Melon pan: a delicious Japanese snack with a very deceiving name. It’s a delicious bread with a sweet cookie crust on top, but it’s got no melon or melon flavoring at all! Instead, the name comes from the iconic criss-cross scoring across the top.
It seems that most cultures have a different version of this bread. There are conchas, kopi roti, pineapple buns, and more! This recipe is sort of a mix between them but inspired by the traditional melon pan. The dough does not use a tangzhong technique but I think the end result is just as soft and airy. It’s a simple yeasted bread that you can even adapt to make plain rolls or loaf.
These melon pans get their Thai tea flavor from the cookie topping and added custard filling. To get a strong flavor in the topping, you’ll need to infuse the butter using Thai tea leaves. You can basically accomplish this by cooking and steeping the tea leaves in melted butter for a couple of minutes. It’s added effort but totally worth it!
The filling is basically a Thai tea custard. If it doesn’t turn out with the right texture, don’t worry! If it’s too runny, you can try to pipe the filling in after they’ve baked. In the worst case, it’s much too runny and you can use it as a dipping sauce. This has happened to me and, trust me, it’s still so delicious.
I decided to make half of my batch into plain melon pan and colored the top of these pink (just so I knew the difference). The recipe is for a full batch of the Thai tea variety, but it’s easy enough to make two flavors at once. I thought the pink color was so cute that I just had to make a Kirby one! I just used some of the extra dough for the arms and legs, and then painted the face on with black sesame paste.
These melon pans are so easy to make and one of my favorite things to snack on. It really checks all the boxes when it comes to flavor (strong, bold, and sweet Thai tea) and texture (soft, crunchy, and silky all at once!). Brew a cup of coffee and enjoy!
Store any leftovers in an airtight container for up to 1 week. Reheat in the oven or toaster oven for a couple minutes, until top is crunchy again.
Thai Tea Melon Pan
For the bread dough:
- 2 1/2 cups bread flour
- 3 tbsp granulated sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp instant yeast
- 220 ml lukewarm milk (a little over 1 cup)
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 60 g unsalted butter, softened
For the topping:
- 6 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
- 6 tsp Thai tea leaves
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 200 g cake flour
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- extra sugar, for dusting
For the filling:
- 2.5 cups whole milk
- 4 large egg yolks
- 1/3 cup cornstarch
- 4 tbsp Thai tea leaves (or 8 tea bags)
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 2 tbsp butter
Make the filling:
- In a small pot, heat the milk until just barely boiling. Add the Thai tea leaves (or tea bags), stir, and steep for about 10 minutes. Strain the leaves/take the tea bags out.
- Let the milk chill in an ice bath (or in the fridge) for about 10 minutes, or until cooled.
- Remove milk from the fridge and whisk the egg into it. Meanwhile, combine cornstarch and sugar in a small pot (you can use the same one as before, but make sure it is cooled off completely).
- Pour the milk and egg mixture into the pot and mix until well combined. Place the pot over medium-high heat and add the butter.
- Continuously and vigorously stir the mixture the entire time, to avoid curdling the egg. Keep stirring until thickened, then remove from heat.
- Transfer to a separate container and place in the fridge. Cool for at least a couple of hours (or overnight).
Make the bread dough:
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the bread flour, sugar, and salt. Add instant yeast and mix.
- Pour lukewarm milk (make sure it isn't too hot!) and add the one beaten egg. Mix with a wooden spoon until a dough forms.
- Add the softened butter. Using the dough hook attachment, mix on medium-low speed until the butter is fully incorporated. Keep mixing for another 10-12 minutes, or until soft, smooth, and elastic.
- Cover the bowl with a dish towel and let the dough rise until almost doubled, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
Make the topping:
- In a medium mixing bowl, add the butter and sugar. Mix until smooth (with a stand mixer, hand mixer, or by hand). Add the beaten egg and mix well.
- Sift in the cake flour and baking powder. Mix again until just incorporated. Form the dough into a ball with your hand.
- Measure the weight of the biscuit dough and then split the dough into 16 equal portions (about 20 g each).
- Roll all 16 portions into balls. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silpat. Let them sit in the fridge until needed.
- Take the topping out of the fridge. Roll each ball out into small flat rounds. I like doing this between two sheets of wax paper or within a cut Ziploc bag. Place on a non-stick surface and place back in the fridge.
- Once doubled, gently punch down and turn out dough onto a floured surface. Cut with a sharp knife or dough scraper into 16 equal portions.
- Flatten each dough portion into a flat circle. Take about 2 tbsp of the Thai tea filling and place it in the center of the dough circle.
- Wrap the dough around the filling and seal. Roll it back into a ball and place on a baking sheet lined with a baking sheet or silpat.
- Wrap one of the topping discs over a dough ball. Using the back of a knife, score the top in whatever pattern you choose. Traditional melon pan is made with 3 criss-cross indents.
- Cover the melon pan with a dish towel and leave it in a warm spot to rise for about 30-45 minutes, or until doubled in size. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Before baking, sprinkle sugar on top of each melon pan. Bake for about 15 minutes. Then, turn off the oven and let them sit in the oven for another 10 minutes. The tops should be a light golden brown.
- Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a wire rack. Enjoy!