Monkey business

Ah, here we have it, one of the Great Mysteries of Life: where does the name Monkey Bread come from?

You’ve got monkeying around. And monkey wrench (as in don’t throw one in). Monkey business, monkey on your back, more fun than a barrel of… colder than a brass. For some reason, monkeys make their way into the popular lexicon WAY more often than other members of the Animal Kingdom. I mean, how often do you hear anyone say “giraffe in the middle,” or “armadillo see, armadillo do”? Point taken.

So, how DID bubble bread, a.k.a. pull-apart bread, otherwise known as monkey bread, get its name?

The official word: no one knows. Some food historians posit it’s the “monkeying around” with the dough you do while shaping. Some think grabbing pieces off the finished loaf is reminiscent of how monkeys eat. And some of the more erudite even believe that “the bread resembles the monkey puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana), whose prickly branches make it difficult to climb,” according to foodtimeline.org. Really. (Imagine me sniffing doubtfully.)

Personally, I like the “monkeying around” theory. You do fool around with this dough quite a bit before it actually gets baked: cutting it into pieces, dipping in liquid of some kind, coating with sugar or cheese or cinnamon (or chocolate), layering it into a cake pan… Come to think of it, though, maybe it’s also more fun than a barrel of. After all, whose inner child doesn’t like playing with dough?

Whatever the origins of its name, this storied loaf has been around since at least the 1950s, when it was called bubble bread. I remember making it, with biscuit dough and cinnamon, in home ec. class in the ’60s. “The New York Times” first mentioned it in 1976. Nancy Reagan served it to lucky White House guests in the ’80s. Monkey bread was highlighted in the “Chicago Sun-Times” in 1997. And now here we are in the ’00s, dredging it up (or dredging it in chocolate) once again. This is one monkey that just won’t get off our backs.

If you’ve never made monkey bread, now’s the time. This recipe walks you through all the steps, which are somewhat numerous but not at all difficult. And the end result? Get some friends together and whoop it up. Maybe with a big bowl of Chunky Monkey on the side.

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Put all of the dough ingredients into a bowl, or into the bucket of your bread machine set on the dough cycle.

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Mix till everything is well combined…

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…then knead for about 7 minutes, till smooth.

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Place the dough in your favorite dough-rising container; I like an 8-cup measure, because it’s so easy to track the dough’s progress as it grows.

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Cover the container, and let the dough rise till it’s nearly doubled in bulk.

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Gently deflate the dough. You’re going to divvy it up into 64 little balls. Yup, 64. More or less. First, divide it in half.

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Then divide each half in half again, and again.

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…and again, and again…

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…and again. Give each piece of dough a quick roll between your palms to round up; don’t fuss too much. You can see these dough balls are fairly rough; that’s OK.

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Combine cocoa, chocolate chips (hidden under the cocoa), sugar, and flour in a mini processor (if you have one), or a blender or regular food processor.

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Process until the chips are finely ground. Put the chocolate coating in a round, shallow pan, such as an 8” cake pan.

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Combine lukewarm milk and melted butter. Dip each dough ball into the milk/butter, then put 6 or 7 at a time into the pan of chocolate.

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Gently shake the pan to coat the dough with the chocolate.

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Stab the coated dough balls with a fork…

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…and drop them into a lightly greased tube pan or bundt-style pan. Don’t crowd them.

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You’ll be able to make two layers.

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Pour any leftover chocolate coating on top.

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Looks kind of messy, but it’ll taste wonderful.

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Let the bread rise till the dough balls start pushing against one another. By the way, if you ever travel and stay at hotels, grab the free shower caps—they make wonderful dough-rising covers.

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Notice how the white dough is breaking through the dark coating; this is one of the signs your bread is ready to go into the oven.

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Bake the bread for about 30 to 35 minutes, then remove it from the oven.

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Sprinkle with chocolate chips…

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…and bake for an additional 3 to 5 minutes, till the chips look shiny and have softened.

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Remove the bread from the oven, and after about 5 minutes turn it out of the pan onto a rack to cool.

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Dive in, everybody!

Read, rate, and review (please!) our recipe for Chocolate Monkey Bread.

Buy vs. Bake

Buy: Macrina Bakery, Seattle, Cinnamon Monkey Bread, 1 1/4-lb. loaf, $4.95, 25¢/ounce

Bake at home: Chocolate Monkey Bread, 2 1/2-lb. loaf, $4.92, 12¢/ounce

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel was born in Wisconsin, grew up in New England, and graduated from Brown University. She was a journalist in Massachusetts and Maine before joining the King Arthur Flour Company in 1990, where she's been ever since. Author or co-author of three King Arthur ...

comments

  1. Melissa

    Oh too funny, I’ve been experimenting with Monkey Bread! I used a whole wheat dinner roll dough and instead of butter I mixed one egg white with 1 cup of sugar and a teaspoon of cinnamon. It would have been perfect except my dough balls were too large, I forgot they would get much larger after rising! Whoops! LOL That’s the fun part of experimenting! Hmm, now I may have to try the chocolate with the egg white. I’m trying to cut calories where I can, but still indulge in a treat. Monkey Bread on steroids! Have fun experimenting. Elisabeth @ King Arthur Flour

    Reply
  2. Bill C

    Is that a Beater Blade I see on the mixer? Hello Bill – Yes, it is a beater in the beginning. Once the ingredients have come together, switch the beater to a dough hook to begin the kneading process. Elisabeth @ King Arthur Flour

    And yes, it is a Beater Blade – we’ll be selling them online very soon. I like mine, I’ve been using it for a couple of months. – PJH

    Reply
  3. melissa

    Whoa, and I thought my mom’s recipe was a sure-fire heart attack! Hers only had the butter and cinnamon-sugar dipping…

    Though it’s probably a dirty word, I’ve used the bread machine before to make the dough, carrying on after that with the balls as normal and it does cut down the prep time quite a bit.

    Melissa, I use my Zojirushi bread machine ALL THE TIME. It’s just so easy… I use the KitchenAid stand mixer for these blog photos, as more people have a mixer than a bread machine, but going forward I’m going to start showing the bread machine method a bit more, as it’s the most effective way, bar none, to knead bread dough. It kneads better than your hands OR a stand mixer. -PJH

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  4. Nel

    What would happen if you sprinkled – SPRINKLED – a few chocolate chips between the layers of dough balls, not letting any fall to the bottom (and burn)? Too tricky?

    Because in some crowds – no one I know, of course; here we’re civilized monkeys – there would be squabbling over ‘who got the bread with the chocolate chips on top’ and who didn’t.

    I suppose a sprinkling of mini chips inside the dough is just too many steps? Or would it do bad things to the dough?

    I haven’t looked at the recipe yet: is there by any chance a dash of cinnamon in the chocolate coating, for a little Mexican zing?

    Nel, you ALWAYS have good ideas. Absolutely, sprinkle the chips between the layers; in that case, you might want to have the bottom layer completely cover the bottom of the pan, so the chips don’t fall down and burn, as you mention. Chips inside the dough – might be hard to knead in, and then hard to cut into tiny balls because the chips would get in the way. I think chips between the two layers AND on top would be the way to go. And cinnamon – of course! I’m a fan of the cinnamon-chocolate combo. Have fun with this – PJH

    Reply
  5. Knead2quilt

    I don’t need to bake this to know it is absolutely delicious. But since it is my day off and I’m in the midst of reorganizing my kitchen I think this will be the perfect reward. Looks truly decadent!

    Reply
  6. Liz

    OH WOW!!!! I make monkey bread all the time & everyone says it’s way better than storebought. But CHOCOLATE? This looks sooo awesome, I know what’s for dessert tomorrow!! :) Thanks for the post.
    By the way, since we have a smaller family & my recipe for cinnamon monkey bread makes a mammoth over-the-top-of-the-bundt-pan loaf…I usually make 4 small loaf pans. And then I can give some away to the neighbors (and feel less guilty myself!). I’ve even frozen it. :)

    Bake and give, Liz – that’s the spirit of baking, in my book. PJH

    Reply
  7. Sandie

    I hope the beater blade will be available before Christmas! I’m definitely putting on my wish list.

    Should be, Sandie, we’re just waiting for the inventory to arrive. PJH

    Reply
  8. Lenore

    I really enjoy baking and the science behind how things work. So…is there a specific reason (for the dough) that you used water plus powdered milk vs just using milk? Thanks.

    Lenore, I use our Baker’s Special Dry Milk, which is specially formulated for yeast dough. It has its protease enzyme disabled; protease hampers yeast’s rise. And that’s why I use it – better results. -PJH

    Reply
  9. Karen

    I have a couple of dead bananas that I would like to incorporate into the dough. Seems fitting for monkey bread – get it???????? How would you go about doing it? I was thinking that it would eliminate the need for some of the butter……How about stuffing a couple of chocolate chips into the individual balls so that there’s chocolate chips in every bite?

    I know that the addition of potato makes a dough more tender, but what if I don’t have any and don’t want to run to the store for a box or bag of something I will rarely use? Is there a reasonable substitute or can I leave it out?

    Thanks

    Hi Karen – Yes, substitute banana for some of the oil and water. You’ll have to experiment to see just how much. Also, cut the sugar in half, I’d say. Let us know how that turns out! Stuffing a few chocolate chips into each ball sounds incredibly laborious, but maybe you have some little helpers…? And yes, leave out the potato flour or flakes. As you say, it makes lovely soft dough, but it’s not critical to structure. PJH

    Reply
  10. Emily

    This looks ridiculously good! I’ve never made monkey bread and don’t have the pan but I sure want to make it now! Would it work to use two normal size loaf pans?

    Thanks for the recipe and great blog. :)

    Yes, Emily, two 8 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ loaf pans would work just fine. Or a bundt-style pan. Have fun! PJH

    Reply
  11. Christine

    PJ,

    This looks wonderful! I always make the cinnamon / sugar variety but have never tried chocolate. I’ll have to give it a go!

    I too have a Zojirushi bread maker and would love to see more posts on using it (referring to your comment to Melissa). I make bread in it all the time, but feel I could do so much more with it if I knew how.

    In the K. A. kitchen, do you have any cookbooks or written instructions for using the Zoji? I have the recipe book that came with it, but it isn’t that exciting.

    Thanks for the input and great blog entries!

    Christine, I actually wrote a booklet a few years ago with all kinds of thing you can do in your Zo, non-bread: meatloaf, cheesecake, soup, rice pudding, casseroles, etc. I’ll see if I can find it. In the meantime, type “machine” in to the search box on our recipe site, and you’ll find lots of recipes using the Zo. In the test kitchen, we use the Zo strictly for kneading dough; and for testing flours from different mills against one another, by baking loaves in side-by-side bread machines (we have 8 in the kitchen). – PJH

    Reply
  12. Knead2quilt

    My KA Pro-5 has the wider balloon bowl and I haven’t been able to get that wonderful scraper paddle for it. Will you be able to offer it when you get them?

    Don’t know the specific models yet… I guess I’d better check with our merchandising team again, eh? Find out when they’ll be here. PJH

    Reply
  13. Kim

    I don’t have the pan you use so can I use a bundt pan?

    Absolutely – so long as it’s big enough to hold the dough and allow it to rise. PJH

    Reply
  14. Beth

    PJ, what exactly is a “Beater Blade?” I have a Kenwood mixer that I bought from KAF about 5 or 6 years ago. Is this strictly for Kitchen Aid mixers, or would it work for my stand mixer? Thanks.

    Hi Beth – they have different sizes for different mixers. Not made by KitchenAid, so they have for all different brands. I’ll ask the merch. team when they might be arriving… PJH

    Reply
  15. Christine

    PJ,

    Thanks for the searching tip and quick response. Maybe I can find something to make in my Zo on this cool / wet weekend in VA.

    Hoping you find that booklet you wrote!

    Thanks again!

    Reply
  16. Louisa

    My girls and I made monkey bread together recently, and we had a blast rolling and dipping and coating the dough balls. Afterward they asked why there wasn’t any chocolate? So thank you for the recipe. It is quite timely for our family.

    I do have a question: does it make its own sauce? The recipe we use has so much cinnamon and sugar and butter that it caramelizes and drips through the dough balls to make it extra sticky and gooey. The pictures above don’t have that same look.

    You’re right, it doesn’t make its own sauce. The coating is more the consistency of a thin layer of fudgy icing, not at all gooey or wet, though. To make the coating gooey, you could certainly add sugar, substitute butter for the milk in the “dip,” and/or drizzle the layers with golden syrup or corn syrup… PJH

    Reply
  17. Ted

    With or without the chocolate, making Monkey Bread in the Bundt pan works great. Last year I used the “Christmas Tree” pan and after the bread had been removed and cooled a bit, lightly dusted the top with powdered sugar and it looked like snow. It made a great gift.

    Wow, GREAT idea, Ted – love it, monkey bread in the tree pan with sugar-snow. And maybe some coarse sugar for “icy” sparkle? I’m going to have to try that – maybe Christmas morning? Maybe you’ll see it blogged here in December? :) Thanks- PJH

    Reply
  18. Stacey

    Oh, how timely. I keep thinking about the origins of the name for monkey bread myself, PJ! Thanks for that research and insight. And the recipe looks fabulous. Will have to try this myself as soon as I lose 25lbs.

    HA! I wonder what would happen to the weight of the earth if we all lost the 25 lbs. we want to lose… PJH

    Reply
  19. Wendy

    Can not wait to try this! We love monkey bread in my family – it is a must at all brunches (need at least 2 for the bigger parties). My husband shook things up a few years ago by coating with butter, garlic and Parmesan cheese for dinner – we call it scimmia bread (Italian for monkey!)

    Well, who knew? Scimmia, huh? I’ll remember that… PJH

    Reply
  20. Amanda Marmolejo

    Usually the top of a bundt creation becomes the bottom when turned out. In this case it looks as if the opposite is true. How do you keep from messing up the precious chocolate chip topping when turning it out? I’d hate to waste a single molecule of chocolatey goodness to a cooling rack.
    Thanks for another chocolate offering – you can’t have too many!
    Love KAF and I still have hopes that you will open a 2nd store in sunny SoCal.

    Hi Amanda – No plans for a second store at the moment. But there’s always hope…

    I wait till the chips have solidified a bit, about 5 minutes; they don’t really melt in th oven, they just soften. Then I quickly flip it out onto a rack, put another rack on top, and flip the whole works over again. Didn’t seem to be a problem- hope it works for you, too. PJH

    Reply
  21. Margy

    Knead2Quilt, I happened to find my Beater Blade at my local Le Gourmet Chef store. Don’t know if you have one locally or not. I love it! It especially scrapes the dimple at the bottom of the bowl where all the dry ingredients don’t always mix in. I have the 6qt Kitchenaid bowl, but it is also supposed to fit the 5 quart.

    Reply
  22. lisa

    Wow, this looks incredible. I have a recipe for Monkey Bread in my King Arthur Flour cookbook that I want to try, and then I’ll have to try my hand at Chocolate Monkey Bread. Thank you for all of the wonderful recipes and photographs.

    Reply
  23. Amanda

    What do you think about substituting 1/4 C of the flour for cocoa powder?

    I don’t like chocolate bread, but it would probably work OK. Might be a touch bitter and might not rise quite as well, but with monkey bread, it’s not as big a deal. You might want to increase the sugar in the coating – if you increase it in the dough, it’ll really start to slow its rise. Hey, give it a try, let us know- PJH

    Reply
  24. Milli

    I made the recipe and did not like it. Have the ones that comment on how good and different it would be REALLY made it? I think not. I thought it would be also, so I made it. The chocolate chips. cocoa, sugar and flour don’t blend very well no matter how long you mix in food processor. Maybe a little syrup would help blend. Lots of work with ??? results. I do like most of your recipes though.The food prcessor with be more of a chop than a fine grind. This mix needs to stay dry until coating the dough, so I wouldn’t suggest adding syrup. Glad to hear that most of the recipes are a hit. Keep baking and posting. Have fun. Frank from KAF.

    Reply
  25. Dana Booth

    Milli,

    Have you made KAF’s chocolate loves vanilla bread? If you liked that, then I would anticipate you liking this chocolate monkey bread; if you didn’t, then I would not expect you to like this either. I would not expect everyone’s tastes to be the same.

    Having made various KAF monkey breads before as well as the chocolate loves vanilla bread which is similar, and loved them all, yes, I too, am making a guess that I will love this bread. I will repost if it’s not.

    Be sure that you’re not overbaking the bread (KAF, want internal temp of 190, correct?) which I find rather easy to accidentally do with sweet monkey bread. I usually cover with foil part way through to stop the top from burning and that helps tremendously so you get wonderful crunchy chocolate or cinnamon flavor rather than burnt/dried/overcooked flavor.

    Also, as was mentioned in another post, this monkey bread is drier on the outside, not gooey. Perhaps you were expecting gooey?

    KAF, thanks for another wonderful respite from the rest of the world. I’ve had a great time reading the recipe and posts. Looking forward to making this later. Thx!

    Dana

    Reply
  26. William Lundy

    I just had to comment on a passing remark in the preamble, re “colder…monkey”; it would seem from the way you have worded it that there is a rude connotation – I assure you there is not (however, readers with sensibilities may want to top reading now). As someone who is a logophile and lifelong naval historian, I have researched many sayings and words whose origins trace back to the 17th through 19th centuries. The most persistent explanation for this is: On warships where cannonballs were stored on deck (not usual, but occasional), they had to be stacked so they would not roll about. A tray or frame (called a “monkey”) was fitted to the deck (think of a low wall, square, about 2-3 inches high). The cannonballs were then stacked, pyramid-style, within this “monkey” so they were ready for use but didn’t roll about the deck causing mayhem. In very cold winter conditions, the monkey, being made of brass, contracted more due to the cold than did the iron cannonballs; thus, on occasion, the monkey contracted sufficiently that it pushed the bottom row of cannonballs outside of itself, spilling them onto the deck. Thus, this explains in contextual terms the saying, “cold enough to freeze the balls of a brass monkey”. While I am sure people can read into it what they want, and some will be offended by the connotations they – the readers – have read into the saying, the origin is merely illustration of the quaint ways that (largely uneducated) sailors in “days of yore” spoke.
    As a regular reader and occasional contributor to this blog, I know there are others who like to know the whole story; thus this tidbit of nautical trivia is offered in that spirit and not meant to cause any offense.

    Wonderful information, Bill. And presented beautifully. Thanks so much for sharing! – PJH

    Reply
  27. Robin G

    Off topic, but…the photo captioned:
    then knead for about 7 minutes, till smooth
    looks like a hand holding a foot!

    Whoa, Robin – you’re right: bread sculpture! – PJH

    Reply
  28. J.

    I’ve been on an everything-sourdough kick. Do you think this would work with it? How much should I substitute in?

    I think you should just leave this recipe as is. The sweetness really wouldn’t go with the tang of sourdough. If you want to experiment and prove me wrong, though, try substituting 1 cup of fed starter for 1/2 cup of the flour and about 1/2 to 2/3 cup of the liquid in the recipe. Good luck – PJH

    Reply
  29. Rocky-cat

    Two questions/comments-
    I made the bread yesterday and the first layer stayed firmly in the pan while the rest unmolded easily. I used a NordicWare Fleur di Lis pan because that’s what I had. Was the design of the pan too elaborate to facilitate easy unmomlding?
    Also, I had the same problem as a previous poster with the chocolate chip topping. It simply fused to the plate that I unmolded the bread onto. I’m thinking it may just be gilding the lily anyhow.
    But, I actually did make the bread and the family actually did like it.

    Glad the family liked it, Rocky. Try unmolding the cake onto a piece of parchment. Once it’s cool, slip it onto a serving plate. Also, if you turn it out of the pan immediately, I think it will come out OK, even with a fairly intricate design in the pan (which does, as you surmised, make it stick more than a smooth surface would). Hope you try it again – PJH

    Reply
  30. Jenna Hilgers

    I know this was an older post, but I just found the site and clicked through all the amazing recipes! My Sunday School Teenagers LOOOOOOVE Monkey Bread so I’m always trying to find new ways to make it. Can’t wait to try this one, but a quick question. Do you think I could prep it on a Saturday and let it sit in the fridge until Sunday morning to bake it? Or do you think it would be okay baking it Saturday and serving Sunday morning? Thanks for all the great recipes!!!!

    Sure, Jenna, I’d prepare it Saturday, bake Sunday morning. You might want to get up early enough to let it sit at room temperature for a couple of hours, to rise a bit before you put it in the oven. You can just pull it out of the fridge and go back to bed for awhile… :) PJH

    Reply

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