pan before filling it with the bread and the other half on top just before baking. If you want it sweeter still, you can drizzle the finished loaf with a powdered sugar glaze or cream cheese frosting.
This recipe makes slightly too much for my tube pan, so I put the overflow in a regular loaf pan. Tube pans are ideal for monkey bread because they provide lots of surface area—fluted tube pans are even better. However, any kind of pan will work. You could use a 9×13 baking dish, or a few cake pans, or a large soufflé dish, or make individual serving-sized portions in muffin tins or ramekins, just adjust the baking time accordingly (see recipe).
Other combinations that might be tasty: rosemary & raisins with a lemony cream-cheese frosting, ginger and clove in addition to the cinnamon with tart apple pieces, cardamom with dried pear pieces & sliced almonds, maximum caramel with vanilla bean in place of the cinnamon and an extra pinch of salt, or Chinese five-spice with currants & walnuts. Nothing wrong with classic cinnamon, raisins & pecans, though.
- 2 cups refreshed sourdough starter (100% hydration)*
- 1 egg
- 3-4 cups all-purpose or bread flour (sub whole wheat, if desired)
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 4 Tablespoons butter, melted
- 1/4 cup sugar, honey, or other sweetener
*To substitute packaged yeast, dissolve 1 package (2 1/2 teaspoons) of yeast in 1 1/2 cups warm water with the sugar and 1/4 cup flour. Let sit for 5-10 minutes or until frothy and then combine with the rest of the ingredients. Increase the flour to 4 1/2-5/12 cups
- 8 Tablespoons butter, melted
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon (or other spices/herbs as desired)
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Optional additions: 1/2-3/4 cup dried fruit and/or nuts, 2-3 Tablespoons extra brown sugar for lining pan
Maximum caramel topping:
- 8 Tablespoons butter, melted
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 3 oz cream cheese, softened
- 3 Tablespoons powdered sugar (plus more as needed)
- 2 Tablespoons milk (plus more as needed)
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Powdered sugar glaze:
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 2 Tablespoons milk
- 2 Tablespoons butter (optional)
- 1/2 teaspoon flavor extract (optional)
1. Make Dough: Combine all the dough ingredients (only 3 cups of the flour at first) and mix until combined. Add more flour as necessary to form a dough that will clean the sides of the bowl and sticks to itself more than it sticks to you—I start mixing with a spoon, but finish with my hands. Continue mixing/kneading in the bowl for a few minutes, just until it’s evenly combined. You can turn it onto a floured surface and knead longer if you like, but it’s not necessary.
2. First Rise: Cover the bowl and let rise 2-24 hours (1-2 hours if using instant yeast), or until doubled. The rising time will depend on how active your starter is and how sour you want the dough to be. As soon as the dough is doubled in size, you can assemble the loaf; however, if you want a lot of sourdough flavor, you should let it rise at least 8-12 hours.
3. Prepare Pans: Generously butter your baking dish(es). Sprinkle with additional brown sugar or pour half of the “maximum caramel topping” into the bottom.
4. Assemble: Melt the butter for the coating in one bowl. Combine the brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt or other spices in another bowl. Divide the dough into pieces roughly the size of ping pong balls, either by pinching pieces off one by one, pressing the dough into a rectangle and cutting it crosswise with a knife or bench scraper, or forming a long rope and snipping pieces off with scissors. Roll each piece into a ball between the palms of your hands, dip it in the butter, roll it in the sugar & spice mixture, and the place them in the prepared pan(s) just barely touching each other or with a little space between them. If using fruit and nuts, sprinkle them in between the layers of dough balls.
5. Second Rise: Cover the pans and let rise 2-8 hours, or until doubled in size again. Alternatively, refrigerate for up to 24 hours and remove from cold storage 1-2 hours before baking to return to room temperature.
6. Bake: Preheat the oven to 350F for 15-20 minutes. Uncover the risen dough. If using “maximum caramel topping, pour the remaining half over the risen dough. Bake for 15-50 minutes, depending on the size of your pan. Smaller portions/more surface area = less baking time, larger vessel/less surface area = more baking time. Individual servings in muffin tins may only take about 15-18 minutes. The single layer in my regular loaf pan took 20 minutes. Two layers in a 9×13 pan will probably take around 30-35 minutes. My tube pan with three layers took 45 minutes. A very large soufflé dish may take 50 minutes or longer. It’s done when the top is very brown and the internal temperature is 190F or a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.
7. Invert: Let cool in the pans, on a rack if desired, for 5-10 minutes. Gently cut around the edges of the pan(s) with a knife, and then invert onto a serving plate. If icing, combine the ingredients for your desired topping and drizzle with a spoon or from a plastic zip-top bag with one corner snipped off.