Monday, April 6, 2009

Throwdown Monkey Bread: How Panera Is Like My Grandmother

Posted By on Mon, Apr 6, 2009 at 6:46 AM

With 650 calories, 13 grams of fat and more sugar than I like to ingest in a day, the Cobblestone at Panera is exactly the kind of food I'd like never to see again. And yet, I find myself rerouting my trip to work so I can pass by the mega-bakery just to pick one up.

The Cobblestone isn't actually a muffin, though it's shaped like one. It's a muffin in sweet-roll clothing. Think of sweet bolls of cotton stuck together with a cinnamon-spice glaze then baked until the top scabs up like over-baked apple pie filling. Try to pick a raisin or apple chunk from the crisp, sugary muffin top, and a bite-size hunk of sweet dough pops cleanly out--a delicious fission of a doughy, sticky atom.

While I usually avoid fruit-raisin things in favor of the chocolate-coconut flavor axis, there's something about the Cobblestone that transcends my normal appetite. I finally figured out what it is: It reminds me of my grandmother's Monkey Bread.

If memory serves, Meme used to cut up disks of ready-to-bake biscuits--the kind that POP! open when you push the side of the canister with a spoon--and reassemble them into a wreath of biscuit hunks. Then she'd glaze the whole thing with a syrup of sugar, cinnamon and maybe raisins or fruit zest, and bake.

Rule No. 1 of Monkey Bread is you never cut Monkey Bread with a knife. You pull it apart, hunk by hunk, which means there is no such thing as a finite slice. You just work your way around the doughy ring, until eventually you get a clean break that leaves the cake looking tidy. This, of course, never happens, so you ultimately eat the whole thing, which is surely at least 650 calories. Regardless, it's the kind of food that's fun to make and perfect for putting in the center of the table for a long, lazy breakfast.

I don't remember the specific formula for Monkey Bread, and sadly, my grandmother isn't around to ask any more. Does anyone have a recipe they could share?

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