Hot on the heels of recreating my childhood baked favourite of Castella (Kasutera) this month for the Sweet Adventures Blog Hop (Love At First Bite), I managed to stretch my trip down memory lane further with a batch of Melon Buns (Meron Pan in Japanese). These buns are almost as quintessentially Japanese as Castella (ironically neither are really Japanese per se…). I always found them hard to resist while living in Tokyo, whether lovingly made by boutique bakeries or mass produced for convenience stores.
If you’ve visited Asian bakeries such as Bread Top here in Australia or overseas, you may have seen these buns. They are round with a hard, crackled exterior shell that belies the fluffy soft bread inside. It’s the crackled exterior that gave rise to the bun’s name of Meron Pan, or melon bread, rather than the flavour although many bakeries make them with melon essence (my favourite). I should add here that Japanese muskmelons (unlike our rockmelons and certainly honeydew melons), have a more pronounced patterning on the outer skin, and an otherworldly amazing flavour and scent that sees some muskmelons with a price tag of 60 AUD or more. Incidentally, Suntory’s Midori liqueur is flavoured by muskmelon.
I had found a really good recipe for Melon Buns via Happy Home Baking some time ago but didn’t quite feel like making them without the melon essence. You know when you just don’t want to have something unless it’s exactly what you had in mind? I didn’t want to use imported cantaloupe essence from the US and I didn’t hold much hope that pureeing a local rockmelon would give me the melon hit I wanted in my buns. Fortunately, before I investigated the option of importing some out of Japan, a work colleague was going over himself and staying at a guest house in Asakusa very close to a store that stocked nothing but essences and flavours! He brought back three bottles for me :) That’s a lot of melon buns in the making!
I won’t reproduce the recipe for the buns here as it’s fairly lengthy and it would end up being word-for-word what is available at Happy Home Baking. The only difference I made was the use of melon essence and a dash of Midori to give the buns flavour (it’s quite subtle), and I also spread the dough over 7 buns instead of 12 (they were therefore bigger then intended but closer in size to what I used to have in Japan). This recipe is quite fiddly so please read the recipe through well before embarking. The buns are best served on the day they are baked so if you mainly have time in the evenings, I recommend making both the bread dough and pastry dough and letting both sit in the fridge overnight, well covered, and do the last proofing and baking the next morning.
I can’t wait to make these again!