During my trip to Japan in 2014 with the Girl Scouts (which I wrote a whole flog post about here), they arranged for each of us to stay with a fellow Japanese Girl scout for a night. Us American scouts met up with the Japanese scouts in Tokyo, played a few ice breakers, learned how to tie Yukatas from the Japanese Scouts, sang some Frozen songs together by the American Scouts insistence (remember when that was a thing??), and once the sun had set, travelled to our respective host sisters’ homes. My host sister lived in Chiba, a prefecture roughly two hours away from Tokyo via train. Her family showered me with gifts and food, and I honestly cannot remember what I brought them in return. It may have been some Girl Scout cookies? Maybe a mug? I was horribly unequipped to deal with Japanese hospitality, so I knew I would have to get away with small gestures of kindness to show my gratitude. On the train back to Tokyo the next morning, I made my first move and bought us two giant melon pans at the train station as a small token of my appreciation. Almost two years later and I can still imagine the exact taste of the sweet, crunchy, and fluffy melon pan. I remember when we each took a bite out of it we simultaneously looked at each other, smiled and giggled. After translation and adjustment for vernacular, I assume we were both thinking “DAMN thats good!”.
You can find Japanese melon pan on occasion at Asian bakeries or supermarkets. In a fascinating tid-bit of food history, Latin America and Hong Kong produce essentially the same buns but dubbed ‘conchas’ and ‘pineapple buns’ respectively, most likely because all three countries have had significant European influence. (Latin America through Spain, Hong Kong through the UK, and Japan from cultural diffusion throughout Asia). Melon pans, conchas, and pineapple buns are all soft, milky bread rolls topped with a thin layer of (essentially) cookie dough. Depending on how the cookie dough is scored before baking, you get different effects. The melon and pineapple buns are scored with diagonal lines so the finished product looks like a melon skin or pineapple rind. Conchas, however, are traditionally scored with a swirled pattern to give a shell-like finish (hence: concha, or shell in Spanish). From what I understand, conchas are generally larger, sweeter and contain more egg than the others. The Hong Kong and Japanese native buns both use very similar asian sweet bread techniques for the base, but the Japanese melon pan base always contains milk powder which the pineapple buns often omit.
I was extremely hesitant to buy nonfat dry milk powder for only one recipe, but upon researching the science behind the milk powder, I was too intrigued to not. In many bread recipes, milk powder is mixed with water as a substitute for regular milk. Bakers and scientists alike theorize that pasteurization, which heats milk to 72C, does not destroy something in milk that interferes with gluten formation and therefore rise of your overall loaf. The culprits could be micro organisms/fungus that survive pasteurization and interfere with gluten structure, or proteins in milk that act as proteases to break down gluten structure before the bread is baked, or glutathione, an antioxidant that is theoretically destroyed under pasteurization, which may persist in milk products and weaken bonds between gluten molecules. Normally, you can circumvent these roadblocks by scalding equal amounts of regular milk. Scalding heats milk to 82C, which is a high enough temperature to eliminate any survivors of pasteurization that might wreak havoc on your desired crumb.
Substituting scalded milk for milk powder and water will yield a a very similar loaf of bread. However, milk powder is added in addition to whole milk in most melon pan recipes. In this case, I believe that the milk powder serves a much different purpose. The added dry powder adds flavor, protein, and fat without adding any extra liquid to the dough. This will theoretically allow the dough to keep softer for longer. Since I now have a whole box of milk powder, I will be doing a recipe comparing breads and their rise with and without milk powder. More in depth information on the food science behind bread will be in that post 🙂
I adapted the recipe from The Little Epicurean , but changed ratios for the cookie topping. I flavored one with a tsp of matcha powder, one with a tsp of cocoa powder, and one I added half brown sugar and browned the butter for a a more complex flavor profile. These buns were super easy to make. You have to let the dough rise for an hour, but that was just enough time for me to clean my kitchen and make the three toppings. I shaped the buns and let them rise as I prepared the tops and preheated the oven. By the time I had finished topping each bun, scoring them, and taking photos they were ready for the oven!!
Whoever thought of topping bread with sugar cookie dough was a genius and should be honored as such. Enjoy 🙂
Japanese Melon Pan Recipe:
BUN: The Little Epicurean Adaptation (makes 9 buns)
- 2 1/4 tsp (7 g) active dry yeast
- 2/3 cup (140 g) whole milk, warmed to 110 degrees F
- 2 1/4 cup (300 g) all purpose or bread flour (either works)
- 1/4 cup (60 g) granulated sugar
- 2 Tbsp (10 g) non-fat dry milk powder
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 2 Tbsp egg mixture*
- 2 Tbsp (30 grams) unsalted butter, softened
- Whisk together yeast, warmed milk, and one teaspoon of sugar. Let sit for 5-7 minutes until mixture is bubbly. Pour into the bowl of stand mixer fitted with a hook attachment.
- Add bread flour, sugar, milk powder, salt and egg mixture. Knead together on low speed. Once dough starts to come together, add softened butter. Continue to mix on low speed until butter has been incorporated. Then increase speed to medium and knead until dough is smooth.
- Transfer dough to a lightly greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rest at room temperature for one hour until dough has doubled in volume.
- Divide dough into 9 equal parts. Roll dough into rounds and place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Cover dough balls with plastic wrap to prevent dough from drying out.
– 2 Tbs unsalted butter, softened
– 50 g (1/3 cup) all purpose flour
– 30 g white sugar
– 1 tsp matcha/cocoa powder
– 1 Tbsp egg mixture *
– pinch salt
Beat together butter and sugar. Add egg mixture, then dry ingredients. Mix until combined Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed.
– 2 Tbs butter, browned
– 1 Tbs unsalted butter, cold
– 50 g (1/3 cup) all purpose flour
– 15 g white sugar
– 15 g brown sugar
– 1 Tbsp egg mixture*
– pinch salt
Brown 2 Tbs butter in a small pan. Once brown and giving off a nutty aroma, remove from heat and stir in 1 Tbs cold butter. This serves to cool the mixture down and add some moisture that evaporated during browning. Beat in sugars, egg, then remaining dry ingredients. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed.
- Uncover wrapped dough balls
- Take cookie dough out of the fridge. Roll ~1 Tbs of mixture between two pieces of saran wrap to prevent sticking. Place cookie dough over bread rolls. Use a knife to gently score the cookie dough. Cover dough with plastic wrap and allow to rest for a total of 30-45 minutes until bread rolls have puffed up. If the bread has already been resting for 20 minutes while you prepped the topping, an extra 25 will suffice.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Bake for 20-25 minutes until fragrant and golden brown. Eat warm or at room temperature.
**Egg mixture = 2 large eggs, beaten.