Where did the first old-fashioned monkey bread recipe first come from?
The dish is usually made by rolling small balls of dough in a sugary mixture, layering them in a pan, and baking them until golden brown. The finished product can be pulled apart and enjoyed warm — straight from the oven is the best!
Its origins are uncertain, but it is believed monkey bread was popularized in the 1950s and 1960s after it caught on in the US as a fad in Hollywood (we even found a 1966 article referencing this — see it below!).
Some sources suggest that the original how-to may have been created by American “housewives” looking for new ways to use leftover biscuits or dinner rolls, while others confidently assert that it was invented by bakers looking for a fun way to serve bread that went beyond the usual slice-and-serve.
And then there are people who speculate that monkey bread was inspired specifically by aranygaluska, a traditional Hungarian pastry that uses yeasted bread in a similar pull-apart configuration.
As we have learned over the years, culinary influence and inspiration can happen in many different ways. This old-fashioned recipe could be one that was brought by immigrants, or it simply may be a recipe that was adapted by a local commercial baker or family homemaker.
Even today, there are many different variations possible. For instance, you can change the nuts, pour on caramel sauce after it’s cooked, sprinkle in a little nutmeg, drizzle on some maple syrup (in place of the corn syrup) — or serve a less-sweetened version alongside some jam, marmalade or lemon curd.
Want to go for a savory pull-apart bread? Season it instead with flavored salts, seeds and spices — or even take a shortcut by sprinkling the buttered balls with some dry soup mix (like in these dip recipes).
You don’t even have to use ball shapes! In the 60s & 70s, a popular version used thin buttered yeast dough that had been cut into diamond shapes with a cookie cutter. The diamonds were neatly stacked sideways into a ring pan with a slight offset, and the result was a petal-like loaf. Here’s what one of those looked like in a photo from 1968:
Regardless of its origins, this sort of pull-apart bread (also called pluck-it bread, bubble loaf, cobblestone bread, or tear-apart loaf) has become known as a warm and welcoming comfort food, and it is often served as a special treat at breakfast or as a dessert.
Our deliciously old-fashioned monkey bread recipe — essentially a cinnamon-pecan coffee cake — can be made with your favorite biscuit recipe, one made with biscuit mix, or you can also try making it with uncooked brown-and-serve rolls or refrigerated ready-to-bake biscuits.
Old-fashioned monkey bread recipe ingredients
The ingredients for this tasty cinnamon-pecan pull-apart coffee cake are simple enough: biscuit dough, sugar, cinnamon, chopped nuts, melted butter, and corn syrup.
Starting to make old-fashioned monkey bread from scratch
Cinnamon sugar mixture
A ring pan is recommended so heat can flow through the center, making sure that the innermost pieces of bread get as well-cooked as the rest of the coffee cake.
Preparing the monkey bread pan with sugar mixture
Starting to make a monkey bread coffee cake ring
Monkey bread recipe ball of dough
Monkey bread dough balls in a bowl
First layer of monkey bread dough
Filling the pan
Pouring sweet corn syrup on the coffee cake
YOU MIGHT LIKE THIS: Pecan ‘pizza’ coffee cake (1968)
Piece of old-fashioned monkey bread from scratch
Finished loaf using our old-fashioned monkey bread recipe
Monkey bread coffee cake ring
Pull off a few pieces of this coffee cake!
Have you tried monkey bread? (1966)
From the Honolulu Star-Bulletin (Honolulu, Hawaii) February 9, 1966
Monkey Bread is one of “The Things” in Hollywood and Beverly Hills right now.
If you haven’t heard of it, bought it (like at the Farmer’s Market), eaten, made or served Monkey Bread within the last two weeks, you are definitely not in the gastronomical swim.
What is it? Where did it come from? How did it get the name? To each of these questions, there are several answers.
Basically, Monkey Bread is made up of 2 or 3 layers of small light rolls or biscuits, each section slathered with butter and then packed together and baked in an angel cake pan, a ring mold. or a bread pan.
It’s always served warm in the loaf, which is happily pulled apart at the table and eaten in fragrant, steamy, hot little hunks with more butter!
Originally the idea came, some say, from Louisiana. Not at all, others shriek, Tennessee! “[Silent movie actress] Zasu Pitts brought it back after a visit to friends in Nashville!”
Why is monkey bread called monkey bread?
As for the name, “It’s eaten as a monkey might!” That’s one explanation. More widely-accepted is the theory that it was dubbed originally Monkeying-Around Bread. “Because monkeying-around is what it takes.” So says Ken Johnson, who is by day a post office official; at night, a dinner party caterer for the movie mogul set.
The Monkey Bread which he and his partner, Mary Louise Gresham, provided for a lavish dinner party was an airy ring, homemade of a yeast dough, light as brioche.
But when pressed for time, which is often, they make Monkey Bread from brown-and-serve rolls or ready-to-bake refrigerated biscuits.
The inspiration: Old-fashioned monkey bread recipe from 1965
Variation #1: Basic old-fashioned monkey bread recipe (1966)
Provide yourself with 24 uncooked brown-and-serve rolls/buns or refrigerated ready-to-bake biscuits. (Cloverleaf rolls are particularly good, but other shapes will do. Do not use crusty rolls.)
Break or cut each bun into 3 or pieces. Slather the inside of a ring mold or angel cake pan with softened butter. Roll each piece of bun into very soft or melted butter, covering all the surfaces.
Fit pieces closely and neatly together, lining the pan on the bottom, then making several layers. There should not be any holes between the pieces. Fit them as if you were building a stone wall. Bake in a hot oven (about 425 degrees) about 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm.
Variation #2: Sweet classic monkey bread (1966)
Follow the recipe above for pull-apart monkey bread, but after rolling the pieces in butter, sprinkle heavily or roll in brown sugar (light or dark) and, if desired, in crushed cornflakes. Sprinkle top with sugar, cinnamon, and cornflakes.