Saturday, June 1, 2013

Melon Pan

It's not been as difficult getting back into the swing of things as I thought it would be. I'll fallen into a pretty comfortable daily routine without experiencing much culture shock. I suppose it would be different if I had gone to a country where English wasn't the primary language. But still, I find myself really grateful for little things I had taken for granted before, like skim milk, chocolate chips, garbage disposals...ovens. 

 I've been trying to make bread as often as possible. I love, LOVE working with yeast, and it just wasn't very practical to do in Ireland often. Since melon pan has been on my baking list for a while, I thought I'd try and tackle it. Melon pan is Japanese in origin. It contains no melon, but the cross-hatching pattern on the top somewhat resembles rock melon/canteloupe.

I enjoy melon pan not only for it's delicious flavor and texture (a crispy cookie shell surround a soft bun!), but also for its cross-cultural nature. Similar to aebleskivers, variations on melon pan are popular in countries all over the world, and goes by many different names. You may encounter it in China under the name of pineapple bun or polo bun, or in Latin America as conchas or pan dolce.  My cross-hatchy marks kind of disappeared during baking (aw man!), but the ending result was still tasty and texturally pleasing.

Melon Pan
from Joe Pastry

Cookie Topping: 
3 ounces (6 tablespoons) softened butter
3.25 ounces (scant half cup) sugar
7.5 ounces (1 1/2 cups) all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon zest
Superfine sugar for dusting

In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the beater, beat the butter and sugar until light in color. Meanwhile, whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together in one bowl and the egg, egg white and extract (if you have it) in another. Add the egg mixture in two additions, beating well and scraping the bowl as needed. Once the egg is incorporated, slowly add in the flour and beat on low until it’s incorporated. Roll the dough into a log and place it in the refrigerator, covered, for at least half an hour. Meanwhile, prepare the buns. You’ll need:

10.5 ounces (scant 2 cups) bread flour
1/4 ounces (1 tablespoon) milk powder (dry milk)
1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
1.25 ounces (3 tablespoons) sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
6 ounces (3/4 cup) lukewarm water
1 ounce (2 tablespoons) unsalted butter (bring to room temperature)

Place all the dry ingredients in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle (beater). Stir to combine, then add the water. Continue to stir until all the ingredients are moistened, then switch to the dough hook and knead on medium until a ball forms, about three minutes. Add the softened butter and knead until it’s incorporated.
Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl and let rise about an hour until doubled (you’ll want to cover it with plastic wrap or towel to keep it from drying out). When the dough has risen, divide it into twelve equal portions and roll the pieces into balls. Cover them with a slightly moistened towel and let them sit about 10-15 minutes. 

Meanwhile, remove the cookie dough from refrigerator, and cut into 12 pieces (mine were each about 1.25 ounces). One at a time, roll them out between two layers of plastic wrap (thicker plastic is better. I cut a ziploc bag apart) to a diameter of about three inches. I took a saucepan and just pressed down on the ball with the bottom and it was about the right size. When you finish one, remove the top layer of plastic, place a ball of dough in the center and enclose it in the cookie dough (you’ll want to leave a small hole at the top, which will actually be the bottom, to allow for expansion). Invert the ball onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and carefully remove the plastic wrap.
With a sharp knife, score the cookie dough in a criss-cross pattern (or any pattern you like, really). Let the balls proof for another 45 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 375. When the balls have swelled slightly, sprinkle superfine sugar all over them. Insert the pan into the oven and bake 15-20 minutes until golden brown.

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