Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Simple Things: A Lean Monkey

by The Foodist

Often while at the CIA you’re instructed to go above and beyond, to take things to the next level. But sometimes it is the very simple things that can give a foodie the most hope in the world.

As Baking and Pastry Fundamentals winds down to a close and our time with Chef Higgins comes to an end we have just two days left to grasp the basics. Today’s focus was on bagels, donuts, and much to my zealous surprise, monkeybread!

There are very few things in the world that get me as excited and nostalgic as monkeybread.

When I was a little my mother used to make monkeybread from time to time. I thought it was the downright neatest cake or bread I had ever seen or eaten. For those who don’t know, monkeybread is usually a lean white bread dough (think of soft dinner rolls) pulled and rolled into small pieces, dipped in butter then cinnamon sugar, then stacked up inside a bunt pan. It’s baked off, cooled and served as is. It retains the shape of the pan but looks like its been pieced together by tiny pebbles of dough. You eat it piece by piece, tearing off parts, well, like a monkey would.

I have been known to finish off whole cake pans of monkeybread by my lonesome, it is that good.

So here I am at the Culinary Institute of America and I’m making monkeybread. Seems a little off don’t you think? But it isn't really, let me explain (and NO, I'm not in Special Ed!)

Before Chef Higgins dismissed us to lunch we were all standing around sampling the items we made in class that day. He stopped us and said:

"You all know who Mozart was right? a composer. Well do you know what he’s doing now? De-composing. But really, Mozart spent so much time created and perfecting very complex and tough compositions, but is quoted as saying "Sometimes it’s the simplest things that are the hardest to do". It’s in that spirit that we spend so much time in this class learning the basics. I could show you pulled sugar and spend days working on chocolate , but if you can’t have the basics mastered, then how can you expect to do the complicated things?"
Chef Higgins is so very right. It wasn't the finished product (the glazed and stacked monkeybread) that he was teaching us; we were reviewing basic lean bread dough. And we did it well I think.

Finally, sometimes when you manage to do a good job with the small stuff, you get an unexpected reward.

Upon returning from lunch Chef Higgins greeted us with an old Sugar Pull lamp station. He commented that he hasn’t pulled sugar, thought about pulling sugar, or even remembered pulling sugar in the last 5 years. But today he was going to.

"I’m doing this now, after 5 years, because I think you all deserve this. You get me. I ask you to do something in a simple manner, and you do it. You pay attention and you’re interested. So you deserve this."

I’s a good feeling knowing that you’ve done well at the basics. Now, to just get over my paralyzing fear of tests and Ill be all set. Would that every challenge be as simple as monkeybread.


french tart said...

what is it about monkey bread that makes it so wonderful? i'd never even heard of it until my husband requested it one day and i had to research it. now he wants it all the time. it must be the whole act of eating with your hands, pulling at the pieces, that satisfies the primal urge in us. who knows.

The Foodist said...

That and the bread itself is wonderful. Its like mixing cinnamon buns and a cake.

Plus its just plain FUN