A good friend of mine is a health nut. So much so that he weighs all his food that he consumes on a regular basis. I distinctively remember one time going to an Asian bakery with him, and he picks up a loaf of bread and tells me that he’ll eat the loaf in the next 2 days. I was shocked, and I told him that’s an entire loaf of bread! He explained that he needed to eat certain grams of carbs and if he sticks to Sara Lee loaves of bread he’d need to eat 2-3 loaves to get the same weight. I picked up the loaf and I was surprised. I never really thought of Asian bread as “dense” or “heavy”, just because the insides are so soft and pillowy. Asian bread is deceptively compact and rich. When you tear apart a piece of bread, you can see all the strands showing gluten development.
My favorite kind of bread is hands down milk bread. In Taiwan, we call them Hokkaido Milk Bread or Japanese Milk Bread. Upon further research, some speculations on the origin involve the “milk” originating from Hokkaido and the recipe perfected in Tokyo. No matter the origin, what makes this bread so special is using a water roux as the starter. This roux is called tangzhong. Basically, we start off with the water roux and we mix it into the bread mixture as we go along. This step is crucial as it is the key to creating the soft and pillowy texture.
This recipe uses a stand mixer to do the hard work for us. The majority of the time is hands-off or waiting. If you feel like kneading by hand, this recipe will work, but it might take more time.
Japanese Milk Bread
- 1/3 cup bread flour
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cup milk
- 2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 3 1/4 cups bread flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 large egg
- 2 Tb unsalted butter, softened
- 1 large egg
- 2 Tb water
- In a saucepan, whisk together the bread flour and water for the tangzhong starter over medium-low heat. Continue to stir until you reach a custard-like consistency, about 3-5 minutes. When you can do simple patterns like squiggle or lines in the mixture, it is ready. Cool to room temperature while you work on the dough.
- In a small bowl, microwave the milk until it is warm to the touch. Mix in yeast and 1 tsp of the sugar. Let stand for 10 minutes while the yeast blooms.
- In a large stand mixer with a dough hook attachment, mix together flour, sugar, and salt. Add in yeast mixture, tangzhong roux, and egg and run the stand mixer on low until it forms a soft ball with no visible flour. This process will take anywhere from 8-10 minutes.
- Add the softened butter to the mixer and mix for another 10-15 minutes. At this point, do the windowpane test to see if the dough is ready. To do the windowpane test, grab a piece of the dough and stretch it as thin as possible. Hold it up against a newspaper and you should be able to see through the dough and see the newspaper.
- Oil a large bowl and place the dough in the bowl and cover. Let dough sit in room temperature and proof for 1 hour, or until it has doubled in size.
- Punch down dough and divide into four pieces. Shape them into balls and rest them on a floured surface. Cover with a dishcloth and let it rest for another 10 minutes.
- Butter or line a loaf pan. Take each dough ball and roll it into a large oval. Fold into thirds (lengthwise), gently flatten with a rolling pin, and roll it up. Place the seam side down on the prepared loaf pan. Repeat with remaining three dough balls. Cover and proof for a third time, for about 30 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Whisk together egg wash ingredients and brush on the tops of the bread. Bake in preheated oven for 25-35 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown.