Thursday, May 26

Shokupan is the anti-sourdough: the rise of Japanese milk bread | Australian food and drink

Reiji Honor grew up eating soft white bread in Singapore and Japan. When he and his family moved to a rural Australian town in 2005, the closest they could get to shokupan (Japanese milk bread) was white bread from Brumby’s Bakery.

“My mother, who is Japanese, would buy a whole loaf and cut thick slices. But it was never the same again. There is a subtle sweetness to shokupan that does not exist in white bread. “

An 'iso sando' made with shokupan, karaage, Korean black sauce, cos, cucumber, onion cream, and garlic chips, served by Melbourne's Hibiki Cafe.
An ‘iso sando’ made with shokupan, karaage, Korean black sauce, cos, cucumber, onion cream, and garlic chips, served by Melbourne’s Hibiki Cafe. Photography: HIBIKI

When Honor opened her cafe, Hibiki, in Melbourne in 2018, he says, “We had shokupan in our coffee from day one … I love the thick cut, smooth texture and sweet, milky taste.”

Australian bread preferences tend to lean towards more palatable breads like sourdough. In this $ 2.7 billion industry, market research firm IbisWorld has found that mixed grain bread, whole wheat and rye bread products now account for 33.5% of revenue. Even traditional white rolls (37.6% of the industry) are increasingly made with added fiber, such as cereals and nuts.

Shokupan is an atypical bread. Yu Nakagawa, who until recently ran the Japanese bakery Sweets and Loaves in Brisbane, explains: “If we put dough at one end of the spectrum of sweetness for bread with brioche at the other and white bread in the middle, shokupan is in between the brioche. and white bread. . “She says” it should be light and stretchy, not doughy. “

“If you push it or when you bite it, there must be some resistance. Shokupan should never be soft, ”says Nakagawa.

Achieving this result requires a very specific baking technique. “Shokupan has butter, milk and / or cream in the dough,” says Leo Lee of Bakemono Bakers, which opened in Melbourne in 2020. This addition gives it its English name, milk bread, as well as “higher fat content compared to a typical white bread. It is also made using the yudane method, which is a water roux made by mixing a portion of the dough with hot water. The result is a soft interior with a fluffy, slightly chewy texture and a fine fragrant crust. “

Perhaps due to the relative scarcity of shokupan, it is not uncommon to see long lines of customers waiting outside Bakemono Bakers for their chance to grab a bite to eat. Azuki Bakery, in Sydney’s inner west, is equally popular.

Honor links interest in shokupan with Australians’ familiarity with Japan as a holiday destination. In 2019, Japan was in the top 10 most popular tourist destinations for Australians. “Bread is a standard breakfast food in Australia and Japan. Shokupan is uniquely Japanese, but it is also familiar to Australians. “

The smoothness of shokupan highlights the different role bread plays in Japanese cuisine. In European culinary traditions, bread is typically used as a base for sandwiches or for scrubbing soups. Therefore, the bread had to be dense and chewy, to prevent it from becoming soggy when immersed in liquids. But in Japan, soups are eaten with rice or noodles, while curry is paired with rice. So instead of being part of a main meal, bread in Japan is treated more like a snack.

Japanese-style sweet fruit sando.
Japanese-style fruit salad made with seasonal fruit and cream. Photograph: Dariia Chernenko / 500px / Getty Images / 500px Plus

Fruit sandos, for example, are a highly photogenic treat that sits somewhere between afternoon tea and dessert. According to Pureephat Kraikangwan, chef of a Japanese-inspired cafe Sandoitchi In Sydney, fruit sandos are a take-out food in Japan, available in vending machines and convenience stores. “In our Sydney café, we make our fruit sandos with cream, seasonal fruits like strawberry or mango, with a little yuzu to remove the creaminess.”

Sandoitchi restaurant in Surry Hills, NSW
Sandoitchi restaurant in Surry Hills, NSW Photograph: Blake Sharp-Wiggins / The Guardian

But shokupan is also a base for savory snacks. Kraikangwan explains that when shokupan is fried, the inside still remains soft but the outside becomes crisp enough to hold semi-liquid fillings. Instead of serving bread alongside a curry dish, a serving of kare pan sees a fried shokupan roll, with Japanese curry inside, almost like a fluffy cake.

The final differentiating factor for shokupan is the thick-cut slices, a by-product of Japanese appliances. Nakagawa recalls visiting Japan, where even an average hotel room would include a multi-functional oven that can toast bread. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a conventional toaster in Japan. The hotel oven is like a grill and you can slide the bread into it horizontally, so you can have really thick bread. “

Lee echoes this sentiment and gives a simple idea of ​​how thick we should cut our shokupan bread. “If it fits in a pop-up toaster, it’s too thin!”

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