Love homemade bread, but wish you could enjoy that soft, fresh-from-the-oven taste and texture the next day? Look no further than this recipe for Japanese milk bread, a springy, airy white bread that gets its signature texture from a roux starter called tangzhong.
As with making gravy, you whisk flour together with liquid (in this case, a combination of water and milk) and cook it on the stovetop until it thickens into a pudding-like mixture. This two-minute effort of making the starter gives the gluten in the flour a head start—think of it as an aerobic warm-up for bread dough.
Another signature method used in making Japanese milk bread is the folding technique. The proofed dough is divided into four pieces that get rolled out, folded like a letter, then rolled out again. It’s a lamination technique used in making croissants and puff pastry. The rolled pieces of dough are tucked into a loaf pan. The finished loaf can be sliced as a regular loaf would, or you can pull apart it apart into smaller loaves for sharing. Our recipe uses a 9-inch loaf pan; for a taller, more majestic loaf, use an 8-inch loaf pan.
- For the Tangzhong Starter:
- 1/2 cup (70 grams) bread flour
- 1/2 cup whole milk (or 2 percent milk)
- 1/2 cup water
- For the Dough:
- 2 1/2 cups (390 grams) bread flour
- 2 tablespoons (28 grams) sugar
- 2 1/4 teaspoons (7 grams) fast-acting yeast
- 1 teaspoon (4 grams) salt
- 2/3 cup milk
- 4 tablespoons butter (melted)
- 1 large egg
- For Greasing the Pan:
- Butter (room temperature)
Gather the ingredients.
To make the starter, whisk the bread flour, milk, and water together in a medium saucepan until smooth. Cook, stirring constantly, over medium heat until mixture thickens into the consistency of mashed potatoes, about 2 minutes. Cover with plastic film, pressing against the surface of the milk-flour mixture to ensure it doesn’t form a skin. Set aside and allow to cool until barely warm, about 10 minutes.
To make the dough, in a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, yeast, and salt.
In a small bowl or measuring cup, stir together the milk and melted butter (the butter will clump). Measure out 1 1/2 tablespoons of the mixture into a small, separate bowl, and reserve for brushing the top of the loaf.
Pour the remaining butter and milk mixture into the bowl with the flour. Add the starter and the egg. Vigorously stir to combine until it forms a rough, scraggly dough, 2 to 3 minutes.
Knead the dough in the bowl until it forms a rough ball, about 30 seconds. (Alternately, you can use a stand mixer for this entire step).
If the dough is still sticky, lightly dust a counter with flour (if the dough is tacky, but doesn’t stick to your fingers, then proceed without any flour). Scrape the dough onto the counter and knead until smooth, about 5 minutes. If the dough starts to stick to the counter or your hands, add a tablespoon of flour at a time as needed (you shouldn’t need more than an additional 2 to 3 tablespoons of flour at most). Lightly grease a large bowl with butter. Add the dough, cover tightly with plastic film and set aside in a warm spot to rise until doubled in volume, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Butter the sides and bottom of a 9-inch loaf pan.
Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces. Roll each piece out into a 6-inch by 10-inch rectangle (do not flour the surface!). Starting with the shorter end facing you, fold the dough in thirds like a letter.
Turn the dough once clockwise, then roll the dough out into a 4 x 10-inch rectangle. Roll each piece into a cylinder.
Arrange the rolled pieces of dough next to each other in the prepared pan. Cover with a lightly floured towel or slip into an oven roasting bag and set in a warm spot until doubled in volume, about 30 minutes.
Brush the top of the dough with the reserved milk-butter mixture (the butter will have solidified; don’t worry, it’s still okay to brush it on). Bake on the center rack until the top is deeply golden and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the bread reads 190 F, 40 to 45 minutes.
Transfer pan to a wire rack and let cool 20 minutes in the pan. Unmold the bread and set it on a wire rack to cool completely before slicing. Store leftover bread in a zip-top bag or wrapped tightly in plastic film for up to 5 days.
- Precision is key with bread making, so we strongly suggest using a kitchen scale (we’ve provided weights to make it easy).
- If you don’t have a scale, then measure your flour as follows: whisk the flour in the bag to aerate it, then scoop it out with a measuring cup and use an offset spatula or butter knife to sweep away any excess from the top (this is called the “scoop and sweep” method).