I've spoken before about missing aspects of my life in Japan. I can't remember why, but a month or so ago I suddenly got a craving for anpan. Anpan (from 'an' - bean jam, and 'pan' - bread) is a favourite snack of Japanese children. They're basically a slightly sweetened bread with red bean (azuki) paste inside. I first became aware of them through hearing about a popular cartoon for younger children called Anpanman, which stars a group of superhero characters made of bread. Anpanman's head is an anpan, and when he is injured, Uncle Jam the baker makes him a new head. It's the kind of subtly creepy cutesiness that pervades most Japanese entertainment.
One of my fellow JETs introduced me to real anpan for the first time in my second year, while we wear working on our annual musical. I never expected to like them - the thought of jam made from beans put me off - but I quickly developed a taste for the things and for the rest of my time in Japan my apartment was rarely without anpan. I used to get these small 'usukawa' (thin-skinned) ones, which had only a teeny layer of bread around a great wad of anko (red bean paste).
Anyway, when I got the craving, it occurred to me that I might be able to make them myself, assuming I could get the ingredients. I looked up Chinese supermarkets online and found one not too far from where I usually go to write in the city centre. It was quite a small place, with a tiny old Chinese lady behind the counter, and I felt a little on-edge while I stared at the beans and tried to work out if they were the kind I wanted. They were red, sure, but smaller than ones I'd seen in Japan. But since there was nothing else, I figured 'What the hey' and went for them.
I found a recipe for anko and last night I finally got round to making it. I decided it would be best to make the anko in advance since it was quite a time-consuming affair. It was maybe a little foolish to continue with the recipe without being sure I even had the right kind of beans, but I didn't think I would be able to find azuki beans anywhere else (I have since found out my mother has bought them in the past, so it's highly likely I could have bought them from a regular supermarket). The process involves a lot of boiling, simmering, draining and repeating. The only part of the recipe I had trouble with was pushing foil down onto the beans as they boiled, since it threatened to burn my fingers. I used a smaller pot lid that fit inside the pot instead. I was really doubtful that I was going to end up with the right thing - the consistency seemed odd as several stages, but at the very end everything came together, quite literally. This was the result:
Today was a different challenge. I realised the recipe I had intended to follow called for a breadmaker. Cheating, if you ask me. We don't have a breadmaker. Every other anpan recipe I found online also wanted a breadmaker. After looking over different recipes for a while, I decided to amalgamate the breadmaker one with another one for a milk loaf and basically make my own instructions. For the interested:
Bread flour - 450g (this is an estimate - I started with 380g as per the recipe but my dough was very sticky)
Salt - 1tsp
Sugar - 3tbsp
Dried yeast - 1 1/2tsp
Fat/butter - 3tbsp
2 medium eggs
Warm milk - 200ml
1. Mix the flour, salt, sugar and yeast in a bowl.
2. Add the fat/butter and rub it through with your hands until there are no lumps left.
3. Make a well in the centre of the bowl, add 1 egg, then lightly beat the second egg and add half (save the rest).
4. Pour in the warm milk a little at a time, mixing as you do with a knife until it comes together as a dough. If the dough is too sticky, use extra flour.
5. Knead the dough for 10 minutes, then split into 14-18 balls.
6. Cover the balls with a damp towel so they don't dry out and leave them to expand a little for 15 minutes.
7. Flatten each ball out, then spoon in your anko paste. The amount is up to you, but you can afford to be liberal. A heaped tablespoon's worth is about right.
10. Brush the surface of each bun lightly with the remaining egg and bake for 15 minutes.
I'm really happy with how they turned out. Even though I bought the wrong kind of flour. It was supposed to be white, but I bought a kind that was brown and full of seeds. I sifted out the seeds but wasn't sure if the recipe would still work. As it turns out, the savouriness of the bread works well to offset the sweetness of the anko. Result!: