I find Southern cooking - especially baking - fascinating. Truly. It's at the heart of the cuisine here in the South, which is too bad because baking is something I don't take nearly enough time to do. There are also all sorts of odd tricks and intricacies to the recipes that seem to be clear to, well, those people that wrote down the recipe. In the end, though, if you have your secret decoder ring on...you'll come up with a winner almost every time.
Almost at the start of this blog, I wrote about the notion of "Mom'N'Em" and how much of Southern cooking is almost like folklore. A friend had a recipe that he wanted me to make for him...but in order for me to do that, he had to call his Auntie who then called someone else to get Mom's recipe. Whenever I talk specifically about recipes that friends and family from the South have, it's often more of an oral history than anything else.
That post, over a year ago, was the catalyst for my friend Brandon and I to embark on a little personal project. Being from a family rooted in a Southern town, as well as growing up there, he was reminded of his Nana's cooking. On a trip home during the holidays, he went scavenging for the recipes and did not come back to Atlanta empty-handed. Brandon returned with a note pad and some loose cards full of the history of his Southern family's traditional recipes. We have vowed to make these recipes & chronicle them - gradually - in hopes of preserving them for himself...and sharing them, as well.
We chose "Monkey Bread" as our first project for a number of reasons. First, it's something that I had never had before. I have seen someone make it once before...but never tasted it. It's doughy goodness with sugar and cinnamon on it. Why not start with something guaranteed to be delicious? Also, it has one of the most complete recipes written down - the actual recipe is scanned above. Remember that secret decoder ring I mentioned 3 paragraphs earlier? Many of Nana's recipes have gaping holes in them: How long do I bake it for!?! How many teaspoons is a pinch!? Good gravy. In this instance, cooking really is a science - a science experiment, that is.
In the end, it turned out to be delicious. Brandon was sort of amazed that it turned out - in every way - just as he had remembered. Pulling off chunks of the warm, gooey bread...it was a clear send-back to Brandon's childhood and a beautiful introduction to tradition for myself.
Monkey Bread - Nana's recipe provided by Brandon Winslow - makes one bundt pan sized loaf
- 1/2 cup nuts - we used roasted pecans in this case
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
- 1 cup brown sugar - i think either light or dark sugar would work
- 1/2 cup melted butter - equal to one stick butter
- 3 10 ounce packages of buttermilk biscuits
- Preheat oven to 350. Sprinkle nuts in bottom of Bundt pan. In a side bowl or shallow dish, combine the sugar and the cinnamon. Cut each biscuit section into quarters & roll each section in the sugar/cinnamon mixture. Layer pieces in the bottom of the pan , building rows until all pieces are layered. Combine melted butter and brown sugar and pour mixture over the dough. Bake for 30-40 minutes until golden brown and puffy. Cool pan for 10 minutes. Invert bread onto cake stand and serve.
Editors note: The one unanswered question for me was..."Why is it called Monkey Bread?". Via the magic of the Internet, I found this very inconclusive information on The Food Timeline. While no clear answer on that front, I did find out that Monkey Bread is not just a Southern thing, despite what I thought. If anyone knows where the name comes from, leave a comment here!