kitty cat anpan fork to belly
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Anpan Kitty

I’ve been on an early 2000’s teen movie binge recently. A Walk to Remember (No, I didn’t cry for the 9th billion time), The Hot Chick, Clueless, and Just Friends – DID YA GUYS KNOW YOU CAN FIND THEM FOR FREE ON YOUTUBE??? Also I’d like to comment on how I never realized how many of these movies Anna Faris was in. What were some of your favorite movies growing up? I’d love to hear about ’em! I am totally up for watching anything, except horror films because that genre just about turns me into a big baby.

Have you had Anpan before? It’s one of my favorite childhood snacks. When I’d stop by the local bakery with my Mom and Grandma, I’d get to pick out a few things for myself. Amidst the strawberry danish and ham & cheese rolls, I’d choose an anpan without fail. I’ve had them two different ways, either filled with azuki bean paste or sweet potato. But my absolute favorite type of anpan is filled with azuki bean and is indented in the middle with a salted cherry blossom. I’d eat around the outside of the anpan and save the tiny bit of sweet and tangy flavor from the flower that soaks into the middle of the dough for last.

kitty cat anpan fork to belly

kitty cat anpan fork to belly

kitty cat anpan fork to belly

You know the saying from Maya Angelou, “At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.” That completely describes how I relate to food from my formative years. I am all about food as something highly visual and I totally believe that we eat with our eyes, but there are some meals I had as a kid that I can only remember through a shoulder-bunching, smile-spreading, glee-filled first bite.

I hadn’t had anpan for years, but for some reason I suddenly had a huge craving for it that just wouldn’t quit. Funny thing is I couldn’t remember the name of my most favorite type of anpan. I knew the sour taste and the pinkish color of the little hole poked into the middle of it, but I didn’t know the name. I’d always assumed it was always dotted with ume, a pickled plum (p.s. is it just me that thinks shiso leaf and ume are totally related?? Are they?). After combing through a google image search, I found out in the middle of that secret anpan was actually – dun dun na nuh! Salted cherry blossom!!

That’s what I was planning on sharing today, but I couldn’t find salted cherry blossoms in any Japanese markets in the area and Amazon asks for an arm and a leg for a big bag of them. So we’re going to be talking about classic red bean filled anpan and my other favorite, the sweet potato filled kind. I made two types of anpan with two different fillings. The sweet potato filled are traditionally shaped and decorated with black sesame seeds. But I had to see if I could make little animals out of a second batch and that’s how the azuki filled anpan turned into little kitties. I cheated a little and bought red bean paste instead of making my own because the stuff is hard work. If you want to make your own or don’t have an asian market nearby that sells it, check out this video for the recipe and process. The sweet potato filling is much easier to make though a bit more difficult to work with when trying to fill anpan with it. Typically, sweet potato anpan is made with a slightly different type of dough but is just as tasty when used here. But if you’re a fan of azuki/red bean then definitely go for that filling because there is nothing better than the classic version sometimes.

kitty cat anpan fork to belly

kitty cat anpan fork to belly

kitty cat anpan fork to belly kitty cat anpan fork to belly

Anpan takes some time and effort for only eight individual servings. That being said, there are some key steps to making sure your final product is the best it can be!

(1) The most important of these is how you wrap the dough around the ball of filling. I’ve included a GIF for reference above on how to do this right. You want to keep as much dough on the top of the anpan as possible or the anpan will not puff up and may start to flatten outwards as it rises. To get around this, when pressing out each ball of dough and preparing it to be filled, keep the edges of the circle thin and the middle thick. After you pull the edges together and begin to wrap up the filling, you’ll flip the anpan over and set it down to rise. Now the top will have much more dough and the filling will sit closer to the bottom of the anpan, allowing that dough on top to rise up and not out.

(2) When checking to make sure the dough is ready to be worked with, use the windowpane test. You should be able to stretch the dough out a few inches till very thin and slightly translucent without it breaking. If it rips, continue to knead the dough until the gluten has developed enough to hold its structure.

(3) Egg wash! Don’t be stingy and don’t work carelessly. Make sure to wet each anpan with a good amount of egg wash and be conscious of getting every nook and cranny – even the exposed edges of the underside of the dough so it all turns an even shiny, golden brown.

kitty cat anpan fork to belly

kitty cat anpan fork to belly kitty cat anpan fork to belly

The anpan recipe is adpated from Just One Cookbook, a blog I source a lot for Japanese recipes because Namiko wonderfully provides videos along with her recipes. I highly recommend watching the video before and even during making anpan at home because it is so incredibly helpful to be able to have visual cues when working with bread dough!

kitty cat anpan fork to belly

Anpan Kitty
Adapted from Just One Cookbook. Recipe makes 8 individual anpan buns.
Notes: Anpan can be made with different kinds of fillings. I filled one batch with red bean paste and the other with sweet potato but feel free to use whichever you like. I purchased the red bean paste from my local asian supermarket. If you want to make it yourself at home, watch this video.

sweet potato filling
1 (about 200g) Japanese sweet potato, *you will need more milk for a purple Okinawan sweet potato vs a typical one
1/2 of the weight of the sweet potato in milk (ex. 100g if using a 200g sweet potato)
1/4 of the weight of the sweet potato in sugar (ex. 50g if using a 200g sweet potato)

red bean filling
35g x 8 (280g total) store-bought anko (azuki/sweet red bean paste)

anpan dough
225g (1 3/4 cup) bread flour
25g (scant 1/4 cup) cake flour
50g (1/4 cup) granulated sugar
4g (1 tsp) salt
3g (1 tsp) instant dry yeast
1 large egg, lightly beaten
50 ml (3 1/2 tbsp) whole milk, at 86F
50 ml (3 1/2 tbsp) water, at 86F
35g (2 1/2 tbsp) softened unsalted butter, cubed

for the toppings and egg wash
a few tablespoons of black sesame seeds
1 egg

1. Steam the sweet potato until tender. I filled my rice cooker with water and steamed it for about 20 minutes. Alternatively, you can pop it in the microwave as well. Let the sweet potato cool completely, then remove the skin. Cut the sweet potato into smaller pieces and place in a food processor. Add the milk and blend until smooth.
2. Transfer the pureed sweet potato to a saucepan and add the sugar. Cook on medium heat, stirring constantly, until the consistency of the sweet potato has thickened. Transfer to a clean bowl and set aside to cool. Once cooled, portion into 35g balls.
3. Meanwhile, in the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the bread flour, cake flour, sugar, salt, and dry yeast. Add in the beaten egg, milk, and water.
4. Attach the dough hook and knead on medium speed for a few minutes until the dough has come together. Add in the butter and continue to knead until the dough is elastic and passes the windowpane test. It should be tacky but not so sticky you can’t handle the dough. When the dough is ready, pull the sides of the dough underneath itself and shape into a ball. Place the dough into a bowl with the rounded side facing up. Cover with plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm place for 1-2 hours until it has doubled in size.
5. Once the dough has doubled, test it by sticking your finger in the center of it. If the hole does not close, it’s ready. Next, deflate the dough by pressing it down with your hands. As if the dough was shaped like a rectangle, fold two opposite sides into the center, then fold the other two sides to the center. Flip the dough over and shape the dough into a ball by rotating your hands with the dough still on the counter.
6. Use a sharp knife or bench scraper, cut the dough into 8 equal pieces. Tuck the sides of each dough piece underneath itself and shape into a ball again. Cover with plastic wrap and let the balls rest for about 15 minutes.
7. When ready, flatten each ball out with your palm and repeat the folding process from step #3. After forming into another ball, flatten out the dough again making sure to keep the edges thin and the middle thicker. Add one ball (35g) of anko or sweet potato filling to the middle. Grab the sides of the dough and pinch together to seal the filing inside. Flip the dough over and rotate with your hands against the counter to shape the dough back into a ball. If making kitty anpan, use kitchen scissors to cut two small ears at the top. Once each ball of dough has been filled and shaped, transfer them to a baking tray lined with a silicone mat or parchment and let the anpan rise in a warm place for about an hour until they have doubled in size.
8. Half way through the rising period, preheat the oven to 400°F. After the anpan have risen, brush each with an egg wash. For traditional anpan, sprinkle some black sesame seeds on top. Bake for 13-15 minutes until they have turned a dark golden brown color. Remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool. These are best enjoyed warm but will keep well for a few days stored in an airtight container after cooling completely.

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About Courtney C.

  • THAT GIF!!!!! I LOVE IT.

    • Definitely inspired by you, you gif Queen!!!!!

  • i love japanese sweet potato in pastries! it’s still a little weird for me think about carbs on carbs, but it tastes so good; have you tried taiyaki filled with mashed sweet potatoes? and my friend recently shared some sweet potato haupia pie with me that was wowzers.

    • also wanted to mention that i’ve been having trouble pinning this using the pin it button near the rest of the share icons- it says the image isn’t fetchable (not sure why?).

    • i’ve had taiyaki filled with ice cream or red bean but not sweet potato! Ahhh and now i’m craving sweet potato pie – isn’t it so gorgeously purple? 🙂
      ps i’ll look into the pinning feature, thanks for letting me know!

  • I’ve had a lot of red bean filled pastries especially because there are so many Korean bakeries where I live. I’ve never had a Sakura blossom in mine though. It’s always been pure red bean. Isn’t it funny how when nostalgic cravings hit, you HAVE to have it and nothing else can be a substitute for it? The kitten version is SO cute. They remind me of the very popular cat doughnuts in Japan. 👍

    • I’ve never had anpan from a korean bakery before – is it called something else? Do they taste the same or are the recipes a little different? SO MANY THINGS I NEED TO KNOW

  • THEY ARE THE MOST ADORABLE!!!! That first image totally made me smile 🙂

  • Mon Petit Four

    These look SO good! They’re seriously gorgeous, and the kitten faces are adorable!

  • I love that Maya Angelou quote. It’s a keeper. I remember the gorgeous plethora of anpan when I visited Japan back in 2002… 7-11 had them … oh i love them. Nothing can compare to THESE ANPAN KITTIES. You are so cute and clever. It is my dream to have the time to make these!!! XO (PS I’ve never seen A Walk To Remember – !!! Don’t kill me!!)

    • There’s something about all the baked goods in Japan – maybe it’s because they’re all so cute and make the best on the go snacks too?? 🙂
      And LYNDSAY. What. Brb flying to Vancouver with the DVD.

  • J.S. @ Sun Diego Eats

    These are SO cute! Could not pick between either filling either love red bean and sweet potato <3 <3 <3