James Beard Publication of the Year 2017

To Make Breakfast Even Better, Just Add Bourbon (Sauce)

To Make Breakfast Even Better, Just Add Bourbon (Sauce)

Monkey Bread in Milwaukee

Monkey bread is the go-to breakfast treat at my sister’s house for long lazy weekends and holiday celebrations. Her recipe is simple: cut refrigerated biscuits into quarters, dip them in melted butter, then roll them in a cinnamon and sugar mixture. Throw them all into an Angel food cake pan and bake. Next, everybody grabs a chunk and rips it apart.

I never thought about the origins of this family treat until I visited Blue’s Egg Café in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The popular breakfast and lunch spot serves American cuisine inspired by its immigrant communities. My waiter told me that their chefs sought out menu items that came to America through Ellis Island, and that their modern recipes often include original Old World ingredients sourced from around the world.

I scanned the menu. There was corned beef and hash and Dubliner Eggs Benedict. There were English muffins and French toast, and a creamy polenta paying homage to Italian immigrants. Our Spanish and Mexican ancestors contributed the chorizo pork sausage.

And then my taste buds really perked up. One of the more popular treats on the breakfast menu is monkey bread. A few questions to the staff and a little more research taught me that monkey bread is thought to have become popular in the United States as recently as the 1970s, about the time that refrigerated biscuits became popular. Nancy Reagan requested monkey bread as a holiday treat at the White House when she was First Lady in the 1980s.

Blue’s Egg trace the roots of its monkey bread to Hungary, where, as far back as the 19th century, small pieces of dough rolled in sugar and cinnamon was a common treat, called arany galuska—golden dumpling bread. Hungarian immigrants are thought to have brought it to the U.S with them.

No one is quite sure why the modern American version is called monkey bread. According to one theory, the pieces of dough tumbled haphazardly into a pan somewhat resemble a barrel of monkeys. Another is that because it was a finger food, people would pick the bread apart the way a monkey would.

Blue’s Egg chefs make dough fresh every day and bake it in individual mini-fluted tube pans. The butter and cream come from local Wisconsin cows. Plus, Blue’s Egg offers two toppings with its monkey bread. One is a homemade caramel sauce. That’s pretty good, but I chose the “crunk sauce”: a bourbon-based sauce with sugar, heavy cream, and butter.

Next Christmas at my sister’s house is going to be a lot more merry.

Blue’s Egg has two locations:
317 76th Street, Milwaukee; 4195

Oakland Ave., Shorewood.

7 a.m. – 2 p.m. daily.

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