Leavened bread is probably the last thing anyone would associate with washoku tradition. Indeed, when we take a protracted view of Japanese cuisine, bread is a johny-come-lately.
It was late in the 16th century when the first Europeans—the Portuguese—settled in Japan, bringing with them Western religion, science, technology, and food. Although the Japanese quickly assimilated cake (bōlo) and fried food (tempura) into their cuisine, the Portuguese bread was too sour and chewy for their taste and not widely adopted. Nonetheless, it captured their imagination and the word pan (from the Portuguese pão) stuck.
Fast forward 300 years to 1871: the samarai Yasubei Kimura opens a bakery, Kimuraya, in Tokyo, with the aspiration of producing baked goods for the Japanese palate. Kimura realized that making European-style bread in Japan would be challenging. Leavened doughs were a new concept and wheat flour and yeast were scarce. After many failed attempts using alternate sources of yeast, Kimura hired Kodo Katsuzo, who developed a dough leavened with kasu (sake lees), giving birth to anpan, a hybrid of manjū (a Japanese derivative of Chinese mochi) and light, cottony, Dutch-inspired bread dough, encasing a filling of anko (sweet red bean paste). After the emperor gave it his seal of approval, anpan became the first widely accepted Japanese bread.
It was kasu's potential to leaven bread that first drew me to it. I found many references to sakadane, the liquid kasu starter used in the original anpan, but couldn't find a recipe or process, so I developed my own. Using wild cultivated yeast as a model, I made a starter from rice flour, water, and kasu. It took 8 days of feeding and stirring for it to become fully active— a considerable effort for what turned out to be a less than remarkable loaf of bread.
I suppose I could have started over and tweaked the recipe, but with all of the lengthy fermentation processes that I have currently working, I wanted something more immediate. I wanted bread— conspicuous with kasu, and mellow with rice—that I could make start-to-finish in a day. To that end, I made a new dough, adding yeast to hasten the process, and folded bits of kasu and fragrant basmati rice into the risen dough. For that shortcut, I make no apologies— to you, or to myself— because the bread was truly remarkable.
Kimura's anpan is but one example of how cross-cultural influences inform and develop cuisine by borrowing ideas, processes, and/or ingredients, and tailoring them to the tastes of the people that it will feed.
My kasu bread goes one step further; it closes the circle.
The Japanese were inspired to create a national bread from their introduction to leavened bread via the Portuguese. Inspired by sakadane, I borrowed kasu from the Japanese and applied it to a bread from my own heritage: Portuguese pão.
How does it taste?
It tastes richly personal,
sweet with history,
seasoned with a touch of irony.
54g compressed kasu
100g bread flour
.4g active dry yeast
175g bread flour
1.6g active dry yeast
5g rice bran oil
100g cooked, drained, and cooled basmati rice
40g compressed kasu, cut into small bits
starter: In a blender, blend together the kasu and water until homogenous. Place the flour in a bowl and stir in the yeast. Pour kasu water into center and stir with a spoon to form smooth batter. Cover loosely and set aside at room temperature for 2-3 hours until batter forms bubbles.
dough: Place flour, yeast and salt into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment. Mix on low speed to blend dry ingredients. With the mixer still on low speed, slowly pour in the active starter. Turn speed to medium and mix for 2 minutes. Add the rice bran oil and the mirin and mix 2 minutes more. Replace paddle with dough hook, turn speed up to medium high and knead dough for 5 minutes. Lightly oil a large bowl. Scrape dough into bowl and turn upside down, so that top of dough is oiled. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside at room temperate until doubled in volume, about 1 1/2-2 hours.
solids: Punch dough down to deflate and turn out onto floured board. With fingertips, press dough into a rough rectangle, about 1/2" thick. Evenly sprinkle rice over dough, followed by bits of kasu. Starting at wide end of rectangle, roll dough in a tight spiral to form a log, and seal the ends. Cover dough with lightly oiled plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for 1 1/2 hours, or until nearly doubled in size.
40 minutes before baking, place a baking stone on floor of oven and preheat to 232C/450F. When dough has risen, transfer it to a floured baking peel and place on heated stone in hot oven. Mist the oven 3-4 times with water in a spray bottle during the first 10 minutes of baking. After 15 minutes, turn the oven down to 204C/400F, and continue baking for 15-20 minutes longer until deep golden brown. Remove from oven with a peel and allow to cool on a rack.