Japanese Milk Bread

Japanese Milk Bread

The Spruce / Christine Ma

Prep: 45 mins
Cook: 42 mins
Proof: 90 mins
Total: 2 hrs 57 mins
Servings: 10 servings
Yield: 1 loaf
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
235 Calories
8g Fat
34g Carbs
7g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 10
Amount per serving
Calories 235
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 8g 10%
Saturated Fat 4g 21%
Cholesterol 36mg 12%
Sodium 264mg 11%
Total Carbohydrate 34g 12%
Dietary Fiber 1g 4%
Total Sugars 4g
Protein 7g
Vitamin C 0mg 0%
Calcium 45mg 3%
Iron 0mg 3%
Potassium 97mg 2%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

Homemade bread is wonderful, but doesn't always maintain that soft, fresh-from-the-oven taste and texture the next day. This recipe for Japanese milk bread, however, tastes as though it was just baked. It is a springy, airy white bread that gets its signature texture from a roux starter called tangzhong.

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 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 unsalted butter, melted

  • 1 large egg

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature for greasing

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Japanese Milk Bread ingredients

    The Spruce / Christine Ma

  2. To make starter, whisk 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.

    Thickened roux in a saucepan

    The Spruce / Christine Ma

  3. Cover with plastic film, pressing against surface of milk-flour mixture to ensure it doesn’t form a skin. Set aside and allow to cool until barely warm, about 10 minutes.

    roux in a saucepan covered with plastic

    The Spruce / Christine Ma

  4. To make dough, in a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, yeast, and salt.

    Dry ingredient for dough in a mixing bowl

    The Spruce / Christine Ma

  5. In a small bowl or measuring cup, stir together milk and melted butter (the butter will clump). Measure out 1 1/2 tablespoons of mixture into a small, separate bowl, and reserve for brushing top of loaf.

    Milk and melted butter

    The Spruce / Christine Ma

  6. Pour remaining butter and milk mixture into bowl with flour. Add starter and egg. Vigorously stir to combine until it forms a rough, scraggly dough, 2 to 3 minutes.

    Bread dough stirred together in a bowl

    The Spruce / Christine Ma

  7. Knead dough in the bowl until it forms a rough ball, about 30 seconds. (Alternately, you can use a stand mixer for this entire step.)

    Milk bread dough in bowl

    The Spruce / Christine Ma

  8. If dough is still sticky, lightly dust a counter with flour (if dough is tacky, but doesn’t stick to your fingers, then proceed without any flour). Scrape dough onto counter and knead until smooth, about 5 minutes. If 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).

    dough ball on a wood surface

    The Spruce / Christine Ma

  9. Lightly grease a large bowl with butter. Add 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.

    Japanese Milk Bread dough in a bowl

    The Spruce / Christine Ma

  10. Preheat oven to 350 F. Butter sides and bottom of a 9-inch loaf pan. 

    Buttered loaf pan

    The Spruce / Christine Ma

  11. Divide dough into 4 equal pieces. Roll each piece out into a 6-inch by 10-inch rectangle (do not flour the surface!). Starting with shorter end facing you, fold dough in thirds like a letter.

    rectangles of dough folded up

    The Spruce / Christine Ma

  12. Turn dough once clockwise, then roll the dough out into a 4 x 10-inch rectangle. Roll each piece into a cylinder. 

    Pieces of milk bread dough rolled up

    The Spruce / Christine Ma

  13. Arrange 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.

    Japanese milk bread loaf in a baking dish

    The Spruce / Christine Ma

  14. Brush 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 center rack until top is deeply golden and an instant-read thermometer inserted into center of bread reads 190 F, 40 to 45 minutes.

    Unbaked Japanese Milk Bread buttered in a baking dish

    The Spruce / Christine Ma

  15. 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.

    Japanese Milk Bread on a cooling rack

    The Spruce / Christine Ma


  • 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).  

What Is a 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.

Can I Proof the Dough in the Refrigerator Overnight?

Once the dough has been formed and kneaded, you can place it in the oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and store in the fridge overnight. Then proceed with the recipe, dividing the dough into pieces.

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