Who would have thought to roll pieces of dough into 1-inch balls, stick them together in a pan, and bake them in an oven on high heat? The history of monkey bread is as scattered as it is interesting. But it is clear that every rendition on the delectable treat shared an element in common… Each one held a special place in the consumer’s heart (and stomach). Throughout the dessert and breakfast item’s relatively short history, it has undergone major changes in 2 areas.
The monkey bread most of us are used to is dumped in buckets of sugar and cinnamon, then drenched with a thick brown sugar and butter coating. But monkey bread wasn’t always this way. In the 1940s, monkey bread emerged as a savory concoction sometimes served with sweet substances like jam. About 30 years later, the bundle of carbohydrates transformed once again as bakers began drawing inspiration from various coffee cakes – primarily Hungarian and golden dumpling.
Initially, people made bread sans baking pan. But as buttery doughs rose in popularity, the need for the tools increased. The loose mixture had to be contained by some device. Because of this, monkey bread was not in a circular shape from the beginning. Bakers across America baked the snug dough balls, but in many types of structures. One of the earliest recipes for monkey bread came from Mary Johnson Lincoln, who published a cookbook in the mid-1880s with instructions to make “finger rolls” included inside. In the 1940s, however, actress ZaSu Pitts shared her monkey bread recipes, which was formed in a circular or ring pan.
Although ZaSu’s recipe was closer to the standard monkey bread recipe seen today, it still lacked eggs and large amounts of sugar. The advent of pre-packaged dough led to the current dough ball formation. And the overall sweeter taste monkey breads are known for now was initiated by General Mills during World War II. The company marketed the dessert as the perfect treat to get you through until the next sugar ration, according to Gil Marks’ article titled “American Cakes: Monkey Bread.”