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Melonpan is a type of sweet cookie bread made in Japan and popular in China and Taiwan. It is a bread bun encased in cookie or pastry dough. The name is not Japanese but rather a combination of the English word melon and the Portuguese word pan, meaning bread. This pastry, which is also called melon bun, is traditionally not flavored like a honey melon, but the top looks like melon skin as a result of the baking process. The bread is prevalent throughout Japan, and there are many references to it in popular culture.
Ginza is believed to be the cradle of melonpan, but the pastry’s origin is not definitely known. The bread dough is typically made with flour, yeast, and sugar. These ingredients are mixed with butter, salt, and milk powder. The pastry layer includes butter, sugar, and eggs mixed with cake flour and baking powder.
Once proofed, the bread dough is divided and shaped into small rounds. These rounds are then wrapped in the pastry dough with the bottoms of each bread bun left uncovered so the inner dough can expand while baking. The top is stamped with cookie cutters or scored to look like melon skin before baking for between 10 and 12 minutes. The cookie dough coating is usually slightly underbaked to avoid burning the faster-baking interior bread dough.
There are many variations of this classic recipe. Flavorings such as melon, caramel, and maple can be added. Some bakers will include chocolate chips between the dough and cookie dough layers. Custard, flavored creams, and syrups may also be used as fillings. Such variations are often known by names that reflect the added flavors like maplepan or chocolate melonpan.
Individuals who cannot eat dairy products can modify the traditional melonpan recipe. Nondairy butter and egg replacer can be used in the bread and pastry dough. The milk powder can be eliminated from the bread dough and substituted for nondairy milk or water.
This sweet bread is similar to pineapple buns made in Hong Kong, Macau, and parts of southern China. Like melonpan, the pineapple bun gets its name from its appearance rather than its flavor. The top of the bun resembles pineapple skin when baked until golden brown. A pineapple bun is generally moister and softer on the outside, with a stronger butter flavor than Japanese melonpan.
There are many Japanese popular culture references to this sweet bread. Anime and manga characters like Shana from the Shakugan no Shana series can be distinguished by their fondness for the pastry. The anime Yakitate!! Japan devotes an episode to a melonpan baking competition. Additionally, melonpan is sometimes part of the prize given to winners of the game show Hey! Spring of Trivia.