Before I go on, I must inform you that this whole thing is about baking bread. I rarely bake cakes, cookies, etc.
For those who don’t know, the catalyst for my love of baking was an anime called Yakitate!! Japan. As an anime, it’s not particularly the greatest, but as an introduction to baking it’s superb. The clip that first got me interested in the show in the first place is this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QMH8Tof69SE .
Just about everything baking-related the show talks about (minus the super powers some people seem to possess in the show) is sound baking advice. After watching several episodes of the show, I thought I’d give it a shot. That was about six years ago.
Whenever I tell people I bake bread, they’re impressed. And if they’re not too impressed, I tell them I do it by hand. I don’t use a machine. I’ve never used a machine to make bread. If someone asked me to make some bread with a machine, I wouldn’t know how to do it. So after expressing amazement, they make comments about how hard it must be to do and how they don’t think they could do it.
Have you ever tried making bread? If not, give it a shot. As long as you follow the recipes exactly (and this includes accurate measurements for everything—flour, sugar, yeast, temperature, etc.), you should do OK. Oh, and make sure you know how to properly knead bread. My short anecdote below explains what can happen if you don’t.
My first bread I ever “attempted” to make was a chocolate bread. I found a recipe online that had some favorable reviews. I went out, bought bread pans and wire cooling racks, parchment paper, bread flour, etc. I mixed up the ingredients, let the stuff proof/rise/ferment as I should, then placed it in the pans. I looked at it and thought, “Wow, this looks like shit. I hope it turns out good!” It looked like lots of ropey dough that needed to be properly needed. Cuz, well, it did.
So about 35 minutes later it comes out, I let it cool briefly, and cut into it. I’m thinking to myself, “Hmm, I don’t think I’ve ever had bread this hard before. Meh, it should be OK.”
It had a good flavor, but the texture was all wrong. I go back to it about 35 minutes later, and it’s solid as a rock. I try an assortment of my knives and none of them will cut into it! After reading some general bread-baking tips, it turned out I didn’t know a thing about kneading dough properly.
I don’t like the feel of dry flour upon my hands. I don’t like waiting for butter to become room temperature. I don’t like waiting for my oven to pre-heat. So, what is it about baking that I enjoy? I’ve thought about this ever since I started, and there are only two conclusions I come to. Kneading the bread is relaxing. Yes, yes, it requires some forearm strength and lots of work, but it’s a great physical way to release some stress. I can mash it, slap it, just about anything I want. Or I can treat it gently.
The second thing I enjoy is the finished product. I love bread. I love the crust, the crumb, the smell—everything about it. I also love to show off my finished products to any who will bear witness to them. That is, unless it ever turns out like that chocolate bread.
メロンパン is interesting. It’s rarely found in America, outside of Japanese supermarkets. In Japan, it’s found in almost every convenience store around. メロンパン is pronounced “melon pan,” with the pan being pronounced the same as in Spanish. Actually, the Japanese word for bread, pan, is borrowed from the Portuguese word, also “pan.”
So, what about the melon? Well, there is no actual melon in most melon pan. The name comes from the lattice pattern scored into the top. The bread is made in two parts. A rather plain, though soft, ball of bread forms the base, while a rather thin “cookie” layer is spread on top and stretched over the dough ball. Baked together, they form a delicious snack bread. Of course, there are different varieties, with some including melon essence baked in, or even cream fillings.
If you’d like to see more pictures of this awesome bread that lacks the love it deserves here in the States, click here.