Growing up, when we were having a special treat or the whole extended family was together, my grandmother would make us her ‘sticky buns.’ Now that she has passed away, my mom thankfully has taken on the responsibility of the sticky bun making! It was only after I was probably in my mid-20s that I realized what we called Grandmom’s sticky buns was what most people call monkey bread. You know what I’m talking about… those sweet, sugary, pull-apart balls of doughy deliciousness that taste of cinnamon and frequently have chopped nuts attached! (This is a point of contention in my family – nuts or no nuts?! The two parties are bitterly divided and therefore Grandmom and Mom make one dish with and one dish without the nuts. I’m on Team Nuts, for the record.) As I was writing this post, I decided to look up the history of monkey bread. Fun facts for your bank of useless knowledge:
Monkey bread was termed such because we eat it using our fingers, pulling apart each chunk, which was thought to mimic the way monkeys eat.
Alternative names include: monkey puzzle bread, sticky bread (I guess this is where we got our sticky buns moniker!), pinch-me cake, bubble bread, and Hungarian coffee cake.
The origin of this treat is probably the Hungarian-Jewish arany galuska, brought to this country by Eastern European immigrants in the late 1800s.
American monkey bread differs from arany galuska as each dough ball is dipped in butter, which was not part of the original recipe.
So there you have it – more knowledge than you ever knew you needed about monkey bread! Now this version is a savory adaptation of the sweet breakfast tradition. The base concept is the same; dough balls, dipped in the butter, stacked haphazardly prior to baking, and eaten pulled apart with fingers. While I love the original, this cheesy, herby version is amazing! It’s an amazing alternative to regular bread to accompany dinner, but it definitely would still work as a breakfast dish.
Cheese & Herb Monkey Bread
(Adapted from Home Skillet, by Robin Donovan)
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted & divided
1 cup warm milk
1/3 cup warm water
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp yeast
3 1/4 cups AP flour
2 tsp salt
1 tbsp olive oil
2 cups Asiago cheese, shredded
1 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp fresh basil, chopped
3 tbsp fresh chives, chopped
In a large bowl, combine 2 tbsp of melted butter, milk, and water. Stir in the sugar and yeast. Let the mixture sit for ~10 minutes, until frothy.
Stir in the flour and salt. As it comes together, switch to kneading the dough with your hands. Once you have a dough ball, place it in a clean bowl and drizzle with the olive oil. Cover with a cloth and allow to rise for 90 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Mix together the two cheese in another bowl. Remove 1/2 cup to another small bowl.
Add the garlic and herbs to the main bowl and toss together.
Roll out the dough on a floured surface until roughly 1/8th inch thick. Spread the cheese mixture onto half of the dough and then fold the other half over top.
Using a pizza cutter, cut the dough into small squares. Roll each square into a ball.
Using the remaining melted butter, brush butter on all surfaces of your cast iron skillet. Then dunk each ball into the butter prior to placing in the skillet. Layer the balls across the bottom of the skillet and then stack into further layers as needed.
Sprinkle the dough balls with the reserved cheese.
Bake for 40 minutes in the oven. Allow to cool for a few minutes prior to eating. Run a knife around the edges and then flip the skillet over onto your serving platter.
Ally: What is casserole bread? Honestly, I had no idea when I was first looking at this recipe. Not joking, I literally googled, “what is casserole bread.” Basically, as best I can tell, it just means that you don’t knead it or let it rise so much, and therefore, it’s a much quicker and easier type of bread to make. True? Anyone know? I can definitely attest that it was the easiest and fastest loaf of bread I’ve ever made.
Selim: When I saw the casserole dish I immediately thought, “oh great casserole…” When I think of casseroles I think of condensed soup, canned vegetables, sodium, and a burnt tongue (I always underestimate how long to let it cool before eating it). As always, I was happy to be wrong when I saw this massive ball of dough heaping over the top. The funny thing is, the savory smells of the ingredients started filling our place well before the whole thing was put in the oven. The yeast starts working really quickly when warmed up and immediately started raising the dough – yay chemistry! This bread would go well with any poultry dish (chicken, turkey, duck) or Thanksgiving dinner if you can get people to try something different instead of bland rolls.
Savory Casserole Bread
Adapted from a Southern Living Cookbook – American’s Best Home Cooking
4 1/2 cups flour
2 tbsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 tbsp granulated onion
1 tbsp granulated garlic
4 1/2 tsp active yeast (or 2 packets)
1 1/2 (+ a little more) cups sharp cheddar cheese
2 tbsp melted butter
~2 cups warm water
Place all ingredients except for the water into the bowl of your stand mixer.
Turn the mixer on low, with a dough hook attached.
Slowly add the water as the mixer is going. You may not use all or may need slightly more. You want the dough to come together into a slightly sticky ball.
Place the dough into a 2 1/2 quart baking dish (buttered, oiled, or sprayed with cooking spray). Push it down to fill fully.
Cover and allow to rise for 30 minutes.
After rising, sprinkle a little bit of additional cheese on top.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and bake for 40 minutes.
After baking, remove from the oven and allow to cool in the dish for 10 minutes.
Then remove from the baking baking dish to a wire rack to cool for another 10 minutes.
So the other evening, I tried to flip the ceiling fan on (after Selim told me not to because he thought it was broken, but I forgot ok?!), and instead blew a fuse. I tried to flip the breaker back and it sent blue sparks at me. So I quit doing that. I may not be the most savvy girl in the world when it comes to things like that, but I know that blue sparks + no electricity = call an electrician.
What does this have to do with challah? Everything and nothing. Unfortunately for my TV and internet addicted self, the fuse I blew covered our whole living room – where our TV and internet router are. Sure we could’ve moved them I guess, but it just seems sad if you can’t live without the Netflix and Hulu for a whole day. So instead of wasting my life on mindless TV, I baked instead!
I’d been thinking about challah because Passover was last week (and because it’s the best bread ever). I honestly never thought about making it before because its gorgeous appearance made it seem out of my league in terms of baking ability. Plus I figured the Jewish grandmas had some secret that they weren’t sharing with the rest of us. Turns out I was wrong – even I can make gorgeous challah! It’s actually way less complicated than I thought and you probably have all the ingredients on hand. (I did, hence spur of the moment baking afternoon.)
Since I don’t have a Jewish grandma handy, I got this recipe from one of my favorite corners of the internet – The Kitchn. Check them out if you want to learn how to do anything culinary related. Their step by step guide to making challah worked perfectly for me and is nearly verbatim what I’ll be sharing in this recipe. Thanks guys!! 👋🏼
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
4 cups flour + extra for sprinkling
1/4 cup sugar + a pinch
2 tsp salt
2 large eggs
A third egg, divided into yolk & white
1/4 cup neutral oil
Dissolve the yeast into the water. Stir and then allow to sit until yeast causes frothing on the top.
Meanwhile, sift together the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, salt) in the bowl of your stand mixer.
In another bowl, whisk together the remaining wet ingredients except for the egg white (eggs, egg yolk, oil).
Pour the bowl of wet ingredients into the dry ones. Begin to mix together with a large spoon. Follow with the water/yeast.
Attach a dough hook to the stand mixer. Turn on low-medium and knead for 6+ minutes. [If the dough is to sticky, slowly add flour by the teaspoon. If too dry, do the same with water.]
Oil a large bowl. Place the ball of dough in the bowl. Cover with a damp towel and let rise for two hours.
Now that the dough has doubled in size, divide it into six equal chunks.
Roll each piece of dough out into long ropes.
Lay the six dough ropes next to each other. Pinch the ends of all six pieces together at the top. Then braid together, taking the right-most strand and pulling it over the nearest two strands, under the next, over the remaining two, and then laying it down at the far left. OVER two – UNDER one – OVER two. (Check out The Kitchn’s lovely pictorial in their post for a visual!) Once you can go no further, pinch the ends together.
Sprinkle dough with a smidge of flour. Place on a cooking sheet lined with parchment paper (or a Silpat if you have one). Re-cover with your damp towel and let sit for another hour.
Brush the dough generously with the leftover egg white.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Bake for 30 minutes. When done, the challah will have a gorgeous deep brown crust and be warm and fluffy on the inside.