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Monkey Bread recipe

I’m never quite sure what to say when people ask if they can reduce sugar in a recipe. My inclination is to say Non! right off the bat. Not because I’m in France, and it’s reflexive, but because when I test or develop a recipe, I get the sugar balance just to where I like it before it goes into a book or on the blog. It’s like asking someone if you need to wear shoes. It’s my preference, but if you don’t want to use the quantities given – well, be my guest! I just always follow that up with a note that people might not be happy with the results. Ditto with making other substitutions: If I haven’t personally tried it, I can’t recommend it.

Monkey Bread recipe

I don’t mean to be Déborah Downer, but I don’t know how it’s going to turn out so don’t want to give something the okay unless I know people will be happy with the result. Since sugar makes things moister, as well as sweeter, changing the measurement or substituting an ingredient in a recipe can result in a dry cake or tough batch of cookies. (It’s also a conserving agent so treats won’t last as long…although I don’t have that trouble at my house.)

However when Baking with Less Sugar by Joanne Chang of the famed Flour Bakery in Boston landed on my kitchen counter, I was intrigued because it was nice to flip through the pages and see what is obviously a well-tested collection of recipes from a pastry chef and bakery owner who I admire very much, where the sugar is reduced or replaced by another sweetener. (A good omen is when an author discusses in the headnote how they came up with the recipe, and what kind of testing went into it, so you can be reasonably confident the author tested it thoroughly.) Leafing through the book had me excited to give one of the recipes a try, and this Monkey Bread stood out.

Monkey Bread recipe-2

Monkey Bread is traditionally is slathered with a lot of butter and sugar. And sometimes people pour sugary icing all over it, too. But caramel is one of those things where a little can go a long way, and Joanne manipulated the ingredients to find the perfect balance of flavors and sweetness without going overboard.

These aren’t diet recipes, but recipes where the sugar has been reduced to the point where flavor isn’t sacrificed. Joanne said this Monkey Bread was “crazy delicious,” and after I pulled off that first puff of the glazed dough, still warm from the oven, I had to agree.

Monkey Bread recipe-3

Speaking of people “going rogue” with recipes, I speak from experience because the first time I made it (Yes – I talk about the goofs, to let you know I made it a couple of times), I didn’t have an 8-inch (20cm) cake pan so used a 9-inch (23cm) springform. Even though I wrapped the pan very well, it leaked. Fortunately I was wise enough to put it on a parchment lined baking sheet first. Otherwise I would have still been cleaning up that mess rather than sharing the recipe with you. The larger cake pan also didn’t promote caramelization the way the more compact pan did that I used on the second round, the one called for in the recipe, when it came out perfectly. So try to find an 8-inch (20cm) cake pan if you can. I did take liberties and swapped out light brown sugar for the white sugar for rolling the balls of dough, which worked really well.

Monkey Bread recipe-4Monkey Bread recipe-5Monkey Bread recipe-6

The Monkey Bread was really lovely and I didn’t feel as guilty as I usually do when I’m pulling hunks and forkfuls of cake with this recipe. The caramel bath the dough bakes in takes you right to the edge, with just the right amount of sweetness, without going overboard.

Monkey Bread recipe

The individual bites tastes like mini sticky buns without the overwhelming tooth-aching sweetness that most have. I also liked that I could have one small bite at a time, plucking off a bit of yeasty dough with just the right amount of sticky caramel attached, rather than dealing with a jumbo whole cake, without clearly marked stopping points. It made a great accompaniment to my afternoon coffee, which I took without sugar.

Monkey Bread recipe

Low Sugar Monkey Bread

Adapted from Baking with Less Sugar by Joanne Chang
Be sure to use an 8-inch (20cm) cake pan with sides that are at least 2-inches (5cm) high, not a springform pan, nor a larger cake pan. If you absolutely can’t get one, it might work well in a 9-inch (23cm) loaf pan, which is more compact than a larger pan. If you try it, I’d be interested in knowing how it turns out. A reader noted she used an 8-inch square pan, and it worked well. The dough is easy to make and can easily be made by hand if you don’t have a stand mixer. It’s somewhat sticky but not to worry; too much flour will make the bread dry so it’s best if the dough still feels a bit tacky after the mixing and kneading, in step 1.As mentioned, I used brown sugar rather than granulated. Mine was more caramelized, and the sauce was less-saucy than the Monkey Bread pictured in the book, so you can try it either way: Use brown sugar in the topping a stickier glaze, white sugar for a more “saucy” result. If using white/granulated sugar, you may need to increase the baking time, as noted in the recipe.I added a touch of honey to the dough because I thought the ever-so-slightly sweetness would help “meld” it, taste-wise, to the caramel. Although I understood that Joanne was trying to make the recipe as low-sugar as possible, I thought a touch extra would be fine. You can use the honey, or sugar, in the dough as I did, or omit it.
Course Snack

For the bread

  • 3/4 cup (180g) whole milk, ever-so-slightly warmed, or as Joanne says “at body temperature”
  • 1 teaspoon sugar or honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast or 3g fresh cake yeast
  • 2 cup (280g) flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher or fine sea salt
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted or salted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 large egg yolk

For the sauce

  • 1/2 cup (115g) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup (90g) light brown sugar or granulated sugar (100g)
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher or fine sea salt
  • 2/3 cup (160g) heavy cream
  • To make the dough, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle or dough hook (or if making by hand, in a large bowl) combine the milk, sugar or honey, and yeast. (If using fresh yeast, crumble it before adding it.) Let sit a few minutes until it starts to bubble a bit. Add the flour and salt and on medium-low speed, mix the dough until it just starts to come together, which will take less than a minute. When it is still rough looking, add the butter and egg yolk. Mix or knead the dough in the bowl for 2 to 3 minutes, until it comes together and is relatively smooth, but still slightly sticky.
  • Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and let rise until doubled in a warm place, which will take about 2 hours.
  • Butter an 8-inch pan with sides at least 2 inches high (20x5cm). On a lightly floured counter, stretch the dough until it’s a 12″x4″ rectangle. (30x10cm). Use a chef’s knife or pizza wheel to cut the dough lengthwise into four strips, then cut the dough vertically so you’ve got a total of 32 pieces. (Refer to the picture in the post.) Have the melted butter in one bowl, and the brown or granulated sugar, cinnamon, and salt in another.
  • Working with a few at a time, roll a couple of dough pieces into rounds. Dip each into the melted butter, shaking off the excess, roll it in the sugar mixture, then place it in the prepared cake pan, leaving some space between them. Don’t crowd them in the pan as they need room to rise, again. Continue with all the pieces of the dough, stacking them up when the bottom is completed. Reserve the remaining sugar and butter.
  • Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours. About 15 minutes before they are fully risen, preheat the oven to 350ºF (180º).
  • Stir the remaining sugar and butter (rewarmed) from dipping the dough rounds into the cream and pour the mixture over the dough in the pan. (Mine didn’t do it but if you’re concerned the cake may bubble up and over the sides of the pan, you can bake the cake on a baking sheet lined with foil or parchment paper.) Bake the monkey bread until the top is golden brown. If using brown sugar, it will take about 30 to 35 minutes. If using granulated sugar, 45 to 50 minutes. Remove from oven and let rest 5 minutes, then run a knife around the outer edge of the bread and invert on a serving plate. If any sauce remains stuck in the pan, remove it with a spatula and spread it over the monkey bread.


Serving and Storage: Monkey Bread is best served warm. Because this has less sugar than the traditional version, it won’t keep as well and is best eaten the same day. You can rewarm it the next day in a low oven on a baking sheet wrapped in foil. It can also be frozen, if well-wrapped, for up to two months. But of course, it’s preferable to eat it fresh and warm from the oven.


    • Carolyn

    I guess today’s the day I start saying “Déborah Down-aire” for the rest of my life without really remembering why. :)

    • Beth

    Is the dairy component important, or could coconut milk and oil be used instead of dairy milk and butter?

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      I don’t know since I haven’t tried it but if you want to give it a try with coconut milk, I’d be interested to know how it comes out.

      • tunie

      God, that’s funny…rofl

    • Irina

    I have been asked very insistently for several month already to bake a monkey bread. However, all the recipes I have use too much of butter and/or sugar. I totally agree that decreasing sugar (or butter for that matter) usually leads to why-did-I-do-that results. This recipe is perfect – neither too much sugar nor butter. I am already mentally rehearsing all the steps for the gala performance this coming Saturday.

    • Heather (Delicious Not Gorgeous)

    i’ve been looking forward to this book for a while (bur still haven’t managed to get my hands on a copy!). i understand that sugar plays more than a sweetness role in baking, but i automatically lower it because i find that things are too sweet for my tastebuds otherwise. now i won’t have to!

    • CoffeeGrounded

    I need a physical trainer. This recipe is just one reason why…

    Bread. The journey of my life. I love all of its destinations. ☕️❤️

    • Allyson

    I have such good memories of staying overnight at family friends and being served monkey bread for breakfast. It was so sweet that my mom would never allow it in our house. As an adult I try to eat a low sugar diet, but so often baked goods that are low sugar are just not worth eating. I will definitely be trying this for some lazy weekend morning.

    • Krissy

    I hope you can help me. My mom was recently diagnosed with an autoimmune disease that is triggered by certain foods, cinnamon being one of them. What would you use to replace the cinnamon in a recipe for monkey bread or cinnamon rolls? Thanks!

    • David
    David Lebovitz

    Krissy: Ground allspice would work well. I would probably cut the amount in half. Another possibility would be cardamom, or a mix of nutmeg, ground ginger and a pinch of cloves. Hope it works for your mom : )

    Allyson: The nice thing about this book, which is what appealed to me, if that I knew that Joanne tested these recipes well. After my first goof (which was my fault for using the wrong pan), we talked about the recipe via email and it was clear she was thoroughly familiar with it, having tested it a number of time and letting me know what worked and what didn’t.

    Irina: Interestingly, a number of recipes I saw online used pre-made, store-bought dough. This one is fun to make, especially if people have kids because rolling and dipping the balls of dough is fun. And you don’t need a rolling pin – you just stretch the dough by hand. Enjoy!

    • Laline

    I Love this post on a topic that I have been waiting to address this year. Thanks for reviewing Joanne’s book. I have her Flour book and have been anxiously awaiting the arrival of her “baking with less sugar” book. My family has a history of diabetes and this book would certainly go a long way in my family and for future parties. First, I will try your recipe and will involve my little nieces and nephews. I have never made any version of monkey bread before.

    • Rita

    I am currently traveling, but I’m looking forward to giving this recipe a try using gluten free flours. I am familiar with GF baking and I know how to tweak recipes, but I don’t always get the results I want. I suspect you get questions about substitutions, so I will let you know how it goes along with a photo, if you are interested. It won’t be right away. Where would I send the results?

    • Vera Marie Badertscher

    I’ve never figured out why it is called monkey bread. Any idea?

    • Stacy

    This brings back memories. Monkey bread was one of the first things I learned to bake, back in 7th grade family consumer science class. We used pre-made refrigerated biscuit dough although we did learn how to make the caramel sauce from scratch. Looking forward to trying this grown-up, less sugary version!

    • italiangirlcooks

    Somehow I’ve never tried Monkey Bread, not sure how or why…but the texture is so appealing in your picture – perhaps now is a good time!

    • Eva

    Thanks for reviewing, David! I saw a Google video of Joanne talking about this book, her recipe testing process, and the roles sugar plays in baked goods, and I’ve been eager to know how the recipes are.

    • Joanna

    What kind of flour should be used in this recipe? All Purpose, Bread, Cake? I love monkey bread and can’t wait to try this one!!

    • Maggie Unzueta

    I’m printing your recipe as I type. My son and husband are completely obsessed with monkey bread. They love the sugary kind the one you described in your post, and I’ve been looking for a low sugar one. They are going to be very happy tasting your recipe. Thank you!

    • Claire

    When you say 1/2 cup light brown sugar, is this packed down?

    • David
    David Lebovitz

    Joanna: When not specified in recipes, it’s always all-purpose flour. Enjoy the monkey bread!

    Claire: Yes, you can also measure by weight.

    Rita: Unfortunately due to spam, I have to close comments after 30 days. You can also ping me in Twitter if you have a link, if you post from Flickr or another photo sharing site.

    Eva: Thanks, will have to find it and check it out.

    • Art

    @krissy In small amounts star anise is nice, maybe in combo with all spice

    • Linda

    Ha! The large of “large egg yolk” is missing an e……

    Sorry, couldn’t resist…love nitpicking, and since this recipe has been so thoroughly tested, \-_-/

    More seriously though, are American large eggs the same size as large French eggs?


    • Meghan Finley

    Oh to eat this and to gaze upon that lovely Kitchenaid mixer!

    • Donna in CT

    I recall many, MANY years ago, Carol Channing, on some daytime show or other, was making this recipe and said it was called Monkey bread “because you have to monkey around with it”.

    I don’t know if that’s the reason, in fact I doubt it, but my memory for some kinds of trivia is so weird that I thought I’d share this.

      • Vera Marie

      That is SO Carol Channing. Doubtful source, but funny! Thanks.

    • Julie

    I just made this with my 2 preschoolers, who loved rolling and dipping! Also, I used 8×8 square pan and it turned out just fine.

    • Janice Marie Foote

    I’m going to make me some of this Monkey Bread. At least one time with banana slices in it and at least one time with Guittard chocolate chips in it :-) p.s. Monkey Bread is tasty in an ice cream sundae :-D

      • Janice Marie Foote

      and I’m going to use goat milk :-) my fave milk :-D

    • Amy

    Hey David- do you think this could be frozen before baking? Looking for a make-ahead possibility. Thx!

    • narya

    Janice, when you do the chocolate chips, you may want to add some dried cherries as well! When I was developing a monkey bread formula at a bakery (using croissant dough scraps) we tried a chocolate cherry version that a few customers loved, and everyone else went straight for the caramel.

    • Jennifer Stevens

    This looks amazing. Since it’s low sugar, it’s okay to eat the entire pan, right? :)

    • Steve Stern

    Dear David
    Does the rolling out and balling make a difference to the consistency of the dough or is it a method to get equal sized dough balls – I’m used to using my electronic scales initially weighing the lot and dividing to give ideal dough ball size – you get good at guesstimating after a few have been pinched off

    • Steve Stern

    For the chocolate chips and cherries variant you suggest which sounds amazing would you totally miss out the caramel? What sort of cherries – UK fresh cherries are long gone sadly. ‘Twas a bumper year for a resurgent crop.
    What quantities of cherry and chocolate would you use ?

    • Terry

    This sounds dee-lish! But the closest thing I have to a pan like that is an 8″ glass soufflé dish. Would that work, do you think?

    • David
    David Lebovitz

    Terry: I haven’t tried it in that kind of baking vessel so can’t say, but if you do, please let us know how it turns out.

    Julie: Thanks for letting me know – glad everyone liked it!

    Steve: I don’t think it’s imperative to get the rounds of dough precisely the same size. As you can see in the photo, mine varied and the Monkey Bread will turn out just fine.

    Linda: Thanks – fixed!

    Donna: That sounds like perhaps it could be right – or not! : ) Interesting that no one has really been able to say why this is called Monkey Bread, but thanks for chiming in.

      • Vera Marie Badertscher

      You beat me to it just found that yesterday and was going to post. So it’s really Hungarian coffee cake. I liked the rationale for baking in a bundt pan, too.

    • Amy W

    Do you think this recipe can be adapted for an overnight rise?

    • sneha

    Hey.,I Love this post on a topic that I have been waiting to address this year. Thanks for reviewing Joanne’s book. I have her Flour book and have been anxiously awaiting the arrival of her “baking with less sugar” book. My family has a history of diabetes and this book would certainly go a long way in my family and for future parties. First, I will try your recipe and will involve my little nieces and nephews. I have never made any version of monkey bread before. :)

    • Beth

    I made this as written, and it was absolutely delicious, sweet enough and not tooth-achingly sweet. it was far saucier then the finished product in your picture, which featured much more caramelization – mine flipped out of the pan with a creamy, buttery sauce on top (2/3 cup of cream + leftover dipping butter was a lot!) I used a 2 1/2 inch high, 8 inch diameter aluminum cake pan. Wonder why the difference? thanks for sharing a keeper recipe.

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      Did you use white or brown sugar? The first time I made it, I used white and the sauce was lighter. And I used the same amount of dough, but it required more sugar than the original recipe indicated. However when I made it the second time, it was spot-on. Recipes can vary based on ingredients, type of oven, material of pan, etc, so always best to use a little intuition along with the instructions : )

        • Beth

        I made it with brown sugar, and I should also have mentioned that I used half red turkey AP and half whole wheat pastry flours, which was heavenly-tender baked but perhaps wasn’t able to soak up as much of the sauce? Since brown sugar seems to be a key to success, I’m going to try it again with muscovado and slightly less of the butter/cream combo poured over and see what happens.

    • Catboum

    Hi, could you please tell me how much the 3 tablespoon of butter in the dough are in grams? Many thanks

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      1 tablespoon = 1/2 ounce = 14 grams, so 3x it would be 42 grams

    • Maria del mar

    The exact reason why I never eat Monkey Break is because I feel is just sugar and butter. Your recipe may just make me give this pastrie another shot.

    • Hayley

    I made the monkey bread, using your version with brown sugar, in a 9″ loaf pan. The sauce was more liquid than pictured, and there was less caramelization. Perhaps having more layers of dough in the pan prevented the bottom from caramelizing completely. At any rate, it was delicious! Thanks for the recipe!

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      Thanks for reporting back and glad it worked in a loaf pan. Brown sugars can vary (depending on whether it’s cane or beet sugar – either would be fine, although beet sugar tends to clump and mine may have been beet sugar) so that might have something to do with it as well. But happy it worked out!

    • Julie


    Today I made this Monkey Bread and
    my family loves it!!

    Thank you so much for sharing this and
    i’m reading your ‘The sweet life in Paris’ now and I think you’re so funny!
    I don’t know anything about french food and dessert, but I will try and let you know how it turns out!!
    Thank you^^

    • Lena

    The amount of salt used in yeasted bread dough is important. So just wanted to point out that 1 teaspoonful of kosher salt weighs less than 1 tsp of fine salt, since kosher salt consists of large, fluffy crystals compared to fine salt which tends to compact more. So, this is not one and the same thing. Wonder what the actual weight of salt to be used in this recipe, or at least exactly the type. Was this wording the exact ingredient description as printed in the Joan’s book? Thanks.

    • Sharon

    I grew up eating then making monkey bread from a recipe by Helen Corbitt of Neiman Marcus’ Zodiac Room restaurant in Dallas. Curiously, that 1950s-60s version had no sugar sauce. The dough pieces were dipped in melted butter only. Rich and delicious, it was served with a meal, not as a coffee cake, snacks or dessert.

    • Sharon

    I forgot to add that the recipe was large and baked in a Bundt pan.


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