Grandma’s Dutch Treat Cake – “Monkey Bread”

For my project I will be making “Monkey Bread” using a recipe that my Grandma uses all the time and is one of the many reasons I like visiting her often!  The recipe features many of the chemistry in cooking concepts that we learned this semester.


1 cup milk, scalded                              4 cups flour

3 Tbsp. butter                                       2 eggs

¼ cup sugar                                         Melted butter

½ tsp. salt                                            1 cup sugar

1 packet yeast                                     1 tsp. cinnamon

¼ cup lukewarm water                        ¾ cup nuts (pecan or walnut)



Butter angel food or Bundt pan with melted butter and sprinkle nuts on bottom and side. Set aside

Add butter (3 Tbsp.), sugar (1/4 cup), and salt to scalded milk and let cool.  Dissolve yeast in lukewarm water, give it a few minutes to activate, and add to milk mixture.  Add 1 cup flour and beat well; add eggs and beat again.  Mix in remaining flour.  Cover, let stand for 5 minutes, and then knead until dough is smooth.

Let rise until doubled, punch the dough down to remove excess gas, and break off pieces and shape into walnut-sized balls.  Dip in melted butter, then sugar (1 cup)/cinnamon mixture.  Place in prepared pan, sprinkling chopped nuts between layers.  Sprinkle any remaining nuts, sugar/cinnamon mixture and melted butter on top.

Let rise for 1 hour or until doubled.  Bake at 375 °F for 35-40 minutes.  Take out of oven, let stand for 10 minutes, and turn out.

Chemistry Involved:

Scalding Milk:

At the very beginning of the recipe, I “scald” milk – this has profound impacts on the bread.  The process of scalding involves bringing milk to just under the boiling point of water and allow steam to be released (  This changes the molecular structure of the milk and its proteins – it denatures the whey proteins in milk (  Whey is one of the two proteins found in milk, the other being casein, and is a by-product of cheese making.  The denaturation of the whey makes it so that the protein unfolds and does not interact with gluten network formation, resulting in a better rise and typically “better bread.”

Yeast and Gluten Formation:

There are several things to consider during the process of bread.  The first is the kneading of bread.  Kneading facilitates the production of gluten and formation of gluten networks (  These gluten networks are important for holding the bread together (elasticity) and holding pockets of gas, making the bread fluffy.  This is where yeast comes in.  Yeast breaks down sugars and produces the carbon dioxide that makes the bread rise and become fluffy.  In this recipe, the first time the dough rises, I punch it down because I need to work with it again to make the dough balls.  However, the second time I let the dough rise, I don’t release the gas, so that fluffy, light bread is formed.

Crust Formation and the Maillard Reaction:

The temperature of the oven and the presence of the necessary reactants make for the perfect environment for the Maillard Reaction.  The Maillard reaction is one of the most important chemical reactions in cooking because it is responsible for producing flavors that make some foods so great to eat.  It a non-enzymatic reaction that occurs in the presence of amino acids and sugars and at a temperature of around 350 °F.  Most breads don’t experience the Maillard reaction quite as much as the bread in this recipe because there aren’t many free amino acids – most of the amino acids make up complex and stable gluten proteins.  However, since we have added chopped nuts, a great source of protein, and sugar in between the layers of the dough balls, there is assured be much Maillard reaction action!  The amino acids from the nuts combine with the simple sugars from the added sugar to create melanoidins (SOURCE), which are aromatic and flavorful.  This reaction also turns the reactants brown, resulting in a tasty brown crust on and around the dough balls (


At an oven temperature of 350 °F and with the presence of a lot of sugar, another form of non-enzymatic browning occurs – carmelization.  It is the “oxidation of sugar” and produces caramel and nutty flavors (  Unlike the Maillard reaction, it does not require another reactant other than sugar.  It is important to control the temperature because if the temperature gets too high, the sugar will burn and taste unpleasant and butter.  The process of carmelization begins with melting, followed by foaming, condensation and the formation of aromatic compounds that give the product its pleasantly sweet smell.



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