Melon pan is both a delicious Japanese treat and a bilingual loan word and you don’t get that sort of quality linguistic experience every day. These are little dessert buns made with cookie dough rolled out and wrapped around a nugget of bread dough. The “pan” is Portuguese for bread and the “melon” is for how the little globes bake into a furrowed skin that looks like melon rind. They are sometimes made with butterscotch or green macha cookie dough to point up the resemblance even further.
Any type of bread and cookie dough is fair game in any combination. For my first attempt I made plain white bread with maple sugar cookies. The buns had more lumps and ridges than the Wikipedia illustrations (more closely resembling pumpkins than melons) but they were delicious.
I started with a batch of classic white sandwich bread dough from King Arthur Flour. I also chose King Arthur Flour’s recipe for the maple cookie layer, but it was very soft and difficult to roll out without a great deal of flour and mess. Next time I’ll use a butter cookie dough that is firm enough to roll out easily. My tiny kitchen covered in flour:
Take the bread dough recipe through to the second rise, and at that point make a roll and cut it into about 25 pieces. Roll the pieces into balls using the heel of your hand on an unfloured surface. Space the balls on two greased cookie sheets (or use parchment or a Silpat), cover, and allow to rise again while you make the cookie layer.
Follow your cookie recipe and spread the finished dough onto a piece of plastic wrap. Form into a roll – or make two rolls if that fits better into your fridge – and chill for 20 minutes. Remove from fridge, unwrap, and slice the roll into about 25 discs. In a nice example of synchronicity, these two recipes made almost exactly the same amount of dough – very easy to divide equally.
On a floured surface, roll out each disc just enough to fold around a lump of bread dough. Don’t try to wrap it tightly, just lay the cookie dough circle down on top and curve your hand around it gently to tuck the edges over. This part is difficult to explain but there are multiple videos out there highlighting various techniques. I found that the cookie dough spread across the bottom of the melon pan into a continuous layer during baking without me trying to fold it underneath.
Cover the buns again and allow to rise for 20 minutes while you preheat the oven. They won’t become appreciably larger but the cookie layer “settles” around the bread dough.
Bake for 20 – 25 minutes at 375 F, until the cookie dough has browned lightly and the inner bread layer has cooked through. Baking time will vary depending on the size of the bun and the cookie dough you’ve selected. Remove from oven and transfer to a cooling rack right away. When completely cool you might consider piping in some filling. I used creme Anglais but found we really didn’t need it; S. and I enjoyed some this morning with spicy ginger jam and that was even better.
Combinations that come to mind: dark rye bread with a molasses cookie layer and piped with raspberry preserves; raisin challah with butter cookies; ginger pumpkin bread with lemon shortbread cookie dough and lemon curd; or cranberry orange brioche with chocolate sugar cookies.