Melon pan or melonpan is a Japanese specialty that consists of a classic brioche covered with a thin layer of cookie dough. This little Japanese brioche owes its peculiarity to the contrast between the crisp texture of its shortbread biscuit crust and the airy crumb of its bread dough.
The melon pan usually has knife incisions on its upper surface that are reminiscent the striated surface of a melon. The melon pan is an essential specialty of Japanese cuisine. Moreover, the Japanese are very fond of it.
What is melon pan (or melonpan)?
The melon pan or melonpan (メロンパン), also called meron pan, is a round sweet bun covered with a thin layer of crisp biscuit. It is easily recognizable thanks to its cross-shaped pattern on its upper surface that are reminiscent of the appearance of cantaloupe melon.
The melon pan is very similar to the pineapple bread (bo lo laau) found in Hong Kong. However, unlike pineapple bread, Japanese melon pan has a dryer crumb and a biscuit crust that tends to crumble less than Hong Kong bread.
Melon pan is an iconic bakery specialty in Japan. It is usually eaten for breakfast or at tea ceremonies. Also, the Japanese love brioches and bread.
The bread appeared in Japan in the middle of the 16th century. However, baking did not start until around 1869 with the arrival of Western style hotels and restaurants, anxious to satisfy a growing foreign clientele. Also, there is a declination of buns that differ in their filling, their shape or their method of cooking.
What is the origin of melon pan?
Although this Japanese bakery specialty is called melon pan, the little Japanese brioche does not contain melon or any melon-based ingredient in its recipe.
The Japanese are known for adopting the culinary traditions of foreign countries by adapting to their tastes. Thus, the melon pan (メロンパン) or melonpan would be a legacy of the English and Portuguese culinary tradition.
Indeed, etymologically, the term “melon pan” would be composed of a combination of two Western terms: melon and pan. The term “melon” was borrowed from the English language in reference to its resemblance to the fruit. As for the term “pan”, it literally means “bread” in Portuguese.
Some elders claim that the origin of the melon pan dates back to the Meiji period. This period of Japanese history goes against the isolationist period (Edo period) that prohibited trade with the outside (the West). Also, Emperor Meiji warmly encouraged the importation of Western cuisine into Japan.
Originally, melon pan was more like oriental melon (マクワウ). This fruit has an elongated shape and parallel streaks. Its appearance differs from that of cantaloupe melon. Also, the traditional recipe for melon pan contained white bean paste called shiro-an in its center.
In 1910, the importation of American yeast modernized the techniques of Japanese bakery and the range of possibilities. It was only after the Second World War that innovation flourished in the bakery sector.
How to make a perfect melon pan
The rest time is certainly the key to the success of this recipe. Indeed, it is necessary to ensure that the bun raises enough and doubles in volume. To speed up the growing process, simply cover the bun dough container with plastic wrap before placing the container in a warm, draft-free place.
The brioche dough can be a bit sticky. Also, in order to get small regular balls when making the rolls, simply coat your hands with a little neutral oil.
Another trick is to finely roll out the cookie dough between two sheets of parchment paper. The cookie dough should then be placed in the fridge for a few minutes to harden but especially so that you can cut very regular circles using a cookie cutter. The circles of dough are intended to cover the buns brioche.
Care must also be taken to sharpen the knife that will be used to make incisions on the surface of the buns. Also, the baking time may vary from oven to oven. The cooking time of the melon pan is between 12 and 16 minutes. Japanese buns are perfect if they have a pale color, a crunchy texture and an airy but slightly dry crumb.
Melon pan and brioche variants in Japan
There are a lot of buns in Japan. The melon pan is part of the kashi-pan tradition. Kashi-pan (and other products made from wheat flour) are considered pastries rather than breads because of their sweet nature.
Kurimu-pan is a small round bun filled with custard.
Another variant of apricot jam brioche is also popular: it is called jamu-pan.
Also, one of the most popular buns in Japan is certainly the an-pan or anpan. The anpan is at the crossroads of Japanese culinary culture and Western culinary culture. This is a small brioche that contains a fragrant red bean paste called azuki. Its ancestor first appeared in 1874 in the Ginza district of Tokyo but this recipe continued to evolve over the years.
In 1910, the importation of American yeast modernized Japanese bakery techniques and the scope of possibilities. It was only after the Second World War that innovation flourished from the point of view of the variety of bakery specialties. In the future, kashi-pan will certainly continue to evolve with the changing taste of Japanese consumers.
- 2½ cups sifted flour
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter diced
- ¾ cup low fat milk at 95 F
- 2 egg yolks
- 2 tablespoons caster sugar
- 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¾ cup caster sugar
- 8 tablespoons soft butter
- 1 egg
- 1½ cup flour sifted
In a bowl, add 3 tablespoons of milk and dilute the yeast.
Let stand for 15 minutes in a warm place, away from drafts.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix the flour and sugar and dig a well in the center.
Add the egg yolks, the yeast dissolved in the milk, and while kneading, incorporate the remaining milk until obtaining a homogeneous dough.
Add the salt.
Then add the butter little by little and knead for 5 minutes or until the dough has completely absorbed the butter.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, then let the dough rise for 1h30, in a warm and draft-free place. It should at least double in size.
In a large bowl, mix the butter and ½ cup caster sugar.
Add the flour.
Add the egg and knead quickly until a smooth but soft dough forms.
Place it in the refrigerator, wrapped in plastic wrap, so that it hardens a little.
Once the bread dough has risen, knead it by hand for 10 minutes on a lightly floured work surface.
Divide the dough into 6 pieces. Then roll and form balls.
Let them rest for another 45 minutes, covered with a copth.
Remove the cookie dough from the refrigerator, divide it into 6 equal pieces and form balls.
Place each ball of dough between two sheets of parchment paper, then roll with a rolling pin to form 6 rather thin discs.
Place these discs in a large floured dish. Put back in refrigerator for 10 minutes.
Completely cover each dough ball with a cookie dough disc.
Do not hesitate to pinch the bottom of each melon pan to secure the dough together.
Roll each melon pan in the remaining sugar.
Place them as you go, spaced out on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
Using a knife, draw small incisions on the top of each bun.
Let it rise again for 30 minutes in a dry place away from drafts.
Heat the oven to 350 F.
Bake the melon pan for about 12 minutes.
Let cool on a rack and enjoy.