in search of lost anpan (あんパン)

IMG_2226

(the papaya filled ones are on the bottom; purple yam on top)

anpan is a sweet bun traditionally filled with red bean paste.

according to wikipedia, the anpan was invented by an out-of-work samurai, named Kimura Yasubei, in 1875.  yasubei essentially cross breeded the asian steamed manju (or mantou in mandarin) — a soft, slightly sweet and spongy steamed white bread — with the salty, coarse yeast-based breads of europeans.  how’s that for meiji era fusion food!

i ate a lot of anpan or rather breads with anpan like consistency as a kid.  i had no clue then that the japanese called the bread anpan. i thought of it as the soft and squishy asian bread my mom bought by the dozens at chinatown bakeries and fed me for breakfast almost every other day.  i suppose it’s a bit like my own proustian madeleine. the chinese versions (about half the price of the japanese and korean versions) are available in a variety of flavours with the classics being of the pineapple topped (there’s no pineapple actually involved, it just sort of looks like it) or pork floss variety stuffed with red bean, taro or something savory like roast pork. i came back from spain earlier in the week. while there, we tried “ensaimadas,” a lard based pastry bread with Mallorcan origins, which have a consistency remarkably similar to the chinese “anpans.”  the ensaimada definitely traveled to the philippines, where current versions are rounder and more anpan-like, made with butter rather than lard, and sold alongside the indomitable steamed siopao (or cha shao bao – as found on any respectable dim sum menu).  given geographic proximity, i’m also reminded of some of the portuguese massa or pao doce that we tried a few years back in lisbon.  soft squishy, sweet sugary topping, and sometimes stuffed with something sweet too. perhaps the chinese got their inspiration from the portuguese and spanish sailing around east asia over 400 years ago, rather than yasubei. gasp. or perhaps, even yasubei himself got inspired by those very same latin explorers?  maybe instead of the silk road, there’s something like the underground anpan path lost to history until now . . . (this might make for an interesting topic for all the food geneaologists out there!)

for the past few weeks, i’ve been sleuthing around on the web for an anpan recipe. the basic anpan dough is a butter and yeast dough (see recipe below) and the filling is traditionally azuki (red bean paste).  not having any azuki in my cupboard I decided to attempt to transform a purple yam and papaya that I did have lying around the house into fillings for the anpan. it turned out pretty swell for a 1st attempt! i think i’ll continue to experiment with the multitude of variations in the weeks to come. who knows, maybe i’ll cross fertilize a variety all my own?

Anpan Dough Recipe (adapted from http://hidehide.net/korokoro-english.shtml)
(makes about 6-8 depending how large you want the breads to be. i quintupled this recipe to make about 40 anpans)

bread flour                              200g  (you can use AP flour too, but it may not rise as high. taste-wise, my palate isn’t quite refined enough to detect a difference)
salt                                            1/2 teaspoon
sugar                                        20g
dry yeast                                  4 g
warm water                            100g
egg                                            20g (about 1/2 to 1/3 of a large egg)
butter                                       20g

  1. Dissolve the yeast into the water.  Add about a teaspoon of sugar into the yeast mixture.  Set aside for 10-15 minutes.  Yeast mixture should froth and foam (don’t worry, it doesn’t have rabies)
  2. Mix together the flour, salt, remainder of sugar, egg and butter.  I use the dough hook on my stand mixer set to a low to medium speed for about 2 to 3 minutes.
  3. Slowly pour in the yeast water mixture bits at a time.  You might not need all of it, depending on the humidity.  You’re looking for the flour mixture to come together as a dough that kinda feels like play-dough to the touch.  When you stretch it out, you should get “windows” in your dough
  4. Set aside in a warm place, and let the dough rise until it has about doubled (about 2-4 hrs)
  5. On a clean, floured surface, divide the dough into 6 to 8 roughly equal parts.  Let rest for 10 minutes (this is really optional if you’re in a rush)
  6. Form the dough into a small ball and then in between your palms, flatten the dough into a disk. You want the center of the disk to be thicker than the sides, so that the filling will sit firm in the center of the bread when baked  (and yes, in my first attempt, some of the filling surfaced to the top of my bread as the center of my disc was too thin.  oh well, tastes good nonetheless)
  7. Put about 1 – 1.5 tbsp of filling in the center of the disc and pinch the sides until it’s covered. (note: i sprinkled the purple yam filled breads with some toasted sesames at this point so that i could tell them apart)
  8. Set aside and proof until the filled dough has roughly doubled (about 2 hrs — you know it’s done when you poke it and the dough doesn’t bounce back)
  9. Brush with egg wash and bake at 350 degrees F for 15 to 20 minutes

Papaya Filling (concocted out of my head)
(enough to fill about 30 anpans)

Papaya                                     2-3 lbs ( I used one large Mexican papaya but you can certainly use the smaller Carribean variety – probably 2-4 of these)
Butter                                      4 tbsp
Sugar                                       2 tbsp (depends on the sweetness of the papaya)
Brown Sugar                          a few good pinches

  1. Slice papaya into quarters or halves.  Scoop out and discard seeds
  2. Sprinkle brown sugar on the papaya
  3. Roast in oven at 350 degrees for 40 minutes
  4. When cooled, peel off papaya skin, and place papaya flesh into a small saucepan
  5. Add butter and sugar into the pan
  6. Over medium heat, stir papaya until water content has slightly evaporated (be careful not to burn it!)
  7. Pour papaya into a strainer and allows excess liquid to drip out

Purple Yam Filling (concocted out of my head)
(enough to fill about 8 anpans)

Purple Yam                            1 medium sized (about 1/3 to 1/2 pound.  you can use a regular sweet potato too if you can’t find the okinawan purple yam)
Sugar                                       1-2 tbsp (depends on the sweetness of the yam)
Cream or Half & Half           1-2 tbsp

  1. Steam yam until softened
  2. Peel off skin
  3. Place yam in a food processor along with sugar and cream
  4. Grind until it becomes a paste
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