Sunday, March 3, 2013

Bundt #5 of BCS5: Bubble Ring (aka Monkey Bread)

Baked on November 11, 2012.

When the Main Squeeze and I first got together, he used to talk about this cinnamon-sugary, yeasted dough, breakfast baked good that his Mom had made a few of times when he and his brother were younger: Bubble Ring.  This breakfast item was described in idyllic terms.  It sounded wonderful.  But in spite of all this waxing poetic, the infamous Bubble Ring has never appeared.  It was explained to me by the Main Squeeze that Bubble Ring was pretty time consuming to make, and would require getting up really early.  As someone who values sleep, I could understand why his Mom did not feel compelled to make Bubble Ring for us.

Several years ago (dear lord, it's been at least ten), I don't know how it came up, but I was describing this mythical dish to some former co-workers.  One of my co-workers told me that she knew exactly what I was talking about, and that she had a recipe for it, which she would bring in for me.  I was terribly excited.  Bubble Ring was almost in my grasp!  And the next day, she gave me a photocopy of a recipe for something called "Cape Cod 'Sunrise' Stickies."  But this couldn't be right, it called for frozen bread balls and butterscotch pudding mix.  This seemed nothing like the hours-long process for Bubble Ring, with a yeasted dough you rolled into balls and covered in cinnamon and sugar (though both were baked in a bundt pan), that the Main Squeeze had described.  I held onto the recipe, but I never made it.

Then a year or two ago, in response to either the announcement of the start of the latest Bundt Cake Season or a specific bundt cake I had posted about, my cousin's husband, Jack (a fabulous baker, by the way), shared a recipe for something called Monkey Bread, and described it as "[his] kind of bundt cake."  This involved, if I remember correctly, Pillsbury biscuits cut up and mixed with cinnamon and sugar and baked in a bundt pan.  But as much as I have been a fan of Pillsbury biscuits in the past, this again, although it sounded similar to Bubble Ring, couldn't be right.  Pre-made biscuit dough?  No, that would never do.

Fast-forward to last fall.  My friend, Joanna, in the links for a Pajiba Love, included a link for something that looked absolutely fabulous, Cinnamon Roll Pancakes.  In the description, the author mentioned that you could make a cream cheese glaze for these pancakes, if you wanted.  (The Cinnamon Roll Pancakes are fabulous, by the way.  I strongly recommend that you make them.  This weekend.  And they really don't need a cream cheese glaze--they're perfect plain.)  And that, my friends, intrigued me.  Cream cheese frosting is my favorite kind of frosting, so a cream cheese glaze sounded like it could have a lot of potential.  I went in search of a cream cheese glaze, and that search lead me to this: Smitten Kitchen's Monkey Bread with Cream Cheese Glaze.

I took one look at it and immediately thought, "That's Bubble Ring!"  Since Smitten Kitchen is responsible for one of the all-time best bundt cakes I've made during the various Bundt Cake Seasons, I was certain that I could trust her recipe for Bubble Ring (or, as I have figured out, what everybody else calls Monkey Bread), especially when in her post she pooh-poohed using canned biscuit dough for this dish.  I quickly bookmarked that recipe and looked forward to the day I would surprise the Main Squeeze with the famous Bubble Ring (only sixteen short years since he first mentioned it).

He wasn't kidding when he said this would take a while to make.  It has two rising periods, each at least an hour long.  Then there's the time it takes to divide the dough into 64 pieces, dip each of those in melted butter, and then in a cinnamon-sugar mixture, and layer them in a bundt pan.  And then it bakes for half-an-hour or so.  It took me over four hours to make the Bubble Ring--I think it may have been five.  A speedier baker, I'm sure, could cut down that time quite a bit.  I would hope.

In addition to the time factor, which wasn't too intimidating, I undertook the task of making Bubble Ring with some trepidation, because you see, yeast makes me nervous.  I'm afraid of killing it.  This anxiousness did bring about the one major problem I had when I made the dough.  I was so concerned about getting the water temperature to exactly 110 degrees, that it wasn't until after I had combined all the dough ingredients, I realized I hadn't poured out the extra water, and that I had no idea how much water was in the dough.  I had no choice but to throw the dough out.  Do you know how painful that was?  VERY.

In any case, I persevered, and started all over.  One of the exciting things about making Bubble Ring, is that it meant that I got to use the dough hook attachment for my stand mixer for the first time.

Look!  The dough came together, exactly as the recipe described.  It's a miracle!

After kneading the dough, the big test came.  It was time to let it rise.  Into a greased bowl it went.  After coating the dough with a little more oil, it went into the warm oven to rise.

In only one short hour  later, I'd know if the Bubble Ring was doomed to failure, or if there was hope that the mythical baked good might be mine to try.

OK, I know that I should have taken the picture of the risen dough
still in the bowl for proper perspective, but you're going to have to
trust me that it did what it was supposed to do: double in size.

Success!  The dough came out of the oven twice has big as when it went in!  I had mastered a yeasted dough.  All kinds of baked good possibilities were now open to me.

The next step in the process took a while.  After patting the dough into an 8-inch square, you then cut it into 64 pieces, and then each piece gets dunked in melted butter and then covered in sugar and cinnamon and layered into a bundt pan.  Ms Smitten Kitchen gave some excellent advice to make sure you separate the pieces quickly from each other, or they'll just glom back together while you aren't looking (or even while you are looking).  I figured the easiest thing to do was to cut off an inch strip at a time, which I then cut into eight pieces, rather than trying to divide and separate 64 pieces at once.  This worked well for me.  Her other excellent piece of advice was to use a fork to spear the dough balls for the dunking and coating process.

I'll note here that I ended up using an additional quarter of the brown sugar coating more than the recipe called for.  Perhaps I was just extra generous with the sugar mixture?  I remember at the time thinking a little cardamom in the cinnamon-sugar mix would be delicious, but for my first try, I was going to stick to the recipe (and to keep it traditional for the Main Squeeze).

It was as I was doing the dunking and coating that the Main Squeeze walked into the kitchen, essentially spoiling the surprise.  This was, in part, because making this was taking much longer than I had anticipated, and he needed to head off to football Sunday.  He was incredibly excited and clearly hadn't expected Bubble Ring when I told him earlier I was making him a special surprise.  Upon figuring out what was going on, he suggested I bring the Bubble Ring to football Sunday, because A) it was best warm, B) it doesn't last very well & C) would be far too much for two people (us) to eat on our own, and D) that his brother would be stunned if I showed up with Bubble Ring.

After all the cinnamon-sugar coated dough balls are in the pan, it gets covered with plastic and put back in the oven to rise again.  For another 50 to 70 minutes.  You see why this took so long, yes?  Of course, what cracked me up is that the directions say that after this second rise, it will be one to two inches from the top of the pan.  As you can see from the picture above, that's where the balls of dough were *before* they went into the oven to rise again!  (I'm guessing that this is because I have a 10-cup pan, rather than a 12-cup pan.)  One of the things that Ms. Smitten Kitchen recommends is making sure you stagger the placement of the dough balls, so that you don't end up with columns of them, but since I don't have a standard bundt pan, that's pretty much what happened naturally for me.

I'm trapped in a plastic-wrapped bundt pan of emotion!
I was worried that the Bubble Ring wouldn't rise as much as it should, because it would be restricted by the plastic wrap, but I think it turned out fine.

Finally ready for baking!
Into the oven it went, to bake for 30-35 minutes.  Ms. Smitten Kitchen said that her Monkey Bread ended up baking for a little too long, because the recipe she was following said that the caramel would bubble up, but hers never did.  So, I decided to just bake it until the top was deep brown.  (The caramel didn't bubble up for me either, as I recall.)

Just seeing it fully baked in the pan is making me crave Bubble Ring!
After it cools for only five minutes, you turn it out of the pan--she was clear that if you waited any longer, you'd have problems getting it out of the pan.  And no one wants all that hard work to go to waste!  (Or, at the very least, to lose any of the delicious bubble ring/monkey bread to the pan.)

Mmm, cinnamon-sugar turned to caramel-y goodness.
After letting it cool for another ten minutes, you drizzle it with the cream cheese glaze.

I'm not sure why this photo came out so dark.
I quickly popped the top on the cake taker and headed over to the Main Squeeze's brother's place.  It a little less than 15 minutes away, so the Bubble Ring was still warm when I got there.

The Main Squeeze was right.  His brother was shocked by the arrival of Bubble Ring, which he didn't think he had had in at least 20 years.  Shocked and super excited.  The others at football Sunday, by the way, confirmed that everyone else calls this Monkey Bread.

We dug into the still-warm Bubble Ring/Monkey Bread and it was *so* good!  The eight of us pretty much devoured it.  (Even the hung-over member of the group, who had only eaten dry toast that day, was able to eat and enjoy the Bubble Ring--it's clearly a miracle food.)  The Main Squeeze and I had enough to nibble on the next morning (when it wasn't nearly as good).  I will absolutely make Bubble Ring/Monkey Bread again in the future, but obviously when I have several hours that I can dedicate to doing so.  You should also set aside a good four hours or so in the near future to make one for yourself.  (Well you and your friends/family--this is too much for just one or two people to eat and the Main Squeeze is right, it's really at its best on that first day.)  You deserve some super delicious Bubble Ring or as everyone else calls it, Monkey Bread.

* * *

Normally, this is where I'd post the recipe, but I'm going to send you over to Smitten Kitchen for the recipe.  Not only is this post long enough as it is, I think you should see her gorgeous pictures and get all of her baking hints.  Also, if you are unfamiliar with her food blog, you really should check it out.

Here is the one change I would make to the recipe, based on my experience of running out of cinnamon-sugar mix:

Brown Sugar Coating
1 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar (Instead of just 1 cup)
2 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon (Instead of just 2 teaspoons)
If you like cardamom, I'd put a teaspoon of that in as well.
8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick or 4 ounces), melted (I'm pretty sure I didn't need any more melted butter, so this stays the same.)

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