We Knead To Bake #15 : Japanese Melon Pan -Crunchy Cookie Covered Bread Rolls
There’s something about the way the Japanese do a lot of things that just different. They pay attention to the smallest details and there’s a lot of effort and care that goes into what they do. Think about simplicity and beauty of their Bonsai, Ikebana, Origami or Japanese gardens, for example and you know what I’m talking about.
It’s pretty much the same with their baking. Though Japan does not have a tradition of baking, they have adopted, adapted and improved upon so many of the baking recipes, whether cakes or breads, from the West and made them their own. Japanese Western style patisserie tends to be less sweeter than their Western counterparts but are often quite rich with lots of eggs, milk and butter.
“Pan” is the Japanese word for bread which is borrowed from Portuguese and they make quite a variety of “Pan” in Japan, some of them rather unusual. I have quite of a few of them on my to-bake list and I thought I’d start off by picking the “Melon Pan” (sometimes also called Meronpan or Melon Ban) to bake for this month’s We Knead To Bake bread.
Melon Pan are buns and basically a soft , rich and not so sweet bread covered by a layer of crunchy cookie. The contrast of the soft spongy inner bread and the crunchy outer cookie layer is what makes this bread special. It also helps that these buns look very attractive too.
There is some debate as to the origin of the “Melon” part of the name of this bread, because there’s definitely no melon or melon flavour of any sort in this bread. Though I now understand that there are some bakeries in Japan that do flavour this bread with melon extract, it is more unusual than the norm.
There are a couple of suggestions as to where the “Melon” in Melon Pan comes from. One suggestion is that the sugar cookie topping is usually scored in a crosshatch pattern similar to the way the Japanese cut melon wedges into a crosshatch pattern, and then bend them backwards before serving.
The other more popular suggestion is that appearance of the cracked surface of the cookie dough layer resembles a rock melon/ cantaloupe, and hence the name.
It seems that the pattern on these Melon Pan can differ in certain regions of Japan where they prefer to create a radiating pattern that represents the sunrise.While the crosshatch pattern is more common, an equally popular practice is to decorate the surface of the cookie dough by pressing into it with small teddy bear or star shaped cookie cutters.
Versions of the Melon Pan are also made in neighbouring Taiwan, Hong Kong, China and also as far as Latin America (the Mexican Conchas) which is possibly the origin of this Japanese bread. The Conchas are also bread rolls but covered with a coloured cinnamon flavoured cookie crust.
The bread dough for Melon Pan is mostly left plain, though some people add chocolate chips, while others fill the buns with cream cheese, custard/ pastry cream or even chopped chocolate. You can go whichever way you choose, plain or with some filling or flavour. You can also use your choice of flavouring for the cookie dough like chocolate, green tea, pineapple, etc if you like.
Both the bread and cookie doughs are made with egg as this gives the bread a better texture. If you don’t eat egg, you can leave them out, but substitute for it in the bread dough with a tablespoon of yogurt or milk for good texture. Melon Pan is not very difficult to make and you can even make the cookie part of the dough ahead, as it needs refrigeration.
Do take a look at this video which is an excellent tutorial on making Melon Pan. If you live in warmer climates like I do, you don’t need to proof the dough in the microwave as suggested in the video, and room temperature works just fine.
Melon Pan are best eaten the day they’re made. This recipe makes 8 burger bun sized (the ones we get in India) Melon Pan. You can bake a half batch or even make smaller Pan by dividing both the doughs into 10 or 12 instead of 8.
This recipe is adapted from A Bread A Day and other sources.
For the bread dough:
For the cookie dough:
- Whisk together the flour, powdered milk, yeast, and salt in the bowl (or the bowl of your machine if using one). In a smaller bowl, beat the egg and cold water together with a fork till well blended. Add this to the flour mixture in the bowl.
- Knead (on low speed in the machine) till it all come together as a dough and then (on medium speed) until you have a somewhat stiff dough. Add the sugar and knead well.
- Now add the butter and knead (first at slow speed and then on medium) until the butter is completely incorporated into the dough and the dough becomes smooth and elastic. The dough should well-kneaded to develop the gluten.
- Shape the dough into a round, and place it in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover and let it rise till double in volume (about an hour or so).
- During this time make the cookie dough. In a bowl, cream the soft butter and sugar till fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla extract and beat till combined. Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt and add this to the bowl. Also add the lemon zest. Beat together until just combined.
- Shape the dough into a cylinder (this will make the dough easy to divide and flatten out later), and wrap in cling film. Refrigerate the dough until required.
- Now go back to the bread dough. Once it has doubled in volume, place it on a lightly floured work surface. Lightly grease your baking sheet or line it with parchment. Deflate the dough gently and divide it into 8 equal portions.
- Shape each portion into a smooth ball like for bread rolls. Work with one portion and keep the others covered so they don’t dry out.
- Unwrap the cookie dough. It should be reasonably firm now and easy to work with. Slice the cylinder of cookie dough into 8 equal portions. Use two pieces of plastic sheets or cling film to flatten the cookie dough. Place one slice/ round of cookie dough on a piece of plastic sheet/ cling film. Cover with another piece, and using a flat bottomed pan, press down on the dough to flatten it, until it is reasonably thin but not very much so.
- Carefully take on ball of bread dough (it will have puffed up a little so don’t deflate it), and place the circle of cookie dough on top of it. Gently press the cookie dough edge to the bread dough ball so that it covers the top and sides of the ball, but leaves the bottom open. Gently, holding the covered bread dough by the underside, press it into some castor sugar.
- Then using a scraper, or the blunt side of a knife, mark the top of the cookie dough side of the bread roll with a cross hatch/ diamond pattern. The pattern should be deep enough (otherwise it will disappear when the bread rises and bakes) without cutting through the cookie dough layer into the bread.
- Place this on the greased or parchment lined baking sheet. Repeat this with the remaining cookie dough and bread dough balls. Let them rise for an hour.
- Bake them at 180C (350F) for about 25 minutes, until the tops of the Melon Pan just start turning brown. If you let them brown too much, the underside of the bread will burn. Transfer to a wire rack to cool thoroughly.
The We Knead To Bake Group's breads: