There’s a whole category of breads in Japan called okazu pan. Okazu are the savory dishes that you eat with your bowl of rice at a typical meal, and okazu pan are little breads with savory fillings.
Since curry flavored anything is a hit in Japan, curry bread or kare- pan is one of the most popular okazu pan varieties. It’s a bun made of slightly sweet dough, filled with a spoonful of curry, breaded and deep fried. I am not sure how curry bread originated, but I am guessing it was inspired by Russian piroshki (piroshiki is also a popular okazu pan, though in the Japanese version it often contains very non-Russian fillings like harusame, thin bean noodles). Curry bread is sold at bakeries and convenience stores throughout Japan.
Making curry bread is a bit tricky since it’s deep-fried. It’s easy to make an oily, soggy lump if you fry it too long or at too low a temperature, but if you don’t fry it long enough the center part where the dough meets the filling may be raw. My solution for this is to fry it until it’s puffed and crisped, then to finish it in the oven. The other trick is to roll out the dough as thinly as you can manage without making it so thin that the curry is going to burst through.
You also have to be careful about the consistency of the curry filling. It’s most convenient to start out with some leftover curry, but it has to be reduced down to a very thick, paste-like consistency, otherwise it will run over the dough and make the dough hard to seal. If the dough is not sealed properly, the bun will burst in the oil, which ends up to be quite a mess (oil seeps in, filling seeps out).
All in all, I am not sure I would bother to make curry bread at all if I lived near a Japanese bakery, but I do on occasion get a craving for this very down to earth snack. Try it if you’re up for a bit of a challenge. This recipe is adapted from one in an out-of-print Japanese bread book.
Makes 8 to 10 buns
Epuipment and supplies:
(Hint: click on each small image to get a larger view.)
Make the dough. If you’re using a food processor, put all the dry ingredients into the bowl and whiz to mix. Add the egg (don’t forget to reserve 1 tablespoon for the coating/wash), and while the machine is running, slowly add the milk until the dough forms a ball around the blade. Stop and add the butter in pieces, process for about a minute. Take it out and knead it briefly to form a ball.
If you’re mixing by hand, mix together the dry ingredients with a whisk (or sift). Make a well in the middle of the mixed dry stuff. Add the egg (don’t forget to reserve 1 Tbs. for the coating/wash) and milk into the well, and mix rapidly with your fingertips until you get a rough dough. Continue mixing until you have a ball. Add the butter, cut into small pieces, and knead on a lightly floured surface. The dough will be very sticky at first but resist the temptation to flour your board too much, or the dough will become very stiff. If you keep scraping off the stuck on dough with a scraper and kneading and stretching, eventually the dough will become smooth, coherent and pliable.
Once you have a nice smooth dough ball, put into a clean ball, cover with plastic film and let rise for about 1 to 1/2 hours until doubled in size. Punch down the dough, re-cover and let rise an additional 45 minutes.
While the dough is rising, deal with the curry. Mash down or smoosh/cut up any big bits of carrot, potato, meat etc. Over a low heat, slowly cook down the curry until it’s reduce to 2 cups or so, and thick and paste-like. Let cool, then refrigerate until stiff.
Take out the dough, punch down, knead and divide into 8 to 10 pieces. Roll each piece into a ball, and let rest for about 15 minutes under a piece of plastic or a damp kitchen towel.
Put about 1 tablespoon of milk in the reserved egg, and mix well.
Start forming the buns. With a rolling pin or with your hands, flatten out each piece into a thin round, with the center thicker than the edges. If you’re making 10 buns the circle should be about 18cm / 7 inches in diameter.
In the meantime, preheat the oven to 150°C / 300°F. Heat the frying oil to 175°C / 350°F (this is pretty hot, be careful).
If the buns have developed any gaps, pinch them closed.
Serve hot or at room temperature.