It didn't totally blow up my radar, however, until only a few weeks ago. I was celebrating a bachelorette with some of my favorite girlfriends at a too-cool-for-school Atlanta restaurant. We had already overindulged in one too many courses of food, but our waiter gently encouraged us to order the sampler platter of desserts. Never one to say no to sweets, I caved against my (stomach's) better judgement.
I couldn't begin to tell you what else was on that giant tray of desserts. It was the monkey bread that took it all home for the gold. It was soft and tender, so light I thought it might just up and fly away. The only thing keeping it down was a luscious, creamy peach glaze holding it all together. We pulled and snatched at the precious dough until, much to our dismay, not even a tiny crumb was left on the plate. So much for being too full for dessert...
I fell hard for monkey bread that night; I've been waiting patiently for the right time to recreate it. With December finally here, I figured the holidays were the perfect time to roll it out. And since peaches aren't available this time of year, I went with a bourbon crème anglaise dipping sauce. Why? Because bourbon is always in season.
Monkey Bread with Bourbon Crème Anglaise
For the dough
1/4 cup warm water (105-110 degrees)
1 envelope (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
1 1/4 cups whole milk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
For the caramel coating
1 1/4 cups dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
For the bourbon crème anglaise
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup milk
6 large egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
Pinch of kosher salt
2 tablespoons bourbon
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Sprinkle the yeast and a pinch of sugar over warm water and let sit until foamy, about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a heavy saucepan, heat the milk and butter over medium-low until butter is just melted. Turn off heat and cool (to approximately 105 ° - 110 °). Stir in the egg, 1/4 cup sugar, and salt, followed by the yeast mixture.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, add 2 cups of flour to the milk mixture and beat until the flour is absorbed and the dough is sticky. Add the remaining 2 cups of flour and continue to mix on medium-low speed until the dough is shiny and smooth, about 6 - 8 minutes. Add more flour, tablespoon by tablespoon, if the dough is too sticky. (The dough should remove easily from the sides of the bowl.)
Transfer the dough to a large, well-greased mixing bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let it rest in a warm, draft-free place for one hour, or until it has doubled in size.
Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and pat into a rough, flat square, about 1/2-inch thick. Using a pastry cutter or knife, cut the dough into small pieces, about 1-inch in size, rolling each in the palm of your hands to form a smooth ball.
Combine the brown sugar and cinnamon in a medium bowl. Have the melted butter ready in a separate bowl. Dunk each ball into melted butter, then roll in the cinnamon-sugar mixture until coated evenly. Layer the balls as you go in a well-greased Bundt pan, staggering the rows as you build. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. (If cooking on the same day, cover with plastic wrap and let the dough rest again in a warm place for an additional hour, or until it has doubled in size. Continue with the baking instructions below.) Remove the dough from the refrigerator at least one hour before ready to cook and allow to rise in a warm place.
Preheat the oven to 350°. Remove the plastic wrap and bake for 30-35 minutes (33 works for me), until the top is a deep golden brown and the caramel is bubbling. Cool the bread in the pan for NO LONGER THAN 5 minutes (to prevent sticking), then turn out onto a serving platter. Cool for an additional 10 minutes before eating. This bread is best enjoyed immediately. Serve with bourbon crème anglaise dipping sauce.
For the bourbon crème anglaise, heat the cream and milk in a heavy saucepan over medium-low until a ring of bubbles begins to form around the edges. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, and salt. Pour about 1/4 of the hot milk mixture into the eggs, whisking vigorously to prevent scrambling. Pour the warmed eggs into the remaining milk in the saucepan. Return the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring constantly, until the sauce thickens and coats the back of a wooden spoon (about 10 minutes). Whisk in the vanilla and bourbon. Strain the sauce through a fine mesh sieve and chill, covered, until ready to serve.
(Images: Nealey Dozier)