Bundt pans aren't just for cakes.
That's one takeaway from the research I conducted while writing a story on the 50-year relationship between the made-in-Minnesota Bundt pan and the Taste section.
Sure, dozens and dozens of Bundt cake recipes have been published in Taste since the section's debut on Oct. 1, 1969.
But starting in the late 1970s, another phenomenon began to appear: a quick Bundt pan version of Monkey Bread, the gooey, caramel-coated, pecan-packed, pull-apart treat. Between its first appearance in 1978 and its last in 1993, recipes for this oddly named, easy-to-prepare favorite were published at least seven times.
In that Betty Crocker era, two descriptives mattered most: speed and ease. The recipe was dependent upon a pair of inexpensive supermarket shortcuts: frozen bread dough (from Rhodes Bake-N-Serv), and yes, butterscotch pudding mix.
At first, I laughed; did people really shop the Jell-O aisle for their baking needs? Even my mother, who happily kept her (grateful) family fed with a long list of timesaving convenience foods, never ventured down that road.
Then I was intrigued. When I was a kid, my grandmother Hedvig made the most extraordinary caramel rolls; my siblings and I still talk about them, decades later. Could they be replicated this easily, without actually going through the fuss of preparing bread dough?
I know, I know: You can't be bothered to make a yeasted bread dough? A stand mixer or a food processor will handle most of the work. Better yet, become a disciple of the "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day" movement; the Twin Cities-based baking brain trust that is Zoë Francois and Jeff Hertzberg certainly make it easy to do so.
But there's a reason why this 1970s and 1980s recipe was so popular: Relying on pre-made, frozen dough is a pretty easy formula for approaching homemade status. In my remake, Rhodes was in.
But a line has to be drawn somewhere, and that demarcation is spelled p-u-d-d-i-n-g-m-i-x. With the right ingredients, the oven will handle most of the caramel-making duties. So why bother with the original recipes' lowbrow mixture of margarine and butterscotch pudding mix?
Yikes. We can do so much better than that, and a few pantry basics and a few minutes will make all the difference. The time investment is minimal, and the payoff is enormous.
Drop the margarine and buy the best butter your budget allows. Ditch the pudding mix and replace it with toffee-inducing dark brown sugar. Oh, and toasting the pecans is a valuable flavor booster.
(While I haven't tried it, I like the sound of a suggestion that appeared in Taste on Nov. 13, 1988, which added 5 ounces of orange marmalade to the melted butter. I've got a jar of blood orange marmalade that I'm going to devote to that idea.)
Rhodes suggests cutting each roll in half; instead of rolling 24 dough balls in butter and that brown sugar mixture, you'll be dealing with 48. I liked the outcome, a lot, but keep this in mind: it's double the workload, but the laced-with-caramel results aren't twice as delicious. This is about convenience, remember? Skipping the scissors step is perfectly acceptable.
Another observation: a plain tube pan — the kind used for angel food cakes — works just as well as a fluted Nordic Ware Bundt pan, although the latter will give the finished product a more sculpted profile.
Would I bake this again? In a heartbeat. If I owned a cabin, I'd keep an "at the lake" Bundt pan reserved for this very purpose. Or for any occasion where I needed a crowd-pleasing brunch dish.
I have one request: Please don't shame me should you bump into me at the supermarket, peek into my shopping cart and spy a bag of Rhodes frozen white dinner rolls (don't buy the Texas-size version, they're too big); at least you won't see a box of Jell-O pudding mix. Someday I'll get back into my "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day" mode, but for now I'm going to cheat.