It’s the year of the monkey, and I couldn’t resist treating myself to monkey bread! This amazing recipe is from one of my favorite cookbooks from last year, Baking with Less Sugar by Joanne Chang, the pastry goddess behind Flour Bakery.
Apparently this year is a “fire monkey” year, and people born this year will be ambitious, adventurous and irritable, according to this site. This monkey bread is guaranteed to make you less irritable, which is a pretty strong argument in its favor. Alongside a few cinnamon sugary nuggets of this delicious dessert, I’m taking a look at at some adventurous monkeys in modern art.
Back in 1967, Pablo Picasso agreed to make an exception in his otherwise “no commissions” rule, and decided to design and gift a public sculpture to the city of Chicago. Called the “Chicago Picasso,” or just “the Picasso,” this untitled steel sculpture shows an abstract monkey measuring 50 feet tall. The sculpture was unveiled to the public in Daley Plaza on August 15th (my wedding anniversary!), 1967 to mixed reviews. The monumental sculpture was embraced by the city after they got used to it – the giant Cubist monkey greatly differed from their usual public monuments of historical figures and civil achievements – and is considered a symbol of the city today.
Years later contemporary artist Jeff Koons produced 3 versions of his iconic porcelain creation, Michael Jackson and Bubbles. This life-size sculpture depicts Michael Jackson and his domesticated pet chimp Bubbles, whom he adopted in 1985. Inspired by the triangular composition of Michelangelo’s Pietà, this work shows the closeness between Jackson and the chimp. They are dressed in similar outfits, which was normal for the pair. How do I know this exactly? Funny story! My first job out of college was at a celebrity and Hollywood memorabilia auction house in Los Angeles. About 6 months into me working there, the auction house acquired for sale a red and leather outfit with lots of belts and buckles that was originally designed for Bubbles himself. Jackson had a matching one and they posed for photos together in their bizarre matching outfits. One of the highlights of that sale for me was calling the ape sanctuary in Florida where Bubbles now resides to invite him to Beverly Hills for the auction. He wasn’t able to make it (no surprise there – can you imagine a full-grown chimp riding on a plane across the country to witness his 30-year old clothes get auctioned off?!), but we did donate a portion to the proceeds to him! Fun memories! 🙂
This bread is super sweet and decadent, but not nearly as over the top and down right strange as a grown man dressed up with his pet chimp like this:
¾ cup milk, room temperature
½ teaspoon active dry yeast
1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 egg yolk
Cinnamon Sugar Mix:
½ cup unsalted butter, melted
½ cup sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2/3 cup heavy cream
Make the dough:
Grease a large bowl with butter and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer fit with the dough hook attachment, mix together the milk and yeast and let sit for about 30 seconds, until the yeast starts bubbling. Add the flours and salt to the milk, and gently mix on low speed until combined. When the dough starts looking a little shaggy, add in the soft butter and egg yolk. Let the mixer knead the dough on medium-low speed for a few minutes, until it comes together to a slightly sticky dough. Transfer the dough to the greased bowl and cover with a dish towel. Store in a dry, warm place (like inside a closed microwave!) and let sit, undisturbed for about 2 hours, until the dough has doubled in size.
Make the cinnamon sugar nuggets:
When the dough has doubled in size, dump it out onto a well-floured surface and stretch into a long rectangle, approximately 12 inches long and 4 inches wide. Using a bench scraper, divide the dough length-wise into 4 equal strips. Cut each strip into 8 pieces and roll each piece into a small nugget.
Grease the inside of a 9-inch cake pan.
To make the cinnamon sugar mix:
Combine the sugar and cinnamon in one small bowl, and the add the melted butter to another. Roll each tiny nugget of dough in the butter followed by the cinnamon sugar mixture. Set the sugared balls into the greased cake pan, so that there is only a tiny bit of space between each. Fill the cake pan until you run out of dough, and set the cinnamon sugar and butter aside. Cover the pan with a dish towel, and place back in the closed microwave and let sit for another hour. Check the pan to make sure that the nuggets have grown and look puffy (meaning that they proofed). If not, let sit another 30 minutes or so.
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Combine the set aside cinnamon sugar and melted butter with the heavy cream. Pour the mixture evenly over the proofed nuggets and bake for 50 minutes, rotating in the oven halfway through. Let cool for 10 minutes and then invert the cake on a plate, so that what was once the top is now the bottom. Serve warm!
Recipe adapted from Joanne Chang’s Baking with Less Sugar, makes 1 8-inch pan cake
Featured art: Pablo Picasso, Untitled sculpture, 1967, steel
Jeff Koons, Michael Jackson and Bubbles, 1988, porcelain
Image of Michael Jackson and Bubbles via here