Mix the yeast, warm milk and a couple of teaspoons of the sugar in a small bowl (the milk should not be hot! Just warm, otherwise you’ll kill the yeast). Set aside for 5 minutes for the yeast to activate – it should look slightly frothy on top when you return. Technically you don’t need to do this step with instant yeast, but just in case your packet of yeast is dead (like my first one was when I tried to make this!), it’s worth the extra step so you don’t waste an entire batch of dough.
Put the yeast/milk mixture and the rest of the dough ingredients into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, and mix for 7-8 minutes until a smooth and elastic dough forms. It will be pretty sticky (mine didn’t come away from the sides of the bowl), but if it just looks like a wet batter rather than a stretchy dough you may need an extra bit of flour.
Put the bowl of dough into your steam oven and turn on the dough proving setting to 100⁰F/38⁰C. If you don’t have a dough proving setting, just put the regular steam setting onto the same temperature. Prove the dough for 30 minutes – it should have roughly doubled in size. Remove dough, turn the oven off and leave the door ajar so it cools down before you do the baking step.
Make the caramel sauce
While the dough is proving, make the caramel sauce. Put the sugar in a heavy pan over medium high heat and let it melt. Swirl the pan occasionally but don’t stir. What you’re looking for is to catch the sugar and remove from heat just as it begins to smoke – it'll feel a bit scary to leave it that long but have faith! Some of the sugar will look very dark while other bits will look light amber in color. If it’s all completely black and smoking a lot you’ve gone too far!
Immediately add the butter, cream and salt to the burnt caramel, and reduce the heat to medium. Stir until the butter melts and it becomes a shiny, smooth sauce, then remove from heat and set aside.
Assemble the monkey bread
Mix the sugar and cinnamon together in a small bowl and make sure the butter is ready in another bowl, melted but not too hot, because you’ll be dipping your fingers into it pretty soon. Have a bundt or ring pan ready (no need to grease this).
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and gently press it down to knock out any huge air bubbles. Use a knife or a dough scraper to cut the dough into little pieces, each about the size of a ping pong ball. You can also pinch off small amounts and roll into balls, but I found cutting much quicker and the round shape isn’t essential given they’ll be all squashed together in the pan. You should end up with about 60 pieces.
Working reasonably quickly, take one piece of dough at a time and dip it into the melted butter, then roll in the cinnamon sugar. Drop the pieces randomly into your pan as you go, and once you’ve got a layer on the bottom, sprinkle some of the pecans and chocolate over the dough. Continue to use up all the dough, chocolate and pecans in layers. I ended up with three layers of chocolate and pecans interspersed through the bread, which gave a nice distribution.
Pour about a third of the caramel sauce over the dough, and set your pan inside a baking tray.
Put the pan and tray into your cold oven and set it to 350⁰F/180⁰C, combination steam setting. If your oven has variable steam settings, use 50-60%. If not, don't worry! Just set the oven to combi steam at the correct temperature and the oven will figure out the humidity level for you. IMPORTANT: you don’t need to preheat, as the bread will do a bit more rising while the oven heats. This removes the need for a second prove.
Cook for a total of 30-35 minutes (including the preheating time), until the loaf is golden and puffy.
Leave in the pan for 5-6 minutes, then turn out onto a plate. Top with as much of the remaining caramel sauce as you dare and serve warm. If you don’t have 8-12 willing eaters on the first go around (or a husband with colleagues who will happily consume half of the finished product), it reheats very nicely using combi steam.
Any leftover caramel sauce will keep for a couple of weeks in the fridge and makes for great ice cream topping.