Sweet little dough balls, dairy rich and coated with butter, rolled in a sugar bath, then coming to rest nestled together in a tight, sweet swaddling surround, then let alone to rise.
The history of this sweet bread spans centuries. It’s a bread that is used during Jewish holidays, in particular, Purim. Hungary was home to a very large Jewish population before the holocaust. Outside of Hungary, I have only heard the word “Aranygaluska” in Jewish recipe circles. Arangaluska is mentioned in the writings of Gil Marks, a Rabbi and Encyclopedic food historian. The origins of Aranygalsuka and Monkey bread most likely would have been the sweet yeast dough used throughout the world. This original recipe for this rich sweet dough is found in these Rabbi Gil Marks books:
The world of Jewish Desserts and his World of Jewish Cooking
Sweet Yeast dough: Gil Marks
1 (1/4-oz) package (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast, or 1 (0.6 oz) cake fresh yeast
1 cup warm water (105 to 115 degrees for dry yeast; 80 to 85 degrees for fresh yeast),
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil,
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon salt
About 4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour.
Variations for a richer dough: Sour cream yeast dough.
Substitute 1/2 cup melted butter for the oil, reduce the amount of water to 1/4 cup, and add 3/4 cup sour cream. (Note that sour cream produces a richer, moister, heavier cake, desired in some smaller pastries and coffee cakes.)
I find these original Aranygaluska recipes in my “go-to” Hungarian cookbooks: The clean one is my Mothers, over a century old. The second one missing the cover and taped together in terrible condition is mine. However, it’s a wonderful teacher and my first Aranygaluska sprang forth from those pages. I acquired this book shortly after I was married. It’s my second oldest cookbook. My Mother’s book I inherited, and use it only for reference as it takes me half a day to translate, not to mention the measures are metric and ancient. George Lang’s book I bought in the 1980’s and Gil Marks, and Joan Nathan’s books in the last ten years. I never realized what wonderful resources they would become.
Aranygaluska in Joan Nathan’s Book:
King Solomon’s Table: A Culinary Exploration of Jewish Cooking from Around the World: A Cookbook
Aranygaluska, Hungarian Golden Pull-Apart Cake with Walnuts and Apricot Jam
Yield: about 8 to 10 servings
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1 cup (235 ml) warm milk
½ cup (100 grams) sugar, plus 2 tablespoons
4 large eggs
Zest of 1 orange
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup plus 4 tablespoons(2½ sticks/282 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature, divided
4½ cups (600 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour (about)
1 teaspoon salt
1½ cups (180 grams) ground walnuts
6 tablespoons (83 grams) brown sugar
¾ teaspoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons cake or butter cookie crumbs
¾ cup (150 grams) apricot or plum jam
“Aranygaluska, also called golden dumpling cake, butter puffs, and monkey bread, has been extolled by Jewish immigrants from Hungary for years. I first noticed a recipe for the cake in George Lang’s The Cuisine of Hungary from 1971. Aranygaluska probably started as a rich cake, like the German Dampfnudeln (see my Jewish Cooking in America) served with fish or soup on Fridays, when no meat was allowed for Catholics. Jews who separated meat from dairy in their diet would serve it with a fish or non-meat soup.
Agnes Sanders, who grew up under Communism in Miskolc, Hungary, kindly showed me how she makes aranygaluska in her kitchen on New York’s Upper West Side. “It wasn’t bad growing up during the Communist [period] in Hungary,” she told me. “Everyone was equally poor but we could go anywhere.” When her mother died, her father, fearful that she would not marry a Jew, sent her to Detroit to live with an uncle in 1965. Everyone else in her family had died in the Nazi concentration camps.
Agnes’s version of aranygaluska, learned in this country, was not as rich as I remembered it. I have tweaked her recipe here and there, adding ingredients like vanilla to the cake. I also add a chocolate alternative to the nuts, called kuchembuchem (one of those marvelous made-up Yiddish rhyming names), often made with leftover babka dough. Try one or both versions.”
Aranygaluska in George Lang’s book which inspired Joan Nathan.
The Cuisine of Hungary.
- 1 envelope of yeast
- 1 cup lukewarm milk
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 pound flour
- 6 egg yolks
- Pinch of salt
- 10 tablespoons sweet butter, melted
- Flour for pastry board
- Butter for mold
- 2 tablespoons cake crumbs
- 1 cup ground walnuts
- 1 tablespoon grated lemon rind
- ½ cup thick apricot jam
- ¼ cup vanilla sugar
George Lang (born György Deutsch; July 13, 1924 – July 5, 2011) was a Hungarian born American restaurateur, food and travel writer, critic and journalist. He too, like Gil Marks was an avid historian, The first third of his cookbook is devoted culinary history, with more research and interesting facts interwoven with the recipes. Lang was the only child of Simon Deutsch, a tailor, and Ilona Lang. He grew up in this “modestly prosperous” Jewish family in Székesfehérvár, Hungary where he practiced violin. After Döme Sztójay took over as prime minister in March 1944, György was ordered into a labor camp; both his parents later died in Auschwitz, but György escaped within six months. He changed his name (Deutsch means ‘German’), taking his mother’s maiden name, Lang meaning “flame”, and moved to the United States in 1946 with his cousin Évi. He settled in New York the same year. His great mission was to dispel the perception that Hungarian cuisine is gypsies and goulash, but rather a very fine, elevated, sophisticated cuisine.
“Of the many reasons for this book, perhaps the most important one is to show to the rest of the world that this step-child of history, located on the eternally explosive borders of East and West, of Asiatic origin and an almost surrealistic history, has an extraordinary and unique cuisine,”George Lang Intro to the cuisine of Hungary.
Aranygaluska Around the world.
Elsewhere in the world there are references to this type of bread called, pull aparts, christmas morning delights, bubble bread and the infamous “monkey bread”.
The first cultures to add cinnamon were ancient middle eastern cooks. The recipes filtered all over Europe. German Kuchen, French Galette. Pennsylvania Dutch sticky buns all descended from these original yeast breads. Early 20th century cookbooks are full of recipes for dough chilled overnight to made breads of different shapes and sizes. Cinnamon and butter toppings were common and the flavor most beloved by American cooks. Almost every Junior league, Association or Church cookbook has a version in it.
Aranygaluska Comes to America a.k.a. Monkey Bread
One of the most popular search terms during the holidays is actually “Monkey Bread’ according to General Mills after counting clicks on BettyCrocker.com, Pillsbury.com, and its other websites.
It’s a sleeper of a national favorite, and lends itself to a myriad of adaptations. But on this post we will stick to the classic version. and it’s history.
Enter Nancy Reagan. First Lady White House.
In the 1940s, a stage play called “Ramshackle Inn” was touring the country. Two actresses on the “Ramshackle Inn” set at the time were Zasu Pitts and Nancy Reagan The two actresses were good friends. When a newspaper discovered that Pitts loved to cook, they wrote the story; “Zasu Pitts loves to cook!” Pitts not only describes how much she loves to cook, but offers her recipe for monkey bread.
When Nancy arrived at the White House in 1981, she brought her monkey bread recipe with her, making it a standard fare in the White House Christmas buffet. Best of all, according to food historian Gil Marks, Nancy arranged for monkey bread to be served to her husband on the night before his testimony before Congress for the Iran-contra hearings. As legend goes, former President Ronald Reagan said that night, “Mommy, I may go to prison, but I’ll always remember this monkey bread.”
–Remembering Nancy Reagan and her monkey bread
Food for Thought Heather Atwood Mar 8, 2016
Nancy Reagan’s Monkey Bread
- 1 rapid-rise yeast package
- 1 to 1 + ¼ cups milk (any type is fine)
- 3 eggs
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 4 + ½ cups bread flour
- 6 oz. butter, room temperature
- ½ lb. butter, melted
In a small bowl, mix ½ cup of warm (not hot) milk, 1 tablespoon sugar and 1 yeast packet until dissolved. Let sit 5 minutes until frothy/bubbling. In a large bowl (we used a stand mixer for this recipe) beat two eggs. Slowly mix in ½ cup milk, 2 tablespoons sugar and 4 + ½ cups bread flour. Slowly add remaining ¼ cup of milk until a pizza-dough like texture is reached. Slowly knead in the 6 ounces of room-temperature butter and continue kneading for 6 minutes.
Lightly grease a large bowl and place the kneaded dough in it. Cover bowl and place in a warm, damp area and let dough rise 60 to 90 minutes until doubled in size. While dough is rising, melt ½ lb. butter in small bowl. Set aside. Grease bunt pan. Set aside.
When risen, roll dough out onto lightly floured surface. Gently roll dough into a 12×14″ rectangle. Cut rectangle into 24 pieces of equal size and roll pieces into spheres. Fully coat each piece in melted butter and place in greased bunt pan. Let dough rise in bunt ban for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Separate egg, keeping egg white in small bowl. Gently whisk egg white in bowl with fork. Lightly brush egg white on top of risen dough.
Bake monkey bread in oven until golden brown, approximately 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool completely. Turn bread out onto cutting board and pull apart to serve.
Monkey Bread (by ZaSu Pitts)
1 12/ cup cakes compressed yeast
1 cup milk scalded and cooled to lukewarm
1 tablespoon sugar
3 to 4 cups sifted flour
1/2 cup melted butter
1 teaspoon salt
Method: Dissolve the yeast and the sugar in the lukewarm milk. Add the butter, then flour,eggs, well beaten and the salt. Beat well. Let rise and beat again. If the dough should rise too quickly, place in the refrigerator for 1/2 hour. Roll out very thinkly and use a small diamond shaped cutter. Butter each piece individually and fill a ring half full. Let rise to double in bulk and bake in a moderatley hot oven (425 degrees F.) for about 20 minutes.”
—“Culinary Clinic: ZaSu Pitts Just Loves to Cook,” Winnepeg Free PressCanada [Canada] February 8, 1945 (p. 11)
Enter Ann King: African-American Cook. Albany Texas.
Some food historians state Monkey Bread was a collaborative culinary product of ZaSu Pitts (actress & accomplished cook/cook book author) and Ann King an African- American Albany Texas cook.
One man, Frank X. Tolbert, a newspaper reporter was one of the few to document the monkey bread story of Ann King, writing about Ann and monkey bread in his book “A bowl of Red”.
“Mrs. Vivian Hartman, a friend to whose good taste I genuflect, introduced me to Ann King’s ‘monkey bread.’ Ann King, a good-looking black women, long ago worked out her formula for monkey bread with the late film actress Zasu Pitts. If you’re a veteran viewer of movies you’ll remember Zasu Pitts. She was the sweet- faced, willowy character actress with popping, bewildering eyes, and she was much given to anxiously wringing her hands when before cameras. Miss Pitts was quite a gourmet and composed several cookbooks including one called Candy Hits by Zasu Pitts. Ms. King won’t give her formula for monkey bread, but you can buy it most days at the Piggly-Wiggly store in Albany, Texas, where Ann lives. At the store it comes frozen and in a one-pound pound ring, shaped sort of like an angel food cake. You just brown and become an addict. The rolls of bread are all twisted up in spaghetti snarls. I like it rather well browned and it’s so ‘short’ you don’t need any butter with it. ‘I took out a patent on my version of monkey bread,’ said Ann King. ‘I understand some restaurant in Sallas is serving what they call monkey bread, but my customers say it doesn’t taste nearly so good as mine.”—A Bowl of Red, Frank X. Tolbert [Texas A&M University Press:College Station TX] 1972, 1993 (p. 170-171)
Expanded Story of Monkey Bread
by Frank X. Tolbert
MRS. VIVIAN HARTMAN, a Dallas friend to whose good taste I genuflect, said: “When you go to Albany be sure and pick up some of Ann King’s monkey bread. You can buy it, I think, at the Piggly Wiggly store in Albany.”
So, when I was in Albany, Texas, last week I did buy some monkey bread and I talked with monkey bread’s inventor, Mrs. Ann King.
The monkey bread turned out to be just great. At the store it comes frozen in a 1-pound ring, like an angel food cake in conformation. You just brown it, and then become an addict.
MRS. ANN KING and her husband, Richard King, live in a neat white frame house in a mesquite grove on the outskirts of Albany. Mrs. King says that she will soon be 62, but with her fine, unlined, lemon-colored countenance she looks to be at least a dozen years younger.
We sat on the side stoop in cool sunshine, with cardinals playing around in the trees, and an Appaloosa horse watching us from a pasture across the road. And we talked, mostly about monkey bread.
“When it got so popular, and stores began carrying it here and in Abilene and other towns around close, I took out a patent,” said Mrs. King. “I understand some restaurant in Dallas is serving what they call monkey bread, but one of my customers say it doesn’t taste nearly so good as mine.”
THE KINGS are leading culinary artists in Albany. Richard King is a barbecue specialist, and there is a big barbecue pit, fed by mesquite knots, and several steel smoke houses in the yard.
“I’ve been cooking all my life, but now I just bake monkey bread here at home,” said Mrs. King. “I’m from Anadarko in Oklahoma and Richard was born here in Fort Griffin. We went out to Los Angeles during the war (World War II) and my husband was one of the first Negro men to go to work for Lockheed. I worked for a woman in Burbank who lived next to Zasu Pitts, and Miss Pitts and I became good friends. I’m telling you this because Miss Pitts helped me work out the formula for monkey bread.”
YOU REMEMBER Zasu Pitts? She was the great character actress, the sweet-faced, willowy woman with popping, bewildered eyes and she was much given to anxiously wringing her hands when before the movie cameras.
“Miss Pitts—she’s gone now—was a good cook,” said Ann King, and she displayed an autographed copy of one of Miss Pitts’ cookbooks, this one on candy making called “Candy Hits by Zasu Pitts.” “As I said, she helped me during the experimenting that finally resulted in monkey bread. Why did we call it that? Well, when we finally found the just right recipe we were being deviled by some young children. So we named it for those little monkeys.”
The roll of bread is all twisted up in spaghetti snarls. I like it rather well browned. And it’s so “short” you don’t need any butter with it.
Monkey Bread recipe attributed to Ann King.
- 2 cups water
- 2 medium-sized russet potatoes, peeled and quartered
- 1 package active dry yeast
- 1 teaspoon plus 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 5 1/2 to 6 1/2 cups unsifted all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 cup lukewarm milk (110°F to 115°F)
- 1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening (such as Crisco)
- 1 tablespoon butter, softened, plus
- 1/2 pound unsalted butter, melted and cooled
- Bring water to a boil in a small heavy saucepan. Drop in the potatoes and boil briskly, uncovered, until a piece of potato can be easily mashed against the side of the pan with the back of a fork.
- Drain potatoes in a sieve set over a bowl and pat them dry with paper towels. Measure and reserve 1/4 cup of the potato water. Puree the potatoes through a food mill set over a bowl, or mash them with the back of a fork. You should have about 1 cup of puree.
- When the reserved potato water has cooled to lukewarm (110°F to 115°F), pour it into a shallow bowl. Add yeast and 1 teaspoon of the sugar and let mixture rest for 2-3 minutes, then stir well. Set the bowl in a warm, draft-free place (such as an unlighted oven) for 5 minutes, or until the yeast bubbles and the mixture almost doubles in volume.
- Combine 5 1/2 cups of flour, the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar and the salt in a deep mixing bowl and make a well in the center. Add the potato puree, the yeast mixture, and the eggs, milk, and vegetable shortening.
- With a large spoon, mix the ingredients together and stir until the dough is smooth and can be gathered into a soft ball.
- Place the ball on a lightly floured surface and knead pushing the dough down with the heels of your hands, pressing it forward and folding it back on itself. As you knead, sprinkle flour over the ball by the tablespoonful, adding up to 1 cup of flour if necessary to make a firm dough.
- Continue to knead for about 10 minutes, or until the dough is smooth, shiny, and elastic.
- With a pastry brush, spread the tablespoon of softened butter evenly inside a deep mixing bowl. Place the ball in the bowl and turn it around to butter the entire surface of the dough. Drape the bowl loosely with a kitchen towel and put it in a draft-free place for about 1-1/2 hours, or until the dough doubles in volume.
- With a pastry brush, spread 2 tablespoons of the melted butter evenly over the bottom and sides of two 9-inch tube pans.
- Punch the dough down with a blow of your first and place it on a lightly floured surface. With your hand, pat and shape the dough into a rectangle 14 inches long, 12 inches wide and about 1/2 inch thick. Using a ruler and a pastry wheel or sharp knife, cut the rectangle into diamonds about 2 inches long.
- To assemble the monkey bread, immerse one diamond at a time in the remaining melted butter and arrange a layer of diamonds side by side in a ring on the bottom of each buttered tube pan. Repeat with two more layers of butter-coated diamonds, arranging each successive layer so that it fits over the spaces left in the previous ring.
- Don’t worry that the diamonds do not fill all the available space; as they rise and bake they will expand.
- Drape the pans loosely with towels and set them aside in a draft-free place for about 1 hours, or until the loaves double in volume.
- Preheat oven to 375°F. Bake the monkey bread in the middle of the oven for 30-35 minutes, or until the loaves are a golden brown. To test for doneness, turn the loaves out and rap the bottoms sharply with your knuckles. The loaves should sound hollow; if they do not, return them to their pans and bake for 5-10 minutes longer.
- Turn the bread out on a wire rack and let cool slightly before serving. Monkey bread is never sliced. Instead each diner pulls a diamond-shaped piece from the loaf.
Today: My Deconstructed Aranygaluska
Coming full circle, I am working on a deconstructed Aranygaluska here at the farm. I wanted to create something more personal than the cinnamon rolls I made before, and to also bring my Hungarian heritage into the picture. I’m using a very rich yeast dough, similar to the sour cream version Rabbi Gil Marks includes in his books.
The constraints of individual packaging, led me to this solution and our little “Golden Dumplings” were born. These are made with walnuts and apricot jam, a traditional Hungarian combination. I’ve also made a super gooey sticky cinnamon sugar with frosting that was very sweet but amazing also. I’m working on more flavors because they’re just way too cute!
Thanks for reading,
Yes, I’m one of those nerds that watch the credits roll by after every film I watch. Gaffers, grips, locations, caterers, make-up artists, assistants…
But best of all were these tidbits thrown in later that were just fun and a sweet surprise,.
How she wants her name said: Say-Zoo. Her name was a combination of her two Aunts names she took for her stage name. (January 3, 1894 – June 7, 1963) She had a long important career, she was inducted to the Hollywood Walk of Fame on February 8, 1960 for her contribution to motion pictures. Her star is on the south side of the 6500 block of Hollywood Boulevard. Declining health dominated Pitts’ later years, particularly after she was diagnosed with cancer in the mid-1950s. She continued to work, appearing on TV and making brief appearances.
Pitts wrote a book of candy recipes, Candy Hits by ZaSu Pitts, which was published posthumously in 1963. So Ann King’s copy must have been given to her personally very early early on?
“Miss Pitts—she’s gone now—was a good cook,” said Ann King, and she displayed an autographed copy of one of Miss Pitts’ cookbooks, this one on candy making called “Candy Hits by Zasu Pitts.” “As I said, she helped me during the experimenting that finally resulted in monkey bread.”–Frank X. Tolbert
What inspired the monkey bread creation? Being a famous actress living in Hollywood, she might have crossed paths with any Jewish family during the holidays where Aranygaluska was served? Did she socialize with Jewish immigrants such as Louis Mayer, Carl Laemmle, Marcus Loew, Adolph Zukor, Harry Cohn, Jesse Lasky, the Warner brothers, and Samuel Goldwyn? Or hang out with Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, Sidney Lumet, and Paul Mazursky, all sons of East European Jews?
Or did she cross paths with George Lang in one of the famous restaurants he ran such as the Four Seasons, or Cafe artistes, or the Waldorf-Astoria? Or at Queen Elizabeth II of England’s coronation banquet at the Hotel Savoy?
Who really knows…
I think that Ann King’s Monkey bread is unique because of the mashed potatoes in it and the fact that it was constructed with diamond shaped pieces of dough layered together which formed a spaghetti style interweaving, quite different than the sugared dough ball rounds of aranygaluska.
Also it’s very low in sugar and not as rich in fruits and jams compared to aranygaluska.
Who knows where inspiration comes from, I’m just glad it did and we have some history to document it.
Ann King was an American original much like other favorites of mine; Edna Lewis and Leah Chase, but that’s another story.