The guilt trip on the way to Japanese shokupan (it's just sliced bread...)
Ever since we were burglarized and lost most of our small kitchen appliances along with many many other things (TV, computer monitors, etc.) I have been trying to really re-think my need for Stuff. Although we did get the insurance payout for the things lost, it wasn’t nearly enough to cover the replacement cost for everything that was stolen of course, since that’s the way insurance works. Partly because of that, and partly because I always have a yearning for a simpler, more minimalistic lifestyle, we’ve been very slow with replacing the lost things. For instance, we still haven’t replaced the TV, or the slow cooker. We found we didn’t really miss either of them.
I was feeling pretty good about all this restraint. But then last week I sort of…lost it. I was going through my old photo files to gather some up for a potential project…and I kept on pausing on ones like this.
These are all Japanese sandwiches. They aren’t that expensive or special - the last one is a combini (convenience store) version, the ‘lettuce sandwich’ from 7-11. You can see it’s just filled with loads of lettuce (iceberg!) thin ham, and a slice of processed cheese. As I said, nothing too special. Even the one above it, the egg sandwich, is at the end just an egg salad sandwich…although it is so rich and egg-y tasting it’s amazing. (It’s from a local bakery chain called Shinshindo in Kyoto.)
What makes a Japanese sandwich special though is the bread, which is called shukupan (食パン) - which simply means ‘edible bread’. It is basically a Pullman loaf derivation - sliced sandwich bread, usually made of plain white flour. The crust is so forgettable it’s usually removed, and used to make breadcrumbs and stuff. But the actual bread itself is smooth, soft, slightly elastic, and just the right texture for a sandwich. It’s not the star, but is definetely a critical supporting player.
It’s so familiar looking. But yet, I’ve never been able to find the equivalent of shokupan, unless I go to a Japanese grocery store that carries Japanese baked goods. This wasn’t an issue when I lived in New York, or even in Zürich. But the closest one of those to us here is in Geneva, which is about 3 1/2 hours away by car and across a national border. I am not crazy enough to go that far for sliced bread.
Shokupan is also closely related to French pain de mie. Pain de mie is, of course, readily available in France. But…and here I am going to risk annoying some French people…it’s like the pain de me has been forgotten by French bakers. You can never find it at a proper boulangerie, where all the love and attention is bestowed on the baguette, the pain de campagne, the pain au levain and other wonderful things. Pain de mie is only available at supermarkets…and it’s uniformly bad. If you squish it even a tiny bit it becomes gluey. Readymade sandwiches using pain de mie, which we buy occasionally on the road, are pretty terrible.
So…back to last week, and losing it. I was looking at those pictures of Japanese sandwiches. And I thought that I simply must try to make shokupan myself. I could get a proper square loaf pan, and try to figure out the dough of course. But my itchy i-Click finger clicked on this baby.
Yep, it’s a bread machine. Bread machines were invented in Japan, and introduced in 1986. They are called “home bakeries” in Japan, and they’re they are probably the 3rd most popular small appliance in Japanese kitchens behind the rice cooker and the microwave. (Panasonic, formerly Matsushita Electric or “National”, was the first company to sell a bread machine in Japan. I selected a Panasonic model just in case.)
I really shouldn’t have gotten it. I am not really supposed to be eating bread regularly after all. And…like, I’m in France! Home of the baguette! Why am I obsessed with sliced white bread of all things?
But anyway, it is here. And so I’ve started my pursuit of the right formula for proper Japanese style shokupan. It’s been slow going since I only allow myself 1/2 to 1 slice per day max, and the rest of the loaf has to be dealt with. (The Guy has been happily dealing with most of it, but there’s an awful lot piling up in the freezer already.) The bread formulas that came in the instruction book, meant for the European market, haven’t hit the spot so far. I suspect it’s a matter of the right ratio of salt vs. sugar vs. butter. The flour may make a difference. I’ve been looking up information about the protein ratios of Japanese vs. French flour.
I look at the thing as it sits on my countertop and sigh. I really shouldn’t have gotten it. But now that it’s here, I’m going to make it earn its keep.
Do you have any appliances you are kind of ashamed of owning? Maybe they take up too much space, or you don’t use it enough. Or it just makes you feel guilty for some reason. (I had feelings like that towards our old deep fryer, before we finally ditched it.)
And of course I’ll let you know when I come up with the best formula for shokupan. As I said, that thing has to earn its keep!