Japanese milk bread is probably the lightest, fluffiest, most tender bread you’ll come across. It’s the perfect everyday loaf, from sandwiches to toast, and is one you need to try! This recipe was created in partnership with the dairy farm families of New England.
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I’ll admit, when I have seen lines of similar-looking white bread any time I have been in Asia, I haven’t felt inspired. I’ve always been more of a fan of artisan-style loaves, whether that’s something like a sourdough rye bread or with ‘bits’ in it like my fig walnut bread.
However, when I heard about Japanese milk bread I knew I needed to give it a try. It might be about all you can find if you are in Japan, but when it’s such a wonderfully soft and light loaf, it really doesn’t matter.
This loaf is perfect for everyday use as well. It’s a great base for sandwiches and toasts beautifully too. The method might seem a little unusual, but it’s the combination of that less typical method and ingredients that makes this bread so wonderfully light and soft.
What is the tangzhong method?
One of the things that makes this loaf so soft is the fact you start by making a roux with flour and water. This warming starts to activate the gluten in the flour before you even mix it with the rest of the ingredients which helps create the soft texture. And while this loaf didn’t get a chance, apparently it helps preserve the bread better too.
The method was apparently developed in Japan, but named in China and used in many breads around the region. If you are used to Western bread, it might seem strange, but it’s not difficult and believe me, you want to give it a try.
The other aspect of the light, soft texture and flavor is using milk as an ingredient. Dairy in it’s many forms can really add to the flavor and texture of a dish, as well as the nutrition, and using milk definitely helps this loaf become something special.
How to make Japanese milk bread
If you have made other breads, most of this will look familiar. Only the tangzhong and how the dough is folded is a bit unusual. The steps are:
- Put water and small amount of flour in a small pan. Mix until smooth and no lumps remain.
- Warm the flour paste gently until it thickens, stirring, then set aside to cool (this is the tangzhong).
- Measure out remaining ingredients (flour, yeast, milk, melted butter, sugar, salt and egg) and add cooled tangzhong. Mix all the ingredients together then knead, either in mixer or by hand.
- Once the dough is no longer sticky, transfer to an oiled bowl and let rise until doubled.
- Knock back the dough, divide into three pieces and roll each piece into an oval.
- Fold one side of dough over to halfway across the remaining dough then fold the other side on top so you have three layers (see photos). Gently roll slightly, if needed, then roll up the piece of dough as you would a cinnamon roll.
- Repeat with the other pieces of dough then put all three rolls of dough in an oiled loaf pan.
- Cover and leave to rise again then brush with egg wash.
- Bake for approx 30 minutes until golden brown. Turn onto a cooling rack to cool.
It can be a little difficult to describe exactly how to fold the bread, but hopefully the pictures below make it clearer:
You don’t have to fold the pieces of dough in this traditional way – some recipes form small rolls, for example – but it’s kind of fun to do and gives a lovely appearance to the finished loaf. If you form rolls, try using a round pan instead.
As you are making it, you may find it much softer than other bread doughs. You may need to add slightly more flour as you are kneading so it is not too sticky, but it should stay soft. It is closer to a brioche in texture but without that slight sweetness. To me, this is a more versatile bread.
Make sure you oil your bread tin to help the bread come out without sticking. Use a knife to help ease it away from the side before turning onto a cooling rack.
Once you have baked the bread, try to avoid the temptation to slice it immediately. It’s hard, I know, as it smells so good! However this is a pretty soft loaf and it will slice better when cooler.
You can either cut the loaf as a whole or break off one of the chunks and slice that, as I did here. Either way, once you slice you’ll see the wonderfully light crumb.
We got through this loaf in one meal, we all enjoyed it that much (true, we had a couple extra helpers). We particularly liked it spread with pate or soft cheese. If you do have some leftover, it’s a great bread for toasting.
Japanese milk bread might look a little unassuming, but this is one special loaf. While perfect for every day use, it’s so light and fluffy, you’ll have everyone back for more.
Japanese milk bread
For the tangzhong
- 2 tbsp bread flour (approx 25g)
- 6 tbsp water
For rest of loaf
- 300 g bread flour approx 2 cups plus 2 tbsp
- 2 tsp fast acting yeast (technically a little under but can use 1 sachet, 1/4oz/ 7g)
- 120 ml milk 1/2 cup
- 30 g unsalted butter 2tbsp, melted but not hot
- 1 tsp salt
- 3 tbsp sugar (caster sugar/fine), approx 42g
- 1 egg
- 1 egg (lightly beaten - won't need all)
For tangzhong - made slightly ahead
- Put water and flour for tangzhong in a small pan. Mix until smooth and no lumps remain - do this before turning on the heat.
- Warm the flour paste gently over a medium-low heat until it thickens, stirring constantly. You should see trails left by the spoon/whisk as you stir it. Set the pan aside to cool.
To make bread
- Measure out the remaining ingredients into a large bowl (flour, yeast, milk, melted butter, sugar, salt and egg). Add the cooled tangzhong - I gently beat the egg into the tangzhong first to both save the tangzhong being too thick and help egg to mix better but you don't need to, just make sure you mix it well. Mix all the ingredients together then knead, either in mixer or by hand on a floured surface. Add a little more flour if needed.
- Once the dough is no longer sticky, transfer to a lightly oiled bowl. Cover and leave to rise in a relatively warm place until doubled - around 1 hour.
- Once it has risen, knock back the dough, divide into three pieces. Set the other pieces to one side and roll one piece into an oval.
- Fold one side of dough over to halfway across the remaining dough then fold the other side on top so you have three layers (see photos above). Gently roll slightly, if needed, then roll up the piece of dough as you would a cinnamon roll.
- Repeat with the other pieces of dough then put all three rolls of dough in an oiled loaf pan - 9x5in (22x12cm) or slightly smaller.
- Cover and leave to rise again until the loaf is just reaching the top of the pan. Preheat oven to 350F/175C. Lightly beat the egg and brush the top of the loaf with egg wash.
- Bake the loaf for approx 30 minutes until golden brown. If it browns too fast, tent with foil for the last part of cooking. Turn onto a cooling rack to cool before slicing.
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