This week I got back to playing around with my favourite thing in the kitchen – bread. Nothing gives me more pleasure than getting my hands stuck into some dough and seeing what deliciousness will come out. I’ve made no end of bread loves over the past few years, but I like experimenting with different flatbreads and loaves from different countries, of which there is an almost bottomless amount. This week I returned to the topic of Japanese bread, something I’ve already looked at when I made shokupan (milk bread) last year and learned how to make one of my favourite things to eat: melon pan.
Melon pan is a delicate, slightly sweet bread bun, covered in a thin biscuit layer and dipped in sugar. When baked it has a lovely crumbly appearance on top and has a slight crunch when biting before getting to the soft, light bread underneath. They are incredibly addictive and surprisingly have nothing to do with melons! I found this out after trying them for the first time at a Japanese cafe, Iimori, here in Frankfurt. I thought melon flavoured bread sounded quite interesting but was surprised when there was no fruity taste there. Apparently, the name comes from the finished creation looking like a cut melon, but I’ve read alternative theories too. Regardless of its name, I couldn’t wait to finally have my own supply of melon pan and eagerly signed up to a Bread Ahead Japanese class as soon as it came available.
I discovered so many new bakes through Bread Ahead last year (such as babka, lavash, and grissini) it seems only right that it should continue this year. The Japanese class also taught me how to make a rice loaf, creme buns, and cheese buns, all things that sound delicious and I will try in the future, but it was undoubtedly the melon pan I was there for.
The melon pan is special thanks to its biscuit coat, which is a very light biscuit dough rolled thinly to cover the enriched dough. I had a few problems here as although the biscuit dough had rested in the fridge, it was still very sticky and I kept ending up with rips and tears when rolling it out. Thanks to a very liberal sprinkling of flour (normally a no-no) I finally managed to get some in-tact biscuit wraps and gently enveloped the soft bread dough in them. Then it was time to score the top to get the traditional melon shape and dip it in sugar to give it some extra crunch. I was surprised by how small the balls were at this stage, as the melon pan I know and love is quite wide and squat, but as soon as I put them in the oven they almost doubled in size and took over the tray – this was more like it!
Now, full disclosure, my scores seemed to disappear in the oven so I did re-score the buns and dip them in some more sugar for the picture – I don’t regret a thing. I like melon pan because the taste from these buns doesn’t come from any flashy flavours, merely the juxtaposition between the sweet and crunchy outside and the super-soft dough underneath. They are gently sweet, comforting, and quite addictive and I’m so happy I now have them in my ever-growing wheelhouse!