A few weeks ago, at the beginning of March, we were sugaring. We'd tapped our trees and collected a decent amount of sap. Sap runs when it gets above freezing during the day and still drops below freezing at night. We'd boiled and bottled, reveling in this very Vermont harbinger of spring. And then it snowed 17 inches and in an instant, winter was back with a vengeance and the trees were all, "What the what?" and promptly stopped supplying us with their magnificent tree juice.
The day before yesterday, it was warm enough that we started collecting again. Huzzah! And then today, it snowed a bit and decided not to get about 20º. Boo! And then I remembered a picture my friend Nancy Hopkins, the fabulous Food and Lifestyle editor at Better Homes and Gardens, posted to Instagram. She's forever traveling the world, experiencing wonderful food moments. This one was a close-up of a small pile of ooey-gooey Monkey Bread. It seemed just the thing to drive away the "spring but not acting like spring" doldrums and a way to honor the goodness of the small bit of syrup we'd managed to make.
Brown Butter and Maple Monkey Bread
For the brown butter/maple brioche
1 pound plus 2 ounces all-purpose flour (King Arthur Flour)
2 ounces instant potato flakes, plain and finely ground
½ ounce instant yeast (I use Red Star)
½ ounce fine sea salt
3 ounces maple syrup
4 ounces whole milk
8 ounces unsalted butter
4 large eggs, room temperature
In a large bowl, combine the flour, potato flakes, yeast and salt. Whisk together. Set aside.
In a small saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Continue cooking after the butter has melted until the butter starts to brown at the bottom of the pan and starts to smell “nutty.” Take from the heat and add the milk. Allow to cool until just warm.
In the bowl of a stand mixer whisk together the eggs and the maple. Continue whisking and add the butter/milk mixture, making sure not to scrape the bottom of the saucepan but if some small browned bits join the party, don’t worry.
Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture and mix with the paddle attachment until the dough just comes together. Switch to the dough hook and continue mixing, scraping down the bottom and sides of the bowl with a bowl scraper, until the dough smooths out and is concentrated around the hook. It’s ok if a small portion of the dough still sticks to the very bottom of the bowl but the sides should be clean. This can take quite some time, 15-20 minutes, for the dough to properly develop. It will be a very soft, almost sticky dough.
Transfer the dough to a bowl sprayed with non-stick cooking spray and transfer the dough to the bowl, spraying the dough with non-stick spray and covering with plastic wrap to proof for 1 hour, to almost double in size.
Preheat oven to 350ºF.
Cut the dough into small pieces, about 120, and lay out on parchment lined sheet pans, spacing the pieces about ½ an inch apart. Spray with non-stick spray and cover lightly with plastic wrap. Allow to proof until the pieces are puffy and barely double their original size.
For the caramel
1 cup brown sugar
½ cup maple syrup
½ cup unsalted butter
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Combine all ingredients but the vanilla in a saucepan, stirring over low heat until the butter melts and the caramel becomes homogenous. Continue cooking and stirring until the caramel thickens slightly, about 2 minutes.
Take from the heat and allow to cool about 5 minutes, then add the vanilla extract and stir.
On a sheet pan lined with parchment, grease eight (1 cup capacity) cocottes or ramekins with butter. Add 2 tablespoons of the caramel mixture to the bottom of each. Set aside.
For the coating
1 cup sugar
1-2 teaspoons cinnamon
Combine the sugar and cinnamon in a large plastic Ziploc bag. Shake to distribute the cinnamon. Gently add a few pieces of dough at a time and coat in the sugar. Place a few pieces at the bottom of each prepared cocottes, being careful not to squeeze the pieces and don’t place them too closely together. Sprinkle another teaspoon of sugar on top of the pieces and then drizzle about 1 tablespoon of caramel on top of that. Continue adding layers of sugar coated dough to the containers, sprinkle with more cinnamon sugar and then caramel until all the dough pieces are added.
Bake for about 35-40 minutes or until the top is browned and a thermometer inserted into the brioche reads 210ºF.
Allow the monkey breads to rest about 10 minutes and then turn them out onto plates. Serve immediately alone or with ice cream. Make sure to serve warm.