When the Reagans were in the White House, the New York Times ran a small story with the family’s Christmas menu. One of the dishes served was Monkey Bread. Also called Bubble Bread, Monkey Bread is a lightly sweetened yeast dough, but instead of shaping the dough into a loaf, it’s formed into balls. The balls are rolled in melted butter and baked together in a tube pan. During baking, they expand and nestle against each other like a pack of monkeys, which may be why it’s called Monkey Bread.
Mrs. Reagan had another thought: “When you make it, you have to monkey around with it,” she said.
Many of the Monkey Bread recipes we found call for store-bought refrigerator biscuits, coated in cinnamon sugar and baked side-by-side in a large pan. While we have a hard time picturing Mrs. Reagan in an apron making bread, we have an even harder time imagining the White House pastry chef slamming a tube of dough on the counter for the commander-in-chief’s holiday dinner.
Although it’s tempting to try to arrange the balls of dough neatly in the pan, once they’re coated in butter, they are slippery and practically slide into place by themselves. At first the pan will seem too big for the dough, but it rises nearly to the top. When the bread is baked, it fills the pan.
Monkey Bread should be served warm in one piece so everyone can pull off a roll. We have no idea how many people there were around the White House table but would like to think when there was one roll left, the President smiled, took it and said, “Executive privilege!”
By Jean Kressy, a food writer in Ashburnham, Mass.