Anpan – A Japanese sweet roll filled with a sweet, earthy paste made from the Azuki legume (It can also be filled with a white bean, green been, sesame or chestnut mixture). Julie thinks these are a heavenly, not-too-sweet dessert or a great start for your day with a cup of coffee or glass of milk.
When I think Japanese food, I think of the wild, recent popularity of Ramen, incredible Sushi, Tempuras, Soba, Shabu-Shabu, Yakitori and various incarnations of rice and fish dishes.
What I don’t think about is bread.
Most Japanese would probably shutter at my culinary stereotyping, but then again, it was a Japanese woman on a plane out of Chicago who, after hearing I was from Texas, asked me about riding horses to school, my ranch, my oil well and what it was like to live in a third world without many paved roads.
I was amused rather than offended (she did, after all, get three out of four correct – I won’t tell you which three), so hopefully my Japanese friends and acquaintances won’t be offended by any shallow observations that preceded or that follow.
Back to bread – in this case the Japanese sweet roll known as Anpan.
To understand today’s recipe, you have to understand something about Japanese history (everything ‘Mericuns needs to know is in the next couple of paragraphs).
In the early 16th Century, there was no bread in Japan.
In 1534, the first Westerners arrived in Japan. The Portuguese to be exact.
Like most folks from the West, they came with a Bible in one hand and firearms in the other. The Japanese, who were in the midst of a series of civil wars, wanted the guns and, since trade often hinges on other concessions, they allowed Catholic missionaries into the country.
Folks began rapidly converting to Catholicism. The Japanese, having learned what they needed to know about the firearms biz and realizing that this whole Christianity thing could upset politics and lealty, shut their doors to the West in 1636, threw all foreigners out, kept their own people at home (Japanese couldn’t leave their homeland) and began a practice of exclusion/seclusion that would last until 1854.
This included a decree forbidding the consumption of Western food.
No biggie. Bread had not caught on during the West’s century-long field trip to Japan and it would be another two centuries before the West was allowed a visitor’s pass, which would open the door to the Japanese adoption and adaptation of Occidental foods and practices.
Once the doors were back open, it would take about 20 years before we got our gluten hooks into the Japanese in a way that would never let go. It seems Western bread wasn’t to Japanese taste without a little tweaking.
In order to promulgate more ‘Mericun ignorance, simplify history and entertain rather than educate the masses, I have to let you know that it was a Samurai who invented Anpan, the first Japanese bread. (A picture of a guy in armor, carrying a sword sells a better blog post than some guy in a white apron covered in flour).
Actually, it was a displaced Samurai (The rise of a conscript Imperial Army put the hired sword out of business. Baking and protecting feudal lords evidently have a number of parallel/transferable skill sets).
A Samurai-cum-baker, Yasubei Kimura, married the Western concept of yeast bread, for which the Japanese hadn’t developed a taste, with Japanese tradition by using a yeast employed in making Sake and filling the slightly sweet bread with Anko (a sweet paste made from Azuki beans that has a long-standing place in Japanese cuisine).
It was a flavor profile that the Japanese could appreciate.
Bread in Japan was born and waistlines across the country began expanding – especially once a Meiji emperor asked to be fed the dish everyday (The country went wild for Anpan after this – It was kind of like when Princess Kate wears a new hat – it sells out instantly).
The rest is modern history, including the birth of Anpanman – the equivalent of our Mr. Rogers, Elmo and Sesame Street.
The Japanese superhero with a head made out of Anpan that all Japanese children have grown up with for the past 50 years has sold more than 50 million books in Japan alone, been the star of television series and movies (at a rate that shames anything Western), and his face is seen on virtually every good that is marketable to children – video games, food products, toys, etc.
AnPan recipe (adapted from Angieisagirl.wordpress.com, conversations with Shinobu Rowe and the Wagashi Maniac blog)
For the bun:
3 cups bread flour
7T caster sugar (pulse cane sugar a few times in coffee grinder or food processor but don’t go all the way to powdered/confectionary texture)
3T milk powder
4t instant yeast
3T beaten egg
6.75 oz warm water
4T butter, softened
for the filling:
18oz. azuki beans
2t baking soda
The filling is what is the most time consuming.
1. Wash and sort the beans.
2. Soak your beans overnight, stirring in 1t of baking soda after they’ve been soaking about an hour.
3. Discard soaking water and place beans in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan and just barely cover with water. Add another teaspoon of baking soda. Bring to a light boil over medium heat. Boil lightly for about 10 minutes, stirring often.
4. Add 10oz cool water and return to a boil.
5. Add another 10 oz cool water and return to a light boil (the beans shouldn’t be jumping around).
6. The beans will begin to break down into mush (you don’t want to turn up the heat and push them to this point. Let it happen slowly, without stirring and at a temperature that isn’t going to burn the beans to the bottom of the pan).
7. You should have beans that are thick enough that they look almost like a refried bean. You should be able to make a shallow well in the beans without them falling into each other.
8. Check beans and make sure there is no perceivable grit to them.
9. Add half your sugar, turn your heat to medium-high, stir softly (you don’t want the beans to be too smooth) for 2-3 minutes.
10. Add the other half of your sugar and stir softly.
11. The beans should take on a sheen. Cook, stirring slowly and ensuring that your beans don’t stick to the bottom of the pot (burned flavor will ruin this dish). Continue until enough moisture has been removed that you can see the bottom of the pot briefly when your spoon has been drawn across the pot.
12. Remove the bean paste, place in a container and allow to come to room temperature before refrigerating.
For the rolls
1. In a large bowl, combine your flour, sugar, milk powder and yeast. Reserve.
2. Combine egg and warm water. Beat together thoroughly.
3. Mix until everything comes together then transfer to a lightly floured surface and begin to knead (adding flour as needed) until dough becomes smooth.
4. Rub softened butter across the dough and continue kneading until it is smooth and elastic.
5. Form dough into a ball and place in a large bowl. Cover with a damp towel and allow it to proof for 1 hour or until double in size.
6. Punch dough down. Divide in half and gently form a two discs with your hands (You don’t want to work the dough again). Take a sharp knife and cut each disc (pushing the knife straight down) into eight equal pieces.
7. Lightly roll each triangle into a ball and place it on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Cover, and let proof for 20 minutes.
8. While the dough is proofing, remove your Anko (bean paste) from the refrigerator and create 16 small balls that are slightly smaller than a golf ball.
9. Mix together one egg and one tablespoon water.
9. After you’re dough has risen for 20 minutes flatten each ball into a disc that should be slightly larger than your palm.
10. Place an Anko ball in the center of each disc, lightly brush the edges of the disc with the egg white mixture. Bring the edges of the disc together and pinch to close above the Anko ball. Smooth your roll and place seam side down on the baking sheet.
11. Cover the sheet with plastic wrap and allow dough to proof another 40 minutes.
12. Preheat oven to 350 degree while waiting.
13. Brush tops of buns with egg wash and sprinkle with sesame seeds and sea salt (if you like something to offset the sweet taste).
14. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the buns are golden.
15. Remove, cool on a wire rack. Serve warm.
16. Place any buns you don’t eat in an airtight container. To warm: Preheat oven to 350 degrees and place them inside for 5 minutes. We try and eat them within a day, but I’ve known some to go two days.