If you have an hour, you can make this easy dessert that everyone will love.
My daughter moved home in October; lately, many households across our country have welcomed their adult children back. As we continue to navigate our way through this pandemic, I’m grateful she can work from home; equally grateful I’ve retired from working full-time to pursue my interests and writing projects.
Recently, she came upstairs from her office. It was clear she wasn’t having a great afternoon. Smelling the aroma coming from my oven, she asked what was I making. Here was the rest of that conversation.
Me: “Banana and chocolate chip monkey bread.”
Daughter: “I love you.”
It’s true that the mere mention of some of our favorite foods almost instantly lifts our mood. During the early days of COVID stay-at-home orders, one of the most popular recipe searches was banana bread, according to Google. Now, there’s nothing wrong with banana bread—I just took a loaf out of the oven today, the coldest day so far this winter—but if Bananas Foster and banana bread had a baby, it would be this dessert.
Soft, sweet bananas are nestled in pillow-soft dough that’s bathed in butter and brown sugar. Add chocolate chips that melt into the pull-apart dough and you have one of the most addicting desserts you’ve enjoyed in a while. If you want to pull out all the stops, add a small scoop of vanilla ice cream or a dollop of whipped cream on the side. Jesus, take the wheel!
It’s easy to see why we go ape over monkey bread. One reason has to be how the bread is eaten: with our fingers. Set the plate down in the middle of the table, pour cold glasses of milk, and call the kids in from the backyard. How fun is that?
It’s also one of those foods that many people remember from childhood, although you may have known it under a different name: pull-apart bread, bubble bread, even Hungarian coffee cake, a moniker given by the folks at Betty Crocker in the 1940s. (However, we made Hungarian coffee cake and it looked nothing like monkey bread.) There is a Hungarian dish called aranygaluska or Golden Dumpling Cake that was brought to the U.S. in the late 19th century by Jewish immigrants. Maybe my material grandmother enjoyed Golden Dumpling Cake; I can only guess.
Another writer with a passion for historical recipes, Tori Avey, suggested the idea of small balls of yeast dough baked together in a pan dates to the 19th century, and while they were buttery, they were not sweet. Think Parker House Rolls, developed in the 1870s by the Boston hotel (now called Omni Parker House Hotel).
Although money bread—in its buttery and sweetened form—has been in American cookbooks since the 1950s, the recipe received renewed attention when then First Lady Nancy Reagan included her buttery recipe as part of a White House Christmas.
Naturally, there are recipes for monkey bread that calls for the home baker to make the yeast dough from scratch, and that’s perfectly acceptable. But I’m all about shortcuts when it doesn’t compromise the outcome of the recipe, and monkey bread using refrigerated biscuits is a perfect example. I'll wager that most home cooks will make monkey bread using refrigerated dough, and we have Lively B. Willoughby to thank for that shortcut.
Willoughby teamed with Lowell Armstrong, a chemist with the Ballard & Ballard Co. of Louisville, Kentucky, came up with the idea for a refrigerated, packaged dough. Willoughby developed the product that was marketed as Ye Old Kentuckie Buttermilk Biscuits.
After the original patent expired in 1948, any company could manufacture refrigerated biscuits. In 1951, Pillsbury bought Ballard & Ballard and expanded the refrigerated dough product line. You can get more of the story here.
TIPS FROM THE KITCHEN
Unlike banana bread—usually the last stop for a banana before the trash bin or blender—you’ll want the fruit to still have some bite to it for this recipe because it softens during baking. I recently used some older bananas in this recipe and it didn’t look as pretty or taste as “clean” as it could have.
You can bake this bread either in a bundt cake pan or an angel food pan (any fluted tube cake pan will work). Be sure to use the cooking spray so it turns out without sticking.
And to keep the cinnamon sugar mess to a minimum, I prefer using a plastic zip top bag to shake the cut up biscuits in the mixture. But you also can use a bowl to roll the dough in the sugar and cinnamon; just avoid a flat plate to make the kitchen clean up easier.
Should there be any leftovers of this dessert, store in an air-tight container in your refrigerator. It can always be lightly warmed in a microwave the next day.
Finally, I've also made this with a 1/3 cup of chopped walnuts, which added a nice texture. If you're not a fan, certainly fine to leave them out. The recipe below makes six servings, enough for a family to enjoy while watching their favorite television program.