Thursday, December 29, 2016

Melon Pan from Aki Boulanger, Paris

A few years ago, when I visited Tokyo, my office had a special event the day I arrived: a melon pan popup.  I was entirely unfamiliar with melon pan, but I was jet lagged, and hungry, and all of a sudden sweet pastries were in front of me.  Everyone around was buzzing with excitement.  Apparently this wasn't just ANY melon pan, it was the best in all of Tokyo.

I grabbed a melon pan, a bit concerned that it said "melon", since I'm actually deathly allergic to watermelon and generally allergic to most melon, but I couldn't resist.  Foolish, but I blame the jetlag.

I took one bite, and I was hooked.  What was this thing?!! It was sweet, fluffy bread coated in a crispy ... sugar cookie?  I know this description sounds crazy, but that is really what it was.

Now, I don't really like bread.  I just see no point to bread in general ... I love baked goods, it isn't that I'm carb adverse, but just bread? Meh.  Put it in some bread pudding, and then we are talking!  But why would I want just bread, even if sweet?  And I don't really like cookies.  But somehow, if you combine them, magic happens.  It was light and fluffy, it was moist, it was crunchy, it was sweet.  I think it was matcha flavored, it was certainly green.  It was also insanely huge.  I saved some for breakfast the next morning, and it delightful then, perfect alongside my coffee.

This experience left me totally fascinated by melon pan, and tried to seek it out when I returned to San Francisco, but I've never found anything like it elsewhere.  Eventually, I sorta forgot about melon pan.

And then I started researching boulangeries in Paris.  And found Aki Boulanger.  Aki Boulanger is the sister boulangerie to Aki Restaurant, which I visited for okonimiyaki one night.  After our okonomiyaki, I couldn't resist swinging in.  Because ... they have melon pan!  And their melon pan is available in many flavors: plain, chocolate, matcha, caramel, even strawberry.  Or it can be stuffed with chocolate ganache or cream.  OMG.  Oh, and did I mention, it gets universal great reviews?  Tough for a boulangerie in Paris.

Aki Boulanger offers a slew of other temping sweets too, often traditional Parisan pastries with a Japanese twist (like red bean, yuzu, or matcha).  I almost couldn't pass up the Aki Brest, a Japanese spin on a Paris-Brest with black sesame cream filling instead of praline.  But in the end, I had to go classic and stick with my game plan: melon pan.

Aki Boulanger is classic boulangerie setup, with a long display of tempting treats, plus a menu for drinks to go alongside (classic espresso beverages, but also a slew of matcha drinks).  Items are available to eat there at a few small tables inside and on the sidewalk, but most folks take items to go.  Goods are a bit cheaper if you get them to go - bonus!
Melon Pan. 2€.
I went simple: classic melon pan.

If it were earlier in the day, I certainly would have opted for matcha melon pan, but I was avoiding caffeine in the evening.  I almost went for the strawberry just because it sounded unique.  Ojan said I should get the caramel.  I considered the filled ones, but in the end, I really just wanted the basic one that I remembered from Tokyo.

I clutched my bag with glee.  Yes!  I finally found melon pan!

Sadly, it didn't quite live up to my memory of the amazing melon pan I had in Tokyo.

The dough was light, fluffy, and sweet, so that part was what I wanted.  But a signature component, the crispy sugar cookie-like crust, didn't.  It was only slightly crispy, and not really sugary.  It did have the look of a melon like it should, but it was fairly soft on the outside.  I wonder if it was better when fresher earlier in the day?   It was 8pm, on a very, very hot day, perhaps it got soft in the heat?

Regardless, it was fine, it was still sweet bread, but the aspect of sugar cookie crust was lost.

It was also only about half the size of the one I had in Tokyo, but that I appreciated.  The Tokyo one was a monster, and this was still plenty large.  2€ price was reasonable for a fresh baked good.

If I was in Paris for longer, I probably would have returned earlier in the day to see if quality improved, but there were too many delicious things to eat during my short stay in Paris, so I didn't risk another precious meal slot for this.
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