Cathy here. 2016 was an eventful year, and it ended with me getting a celiac diagnosis. Catch up here: Listen to this podcast, which will bring you up to speed. Mostly.
If you aren’t familiar, monkey bread (also known as pull-apart bread, bubble bread and puzzle bread) is comprised of dough balls rolled in cinnamon-sugar, layered into a pan and baked. The resulting sweet bread can be pulled apart with the hands or two forks. Foodtimeline.org states that monkey bread and other similar confections—such as German kuchen, French galette and Pennsylvania Dutch sticky buns—descended from the ancient Middle Eastern cooks who introduced these recipes to Europe with the spice trade.
I found the base recipe years ago in a cookbook I have with recipes from bed-and-breakfasts around the United States. In my kitchen, that recipe has evolved into a sticky, sweet breakfast cake layered with toasted pecans and caramel sauce. Although I am typically an advocate of unprocessed and organic foods, I unabashedly use canned biscuits in this recipe, for which I do not apologize. Since I usually host Christmas and have a lot of cooking to do after the presents are opened, this shortcut allows me to pop the bread in the oven in 10 minutes (with just a little bit of prep work the night before) and relax with my family and coffee for 45 minutes while it bakes. It makes a delicious gooey Christmas treat without too much time or effort.
Caramel-Pecan Monkey Bread
1 cup pecans, coarsely chopped
2 cans (8-count, 16.3 ounces each) Grands!® Flaky Layers Original Biscuits*
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, divided
Pinch table salt
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1/8 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup granulated sugar
Preheat oven to 350°F and move oven rack to center position. Spray a large Bundt® pan well with non-stick cooking spray and set aside.
Spread pecans in a single layer in shallow baking pan and bake until fragrant, 5-6 minutes, shaking pan halfway through. Watch carefully to make sure they do not burn (there is nothing that tastes worse than a scorched nut!). Let cool.*
Unwrap biscuits and cut each biscuit into four quarters. Keep the biscuit quarters from each can of biscuits in their own separate pile (you will have two biscuit quarter piles, one pile of 32 quarters from each can).
Combine butter, brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and salt in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until butter melts and a sauce is formed (it will not be fully combined at this point). Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Add cream (Be careful, mixture will boil furiously when the cold cream hits the hot sauce). Stir until combined and smooth. Remove from heat; stir in vanilla.
Place the granulated sugar and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon in a Ziploc bag and shake to combine.
Sprinkle prepared Bundt® pan with 1/3 of the chopped, toasted pecans. Add half of the biscuit quarter pieces (one pile) to the bag with the cinnamon sugar and shake until the pieces are well-coated with the sugar. Place the sugar-coated biscuit quarters in a single layer on top of the pecans, fitting together snugly. Spoon half of the hot caramel sauce evenly over the biscuit dough. Sprinkle with half of the remaining chopped, toasted pecans.
Shake the remaining half of the biscuit quarter pieces (the remaining pile) in the cinnamon sugar to coat. Layer the rest of the sugar-coated pieces over the first layer, fitting together snugly; spoon the rest of the hot caramel sauce evenly over the second layer. Sprinkle with the remaining chopped, toasted pecans. Gently rap pan on the counter to ensure the sauce settles uniformly.
Bake at 350°F for 45-50 minutes or until deep golden brown. Remove from oven; immediately invert pan onto a serving plate. Let pan rest, upside down, on serving plate for 5 minutes before carefully removing pan (scrape out any topping that may have stuck to the bottom and replace on top of bread).
Serve, using two forks to pull apart the monkey bread.
VARIATION: For Orange Caramel-Pecan Monkey Bread, substitute orange juice for heavy cream and add 1 teaspoon grated orange rind to the sauce ingredients.
1. Do not use buttermilk biscuits as it will affect the taste of the finished bread (and not for the better). I find the Grands!® brand the best for this particular recipe.
2. Toast the pecans the night before to save time in the morning (let cool completely before storing in an airtight container). Do not skip this step as it will affect the taste of the finished bread.
I love Italian sausage and peppers, which is one of the easiest things in the world to make. If you are fortunate enough to have a killer Italian market in your vicinity, it is less than a couple of hours to pure nostalgic heaven. Italian sausage and peppers, typically served over polenta or on a crusty Italian hard roll, are a delicious treat you will find at any respectable street fair in an area that boasts a decent Italian-American population.
The ingredients are few, so this is not a place to skimp or cut corners. One bad apple spoils the batch of apple butter, so buy the best ingredients you can afford. Many Italian families make their dish with Italian sausage, onions and sweet peppers only, but my family also threw in some crushed tomatoes as well, which I prefer.
Green peppers are also traditional in this recipe, but I find they lend a bitter edge to the finished dish. A mix of yellow, orange and red sweet bell peppers is lovely and colorful, and keeps the bitterness factor out of the rich sauce.
Italian Sausage and Peppers
1 tablespoon good extra-virgin olive oil
1-1/2 lbs. sweet Italian sausage links (or a mix of sweet and hot if you prefer)
1 large yellow onion, sliced and the slices cut in half
1 large yellow bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into thin strips
1 large orange bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into thin strips
1 large red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into thin strips
28 oz. crushed tomatoes (canned or boxed is fine)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the Italian sausage links and brown on all sides until they are richly browned. Remove to a plate.
Add the onion and sweet peppers to the pan and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Reduce heat to medium and cook, tossing frequently with a pair of tongs, until softened and translucent. Pour in the crushed tomatoes and combine well. Bring to a simmer, then add the Italian sausage and any juice back to the pan, nestling the sausage links in the sauce.
Reduce heat to medium-low and cover. Cook, turning the Italian sausage occasionally, until the sausage is cooked through and the sauce becomes rich and thick, about 1 hour. Correct seasoning, if needed, and serve over polenta or on hard Italian crusty rolls.