Monkey Bread

The other day I asked some friends about Monkey Bread. I mean, it’s all over the place. There are so many recipes and ways to make this that I can’t keep up. Where did it come from and why is it called Monkey Bread? These are the questions that keep me awake at night. Not really, but it sounds funny.

So I decided to do a little research on this important subject so I can understand it better.

According to the Food Timeline website:

Monkey bread (aka pull-apart bread, bubble bread, Christmas morning delights) descends from traditional sweet, yeast rolls with centuries of history. Food historians tell us the first peoples to make sweet, buttery rolls with cinnamon were ancient Middle Eastern cooks. These recipes and spices traveled to Europe in the Middle Ages with crusaders, travellers, traders and explorers. Recipes varied according to culture and cuisine, but the concept remained stable. German kuchen, French galette, Pennsylvania Dutch sticky buns, and monkey bread all descended from these old recipes.

So, how did Monkey Bread get its name? There are several interesting ideas although no one can really agree on the origin. Here are a few that I found in my search:

  • The origin of the name “monkey bread” is anyone’s guess. One reader wrote that the name is derived from the amount of “monkeying around” needed to prepare the balls of dough. Another theory comes from the notion of pulling apart the sections of cake and playing with your food in monkey-like fashion. →”Pull for perfection; Irresistible monkey bread is worth the extra fuss,” Jim Frost, Chicago Sun-Times, July 16, 1997, (Pg. 2; NP)
  • This pull-apart yeast bread, also known as “bubble loaf,” began showing up in women’s magazines and community cookbooks back in the 1950s. Really? I had no idea, and I’m a child of the 50’s.
  • There are two types, a savory and a sweet…The sweet is also known a bubble loaf because the dough is pinched off and rolled into balls. These are dipped in melted butter and then layered into the pan with a flavoured sugar mixture or a caramel or brown sugar glaze.”
Both of these are from American Century Cookbook: The Most Popular Recipes of the 20th Century, Jean Anderson [Clarkson Potter:New York] 1997 (p. 312)
  • It is probably that the name comes from the appearance of the baked itself, which resembles a bunch on monkeys jumbled together. Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink, John F. Mariani [Lebhar-Friedman:New York] 1999 (p. 208)
  • Formed of balls of dough and baked in a ring mold, monkey bread emerges as golden puffs that are irresistible to both hand and eye. The idea is that you pick it apart like a bunch of . . . that it’s more fun than a barrel of. . . . You get the idea.
  • With a kind of simian stealth, monkey bread has entered American cuisine, not through high-end restaurants but via the food pages of newspapers across the country and Internet chat rooms.

→Both of these are from “Just Say Dough,” Michael Boodro, The New York Times, February 23, 2003 (Section 6; Page 64)

So, here’s my takeaway on all this: I guess it doesn’t matter where the idea for Monkey Bread came from because it’s so good. For recipes, try these links: