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why do they call it monkey bread

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One staple of the Reagan family's Christmas dinner has always been ''monkey bread,'' a round, heavy, pull-apart loaf with a slightly sweet taste. This year, Nancy Reagan asked the White House chef to bake some extra loaves, which she has been passing out to visitors, including a press contingent viewing the mansion's holiday decorations. Mrs. Reagan says she has been deluged with questions about the bread since word got out that it was a favorite. ''I thought everyone knew what monkey bread was,'' she said today. The First Lady added that the bread was popular at Christmas gatherings in Los Angeles, and that she and her husband used to buy it at Sandy's Bakery there on their way to their ranch every Christmas season.

Why is it called ''monkey bread? '' There are various theories, including one that the loaf resembles the monkey puzzle tree, a relative of the Norfolk Island pine. But Mrs. Reagan's explanation was simpler: ''Because when you make it, you have to monkey around with it,'' she told her staff. The recipe, provided by Sandy's to the White House chef, follows. ''Just heat it up,'' Mrs. Reagan advised, ''and have some jam with it. '' Seriously, where did the name monkey bread come from? Because to me, these are sticky buns.

I'm no baker, so when I say this is one of the easiest things to bake, you know I mean it. The bread is a buttermilk biscuit, which means you could buy them. It doesn't get much easier than that. But if you have a food processor, you could start from scratch and it will come together in 5 minutes. I used recipe, which I found on a while back. All I do is put the dry ingredients in the processor with the shortening (butter works well too) and pulse 3 or 4 times until you get the butter incorporated. I add the buttermilk while the machine is running. It's done when the dough comes together. I never bother to roll out the dough.

I just pinch off a small ball and shape it with wet fingers into a rough disc about 1/2 inch thick. For the monkey bread, make the discs about 1/4 inch thick. If you're going to use a standard sized bundt pan (7 to 9 inches), you'll need to double or even triple the biscuit recipe. I did not double the recipe and was able to squeeze out 5 mini bundt pans. After you shape the discs, set the dough in the fridge to keep it cold while you make the sauce for the monkey bread. The recipe for the monkey (or gorilla) bread is. It's also from FN. I did both. Sonny liked the monkey because he's not crazy about nuts (I used pecans).

I liked the cream cheese in the gorilla version. Both are good. The only thing I would do differently is put a layer of the sauce at the bottom of the pan. Since I didn't do that this time, I made more sauce to drizzle on top, but it's not the same because it doesn't soak into the bread. Another thing: don't pile the dough all the way to the top of your pan because the sauce will drip and muck up the bottom of your stove. The recipe says to bake for 30 minutes, but I suspect you may have to do it longer if using a standard bundt pan. For my mini bundts, I baked for 30 minutes and that was just right.

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