Despite being familiar with melonpan for quite some time, I’d never actually had the opportunity to try one until our trip to Japan last year. During an excursion around bustling Tokyo, we chanced upon a little café located along a quiet alley in Asakusa. As soon as we laid eyes on their cookie dough encrusted buns on display out the front, we stopped and bought one. Since then, I’ve always wanted to make my own.
In a recent post about red bean buns, I quite ardently mentioned that I’ve been craving bread. Preferably soft, sweet Japanese bread. To continue with this theme, I attempted (finally!) to make some melonpan. Like anpan, melonpan is another popular type of sweet bun from Japan, made by covering a soft bread dough in a thin layer of sugar-sprinkled cookie dough. Despite its name, the buns are not traditionally melon flavoured (though it is becoming popular for people to add melon flavouring, among others). The sweet cookie-covered bun actually gets its name from its cross-hatched appearance, which supposedly resembles the rind of a rock melon/cantaloupe.
Melonpan is similar to Hong Kong bo luo bao (pineapple bun) and Korean soboro ppang (streusel bread) in appearance, but is typically not so heavy, with a lighter crust and less buttery bread. This doesn’t make the Japanese variant any less tasty though!
Melonpan is not overly complicated to make, though there is a fair bit of waiting involved. But it is definitely worth it. Plus, there is something truly magical about lightly carving diamonds into the soft, pre-baked cookie shell and making them glitter with sugar crystals. Best eaten fresh out of the oven, when the sugar cookie crust is still crunchy and the bun is soft and fluffy!
Melonpan メロンパン (Japanese Melon Bread)
soft milk buns topped with a crisp cookie dough crust | yield: 6 small buns
Cookie Dough Layer (Pâte Sablée):
3/4 cup cake flour (or all-purpose flour)
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 3/4 tablespoons butter, softened
3 tablespoons caster sugar
2 tablespoons egg, beaten
- In a medium-sized bowl, combine the flour and baking powder. Mix well, set aside.
- In a separate bowl, cream the softened butter and caster sugar together until fluffy.
- Gradually add the egg to the creamed mixture and mix thoroughly.
- Add the flour mixture to the wet mixture in 2-3 increments, mixing gently after each addition until just combined.
- Gather the dough and roll into a log. Wrap log tightly in cling wrap and chill in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
Milk Bread Dough:
1 1/2 cups bread flour (high protein flour)
2 tablespoons caster sugar
1 teaspoon instant yeast
2 tablespoons full cream milk, warm
4 tablespoons water, warm
1 tablespoon egg, beaten
1 tablespoon butter, softened
for the shell:
previously prepared cookie dough (from above recipe)
some large-grain sugar, for dipping
- In a large bowl, combine bread flour, sugar and yeast. Mix well, set aside.
- In a separate bowl, combine warm milk, warm water and egg. Mix thoroughly. Make sure the milk and water aren’t too hot or the egg will cook!
- Pour wet mixture into dry mixture in 2-3 increments, mixing well after each addition. When everything starts to clump together to form a dough, use your fingers to combine.
- Knead the dough until it becomes less sticky (about 5 minutes), then knead the softened butter into the dough.
- Continue to knead the dough for another 15 minutes or until smooth and elastic.
- Form dough into a ball and place in a large bowl. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and leave in a warm place to rise for 1 hour, or until double in size.
- Punch down dough and divide into six equal pieces. Shape each piece into even-sized balls and place them on a baking tray lined with non-stick baking paper. Cover loosely and leave to rise for a further 20 minutes while you deal with the cookie dough.
- Divide chilled cookie dough into 6 equal pieces (if dough is too hard, microwave for about 15 seconds to soften). Form into balls and, using a rolling pin, flatten into circles that would fit comfortably over the tops of the risen dough balls. The dough is quite fragile, so I find rolling the dough out between two pieces of plastic wrap helps a lot.
- Gently wrap the tops of each dough ball with a layer of cookie dough, tucking the ends underneath. With a sharp knife, carefully score the surface of the cookie dough with a criss-cross diamond pattern. Dip the tops in the large-grain sugar and arrange buns on lined baking tray. Leave to rise for a further 40 minutes.
- Bake buns at 170ºC for 15-18 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown and crisp.
- Remove from oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool.