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A Rich, Buttery Brioche Monkey Bread That Can Go Sweet or Savory

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We're always looking for ways to keep baking interesting with appealing recipes that can be endlessly riffed on. Here, we've partnered with Hidden Valley Ranch to highlight a monkey bread that can go sweet or savory.

Here’s an easy way to be the most popular person at the potluck: Show up with monkey bread. This rich pastry, which has existed in some form or another since people have been making sweet yeasted rolls, consists of individual dough nuggets rolled in something (usually cinnamon sugar) and baked together in a bundt pan. It’s a treat many remember from childhood, and in my experience at least, it causes eyes to light up as soon as it’s spotted.

Monkey bread has a few aliases—bubble bread, bubbleloaf, pull-apart bread—but it’s most commonly gone by the monkey moniker since the fifties, when the style of bread became a darling of American women’s magazines, cookbooks, and recipe swaps. James Beard had a famous recipe for one; so did Nancy Reagan.

Mix-ins like chives, grated cheese, and Hidden Valley Ranch work well in a savory take on monkey bread.
Mix-ins like chives, grated cheese, and Hidden Valley Ranch work well in a savory take on monkey bread. Photo by Rocky Luten

There have been several theories about the origin of the name. The most popular one posits that guests eat it by pulling off the individual dough pieces with their fingers, like so many monkeys. (Nancy Reagan told the New York Times in 1982 that it was so-named “because when you make it, you have to monkey around with it,” but personally I find the first explanation more convincing.)

Bacon-Ranch Monkey Bread
Bacon-Ranch Monkey Bread

Lots of modern versions call for canned biscuit dough, which would make the whole process easier, but I’d argue that monkey bread is not about easy. Monkey bread is about over-the-top, decadent, eye-popping pastry glory—and if you’re going to go to all the trouble to roll small pieces of dough individually in a topping and arrange them carefully one by one in a Bundt pan, you might as well go whole-hog and do it with a homemade dough.

It’s important to note here that while being over the top is a prerequisite, being sweet isn't. It’s quite easy to go savory, too: Start with a not-too-sweet base and add cheese and herbs instead of cinnamon sugar or another sweet spice mixture. My own sweet-or-savory version starts with a rich brioche (an enriched yeasted bread with lots of eggs and butter) as its base; an overnight rise develops the flavor (and makes the extremely buttery dough easier to handle).

Cinnamon Sugar Monkey Bread with Caramel Sauce
Cinnamon Sugar Monkey Bread with Caramel Sauce

If I'm going sweet, a bit of extra sugar goes into the dough, and the individual dough balls get rolled in cinnamon sugar; if it feels like a savory kind of day, mix-ins like chopped bacon, chives, grated cheese, and even ranch seasoning all make welcome additions before the dough gets rolled in grated cheese, herbs, and spices.

Either way, it makes a decadent treat that will immediately be the star of whatever gathering you bring it to. And monkey or not, you must, of course, eat it with your fingers.

Do you have any go-to, crowd-pleasing baked goods? Share them in the comments!

How to Make Monkey Bread

How to Make Monkey Bread by Yossy Arefi

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If You Only Bake One Thing This Year, Let It Be This by Sarah Jampel

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Gruyere Rosemary and Honey Monkey Bread

Gruyere Rosemary and Honey Monkey Bread by Elana Carlson

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Chai Spiced Monkey Bread

Chai Spiced Monkey Bread by Yossy Arefi

You can use Hidden Valley Ranch for spicing up all kinds of savory breads, from bread bowl dip to pull-apart bacon bread to jalapeño cheese bread. Keep an eye out for more great recipes featuring Hidden Valley Ranch that we'll be highlighting throughout the month.

Automagic Spring Menu Maker!
Automagic Spring Menu Maker!