Baking is getting more festive by the day. The BreadLab is a mess after a trial bake for the X-mas specials that are up for the coming two weeks.
The flavor and texture of chestnut can really lift a dish, when used in moderation. The other week, running through Amsterdam's hottest local produce supermarket Marqt, there were some fresh chestnuts available. They would look real rustic, together with the red onions and roseval potatoes in the basket on the kitchen table...
They have been screaming not be wasted for looking pretty ever since, and today, when the sour cherries on syrup started their siren song, things started coming together. The theme clearly being nuts and fruits, let's cross the channel and ponder on that typical British dish;
Something allegedly edible that I managed to avoid for its name alone in the first two decades of my life. To the foreign ear it sounds like something with mutton sausage and a lot of gravy in it, that has been sitting in the cellar for three months. There is a lot of that where I come from. No need to explore.
Only to find out in the next decade that there is actually no meat involved at all, well... suet. But that was way back when. I do sometimes use lard and suet and the likes, but this sweet bread needs to go down easy with every one.
After making a basic mincemeat, boil the fresh chestnuts in their skins until tender, but still chewy. Chopping them up I decided to just chuck them in with the mincemeat, and that worked wonderfully well.
Sour cherries belong to New Year's Eve for me. I never knew that until I rediscovered the taste of them recently, the syrupy variety. I was immediately taken back; in my young years, when the adults would be seriously boozing in the New Year, the kids were allowed to drink something that was called "children's-liquor" (No, I kid you not). It came in a bottle that vaguely resembled the grown-ups' version. It was a deep red, sweet as hell and... without alcohol (I guess the marketing guys drew their lines somewhere in the sixties...). But that didn't seem to matter to us, as I remember. For me it was one of the high lights; that entire day, going around the neighborhood to wish every one a Happy New Year, and every house I entered had a glass of that stuff waiting. My Italian shop around the corner carries some nice jars with sour cherries on syrup, the blue one;
Raisins, apples, lemon zest, currants. Take whatever you have lying around to whip together a fruity, spicy layer of mincemeat that will ooze through the monkey bread during the bake. The chestnuts are optional if you are an avid hater (there seem to be quite a few out there), but it does give the flavor a nice twist, and, if chopped coarsely and not boiled to pieces, a different texture that works well with all the sticky caramel and the soft buns.
Since my first monkey bread, traditionally round, was rising all over the place, out of its baking tin, I decided the second bake would have to be in the biggest tin around... and that happened to be a square one. A happy accident, I would say!
Square Chestnut-Mincemeat Monkey Bread
For the (mini portion) mincemeat:
1 small apple 100 gr. boiled chestnut, coarsely chopped 30 gr. raisins 25 gr. currants 30 gr. prunes 20 gr. sour cherries (on syrup) dark beer, about 60 ml. 75 gr. brown sugar pinch of lemon zest dash of lemon juice a nob of butter pumpkin pie spice to taste, about ¾ tsp rum
If you like your apple firm, leave them out, while you bring the beer and all the other ingredients to a slow boil. When everything comes together and the butter is mixed in, add the apple and turn off the gas. Stir and cool.
You can find some good tips over here on how to boil your chestnuts, if you chose to go DIY all the way.
For the dough:
500 gr. bread flour 14 gr. instant yeast 150-175 ml lukewarm whole milk 2 beaten eggs 50 gr. butter 2 tbs honey 2 tsp pumpkin pie spice 1½ tsp salt
to sugar the monkey dough:
100 gr. caster sugar 2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
For the caramel sauce:
100 gr. butter 50 gr. dark brown sugar
Mix the dry ingredients together in a stand mixer. Add just enough milk for the dough to come together. Add the eggs and the butter little by little after about 4 minutes. Mix on low speed for about 15 minutes to develop an elastic dough. Transfer to an oiled container, cover and rest until double in size, for about an hour to one hour and a half at room temp.
Mix together the fine caster sugar with the spices. When the dough has risen, deflate it gently and shape into a cylinder. When the dough resists, give it a few minutes rest before you continue. Cut up the doughroll in small pieces, deliberately uneven in size and shape. Toss the dough pieces in the sugar and place in the oiled tin. They will expand considerably; loosely spread the first layer around your BIG (improv) monkey bread pan.
Scoop the cooled down chestnut-mincemeat over the first layer of dough, and then cover with a second layer of sugared dough bits. Cover and let proof untill the dough has puffed up.
Preheat the oven to 180° C. Heat the butter with the brown sugar and gently pour this over the proofed dough.
Bake for about 35 minutes, turning it halfway into the bake to ensure even browning. Be careful with the top; don't let it burn!
After the bake, let the bread cool for about 10 minutes before inverting the monkey bread onto a rack. Leave to cool completely before slicing.
Enjoy! You can really do me a big favor by endorsing the BreadLab initiative. Every 'like' will get us closer to funding a 6 episode documentary on 'the best bread in the world'. Thank you in advance!