By Mari Nameshida / Special to The Japan NewsIs there Japan-invented bread? Yes, and actually there are plenty of types!
In Japan, we didn’t have a culture of eating bread for a long time, even though it first came here several centuries ago via the Portuguese. The bread industry grew rapidly after World War II, and now you can find nice baked goods everywhere, including authentic croissants or sourdough loaves as well as breads developed in Japan.
One reason is that it has become easier for us to access other cultures since the end of the war. However, I also believe that eating habits have drastically changed over the past few decades, especially among the young, because the handiness of bread is more convenient for busy people than the traditional style in which meals consist of rice, miso soup, grilled fish and vegetables.
I believe Japanese breads are quite distinctive since we’ve learned from other countries and absorbed different techniques to develop our own kinds, such as curry pan (doughnut-like bread filled with curry), melon pan (fluffy bread covered with a sweet cookie dough crust), anpan (bread filled with sweet bean paste) and katsu-sando (pork cutlet sandwiches), to name a few. Even the word for bread in Japanese, “pan,” is derived from Portuguese.
I’ve heard these Japanese breads seem weird to some people from different countries. Yakisoba pan, for example, may look strange, as fried noodles are used as a filling for bread, and some people also have similar feelings about savory fillings in slightly sweet, fluffy breads.
At the same time, however, there are many fans of these seemingly weird breads. Living in New York, I have had many baking class requests for curry pan, mochi anpan (a variation involving chewy mochi) and so on. I can even find some “Japanese bakeries” here in this city, which offer specialties such as wasabi-butter breads, wasabi-sausage items and pizzas with green shiso leaves.
In short, Japanese breads are a little sweet and fluffy most of the time, and there are many varieties. They use different fillings or flavors, but the bread doughs are very similar.
Here, although I am sharing a recipe for melon pan, please feel free to use this bread dough to make other kinds of Japanese breads.
It’s quite basic. Melon pan is named after the fruit because of its shape, but it does not usually have a melon flavor. Melon pan allows you to enjoy a crisp cookie and fluffy bread at the same time. Be gentle when covering the bread dough with the cookie dough because the bread dough will become even bigger when these pieces are left to rise afterward.
It’s pretty easy, and your house will be filled with a nice happy aroma. Enjoy!
Mari’s recipe for melon pan
Ingredients (serves 4):
For the bread part
150 grams bread flour
1 tbsp fat-free milk powder
2 tbsp beaten egg
(A) 1 tsp dry yeast
(A) 2 tbsp sugar
(A) 55 ml tepid water
(B) 30 grams butter
(B) A pinch of salt
For the cookie part
100 grams flour
30 grams butter
2 tbsp caster sugar
½ beaten egg
A pinch of vanilla oil or lemon oil if you like
Make cookie dough
1. Let the butter stand until it reaches room temperature before placing in a bowl.
2. Add sugar and mix well until smooth and whitish.
3. Add half the beaten egg and mix well. Add the remaining egg and mix well again.
4. Add the flour and mix with a spatula.
5. Place the dough on some plastic film. Make a cylindrical shape, wrap it in the plastic and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.
Make bread dough
1. Place all the (A) ingredients in a cup and let the mixture stand for 10 minutes.
2. Place the bread flour, egg and milk powder in a bowl and add the (A) mixture. Mix well.
3. Add all the (B) ingredients in the same bowl and mix until combined.
4. Place the dough on a big plate. Knead and stretch until it becomes smooth and pliable. The dough is sticky at first but will become stiff.
5. When you have a nice smooth dough, make it into a ball, cover with plastic film and let rise for about 30 minutes, ideally at about 40 C. At room temperature, it will take longer.
6. Take out the dough, punch down and divide into 4 pieces with a spatula. Roll each piece into a ball and let rest for 10 minutes under a damp kitchen towel.
Putting it all together
1. Take out the cookie dough. Divide into 4 pieces and use plastic film to flatten out each into a thin round. Place a lump of bread dough in the center of each round and turn it over so that the cookie dough is on top. Make sure the cookie dough covers the bread dough.
2. Dust with sugar and cut criss-crossing slits in the cookie dough.
3. Cover the pieces with a wet cloth and leave them in a warm place for about 20 minutes.
4. Heat the oven to 180 C and bake for 10 minutes. Then lower to 160 C and bake for another 12 minutes.
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