Japanese Milk Bread

Japanese Milk Bread

The Spruce / Jennifer Perillo

Prep: 45 mins
Cook: 42 mins
Proof: 90 mins
Total: 2 hrs 57 mins
Servings: 10 servings
Yield: 1 loaf

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)

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Japanese Milk Bread ingredients
    The Spruce / Jennifer Perillo
  2. 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.

    Thickened roux in a saucepan
    The Spruce / Jennifer Perillo
  3. To make the dough, in a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, yeast, and salt.

    Dry ingredient for dough in a mixing bowl
    The Spruce / Jennifer Perillo
  4. 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.

    Milk and melted butter
    The Spruce / Jennifer Perillo
  5. 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.

    Bread dough stirred together in a bowl
    The Spruce / Jennifer Perillo 
  6. 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).

    Milk bread dough in bowl
    The Spruce / Jennifer Perillo  
  7. 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.

    Japanese Milk Bread dough in a bowl
    The Spruce / Jennifer Perillo
  8. Preheat oven to 350 F. Butter the sides and bottom of a 9-inch loaf pan. 

    Buttered loaf pan
    The Spruce / Jennifer Perillo
  9. 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.

    rectangles of dough folded up
    The Spruce / Jennifer Perillo 
  10. Turn the 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 / Jennifer Perillo
  11. 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.

    Japanese milk bread loaf in bag
    The Spruce / Jennifer Perillo
  12. 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.

    Unbaked Japanese Milk Bread and butter
    The Spruce / Jennifer Perillo
  13. 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
    The Spruce / Jennifer Perillo


  • 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).  

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