Monday, August 31, 2009

Bread from the Japanese Bakery

   I've made no secret of my love for vegetables, but a girl doesn't live on verdure alone. May I introduce my favorite neighborhood bakery?
   Mont-Thabor, a few blocks up from the Azabu-Juban station, sells baguettes and pain de campagne, but I've never tried those and they are really beside the point - you can go to one of the very good French bakeries nearby if you're after crunch and bite. The main attraction of Mont-Thabor is its selection of classical Japanese bakery treats, from an-pan to camembert-filled walnut rolls. Their number one best selling bread, which deserves its own post (and will get it, don't worry!), is the spiralled miruku-pan, or milk bread. But let's start with the basics of Japanese bread: shyoku-pan, or table bread.
   Japan may not have an international reputation for its bread, but shyoku-pan should get its own category in the roster of world carbohydrate delights. Soft, squishy, and almost without crumbs, it has a texture that manages to be both light and spongy at the same time. It's like an idealized vision of Wonderbread -- the delightful squashability is the same, but Japanese shyoku-pan has the sweet taste of cream, a sturdier structure, and at Mont-Thabor at least, no weird additives, just flour, milk or cream, yeast, sugar, and maybe eggs. This is bread that will actually go stale in two days and mold in three.

   Check out how thickly Japanese bread is sliced. This is actually the thinnest option available -- the bakery sells pre-cut half loaves sliced into three, four, or five pieces, and this is one of five. You can ask them to slice it thinner, into "sandwich-use" size, but as I know from experience, that's a waste of bread. Japanese bread is made to be toasted, which crisps up the outside while preserving that incredible interior, pillowy-soft enough to make the Downy bear sigh. If you slice it any thinner than this, the toast will be dry as Melba.

   Aren't these loaves gorgeous? If you can see them through the reflected traffic cones, that is. These are the the "Mochiri-Danish" type. The slice of toast above is "Mont-Thabor Classic." There are other options as well, like "Whip-Rich" and "Fuwa-Fuwa" (an onamotopeia for softness). They occasionally have a minimally-whole-wheat loaf, which is a little denser but just as soft as the white ones. You can buy a whole loaf, unsliced, or you can get it sliced. It comes hot out of the oven a couple of times a day, and short of baking it yourself, there's nothing quite as satisfying as taking home a warm bag of yaki-tate, just-baked, soft, creamy bread.

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