The first time I visited Japan, I made it my goal to eat as many appetizing dishes as I could. I had an entire list to tackle and only two weeks. Needless to say, I wasn't able to try everything I wanted but I did discover many new favorites including Japanese honeydew bread. This bread was nothing like I've had before. They looked like melon pan but unlike melon pan, they actually tasted like a melon. Coated in a sugar topping, the soft pastry is filled with a honeydew custard. It was amazing. Years later, here I am still thinking about that bread. And so, here is my version of the Japanese bread, honeydew bread in all its glory!
Japanese Honeydew Bread
- 2 cups honeydew chunks (about ¼ of a honeydew)
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
- 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
- ½ cup warm milk, 100-110 degrees F
- 1 ¾ cups bread flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons butter softened
- 1 large egg
- 1 ½ cups honeydew juice (about 2 cups honeydew chunks)
- 4 large eggs
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ¼ cup honeydew syrup
- 5 tablespoons softened butter
- ⅓ cup granulated sugar
- 1 large egg
- 2 tablespoons honeydew syrup
- 1 ½ cups cake flour
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- 1 drop green food coloring optional
- Make honeydew syrup. Puree 2 cups honeydew until smooth. Combine with sugar and bring to a boil over medium heat in a medium saucepot. Continue to cook until liquid is reduced by half, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and cool completely.
- Prepare dough. Combine active dry yeast with 1 teaspoon sugar and warm milk. Let sit for 10 minutes or until yeast has been activated and mixture is foamy. Mix together yeast mixture with bread flour, salt, sugar, softened butter, and egg until dough comes together. Knead dough for 7-8 minutes or until smooth. Transfer dough to a clean bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm area for 1 hour or until doubled in size.
- Meanwhile, make honeydew custard. Puree about 2 cups honeydew to make 1 ½ cups honeydew juice. Whisk together juice with eggs, sugar, cornstarch, vanilla, and ¼ cup honeydew syrup. Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat in a medium saucepot, whisking continuously. Continue to simmer until thickened, about 5-7 minutes. Remove from heat and transfer to a clean bowl. Place plastic wrap directly on top of the custard and let cool completely.
- Punch down dough and divide it into 8 even pieces. Shape each piece into a round ball and roll it out into a 6-inch circle. Fill the center of the dough with 2 tablespoons honeydew custard (add more custard if you can!) and gather up the edges to seal in the custard. Place seam side down on a lined baking sheet and continue with remaining dough. Loosely wrap the honeydew bread and let rise in a warm area for 1 hour.
- Meanwhile, make bread topping. Cream together softened butter with sugar until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Add egg and beat until combined. Add 2 tablespoons honeydew syrup, cake flour, baking powder, and green food coloring if using. Mix well until food coloring is well distributed. Shape dough into a log and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes or until firm.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Remove bread topping from fridge and slice into 8 pieces. Flatten each piece until it's big enough to cover top of the bread. Lay bread topping on top of rolls and score the top, making a crisscross pattern. Bake honeydew bread for 10-12 minutes or until the bottoms of the bread are browned. Let cool completely. Serve.
**Helpful tips and common mistakes
Let's dive right in shall we? Before we can even start making the bread, we have to make the main flavor component, the honeydew syrup. If you can find honeydew syrup that doesn't taste artificial, by all means, go for it. I was unable to find any so I went the natural route and decided to make it myself.
All you have to do is puree 2 cups of fresh honeydew in a food processor and simmer it with a bit of sugar until it is reduced by half. If your honeydew is already very sweet, you can reduce the amount of sugar or omit it altogether.
About 20 minutes later, the honeydew syrup should be slightly thickened, darker in color, and more concentrated in flavor. We're going to use this syrup for both the custard and the bread topping.
Now it's time to make the dough. First, activate the yeast with a bit of sugar in warm milk. Then, add the remaining ingredients including the bread flour, salt, sugar, softened butter, and egg. Knead the dough until smooth; the dough will be soft but that just means the actual bread will be too! Proof the dough for about 1 hour or until it has doubled in size.
Meanwhile, make the honeydew custard which will be the filling for the honeydew bread. Puree another 2 cups honeydew to yield 1 ½ cups fresh juice. Combine the juice with eggs, sugar, cornstarch, vanilla, and ¼ cup of the honeydew syrup we prepared. Simmer the mixture over medium heat, whisking continuously to prevent the egg from curdling. Once the custard starts to thicken, take it off the heat and pour it into a clean bowl. Place plastic wrap directly on top of the custard to prevent the skin from forming and let it cool completely.
Once the dough is ready, punch it down and divide it into 8 equal portions. Roll out each portion into an 6-inch circle and fill the center with the custard. If you're able to successfully stuff more custard in the rolls, kudos to you! I found it a little tricky to close the seams when I put too much filling.
Place the rolls seam side facing down on a baking sheet and lightly cover the rolls. Proof the bread once more for another hour.
While the bread is rising, make the bread topping. To make the topping, cream together butter with sugar until light and fluffy. Add an egg followed by honeydew syrup, cake flour, baking powder, and 1 drop of green food coloring. The food coloring is optional but it adds a lovely green tint. No matter what I tried, I couldn't get it the same green with just natural honeydew juice so food coloring it is!
Are you still with me? Good because we're almost at the finish line. Cut the chilled bread topping into 8 portions and roll each to a circle big enough to cover the bread. If your kitchen is hot, you want to work quickly because the topping can get sticky when warm. Score the tops in a crisscross pattern and bake the rolls for 10-12 minutes or until the bottoms are browned.
Phew, that was a lot of work! But I can happily say that these honeydew bread were very similar to the ones I had in Japan. The bread is soft and the custard has the perfect amount of sweetness with a hint of honeydew. Now to try this with canteloupe...
For more sweet bread inspiration check out braided lemon bread!