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Sonoko Sakai shows us how easy it is to make this tender, pillowy bread
Milk Street Bowtie Japanese Milk Bread

Japanese Milk Bread

Appears in May-June 2021

4 hours 50 minutes active, plus cooling

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Japanese Milk Bread

Free

Japanese milk bread is a fluffy, slightly sweet, fine-textured loaf. It stays moister and softer longer than standard sandwich bread thanks to the Asian technique of mixing tangzhong into the dough. Tangzhong is a mixture of flour and liquid cooked to a gel; it’s often referred to as a roux, though it does not contain any butter or oil and serves a different purpose than a classic roux. The gelatinized starch in tangzhong can hold onto more water than uncooked flour, thereby offering several benefits. The dough is easy to handle despite the high hydration level; the loaf attains a high rise and a light, airy crumb; and the baked bread keeps well. Sonoko Sakai, author of “Japanese Home Cooking,” makes her milk bread with a small amount of non-wheat flour combined with bread flour. When adapting her formula, we opted to use rye flour for its nutty flavor. This recipe makes two loaves, so you will need two 8½-by-4½-inch loaf pans; metal works better than glass for heat conduction and browning. The baked and cooled bread keeps well at room temperature in an airtight container or plastic bag for several days (it can be stored in the refrigerator for slightly longer but would then be best rewarmed or toasted). Or the bread can be frozen, unsliced and wrapped in plastic then foil, for up to one month.

2

1½-pound loaves

Tip

Don’t be tempted to add more flour to the dough as it is kneaded. The dough will be sticky and gluey, but after rising, it will be workable. When shaping the dough, use minimal flour so the dough remains as moist as possible. Lastly, when inverting the loaves out of the pan and turning them upright to cool, handle them gently as they are delicate and easily separate at the seam.

4 hours

50 minutes active, plus cooling

½ cup water
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons whole milk
¼ cup (34 grams) bread flour
113 grams (8 tablespoons) salted butter, cut into 8 pieces, room temperature, plus 28 grams (2 tablespoons), melted, for brushing
3 large eggs, divided
1 cup whole milk, room temperature
639 grams (4⅔ cups) bread flour, plus more for dusting
60 grams (½ cup) rye flour
80 grams (¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons) white sugar
27 grams (¼ cup) nonfat or low-fat dry milk powder
1½ tablespoons instant yeast
1¾ teaspoons table salt
For the roux:
  • ½

    cup water

  • ¼

    cup plus 2 tablespoons whole milk

  • ¼

    cup (34 grams) bread flour

For the dough:
  • 113

    grams (8 tablespoons) salted butter, cut into 8 pieces, room temperature, plus 28 grams (2 tablespoons), melted, for brushing

  • 3

    large eggs, divided

  • 1

    cup whole milk, room temperature

  • 639

    grams (4⅔ cups) bread flour, plus more for dusting

  • 60

    grams (½ cup) rye flour

  • 80

    grams (¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons) white sugar

  • 27

    grams (¼ cup) nonfat or low-fat dry milk powder

  • tablespoons instant yeast

  • teaspoons table salt

Directions
  1. 01
    To make the water roux, in a medium saucepan, combine the water, milk and flour, then whisk until lump-free. Set over medium and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens (a silicone spatula drawn through the mixture leaves a trail) and bubbles slowly, 2 to 4 minutes. Scrape into a medium bowl, press a sheet of plastic wrap directly against the surface and cool to room temperature.
  2. 02
    To make the dough, brush a large bowl with melted butter; reserve the remaining melted butter. Add two of the eggs to the cooled roux and whisk until well combined. Add the room-temperature milk and whisk until homogeneous and smooth.
  3. 03
    In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the bread and rye flours, sugar, milk powder, yeast and salt. Attach the bowl and dough hook to the mixer and, with the machine running on low, slowly add the roux-egg mixture. With the mixer still running, add the softened butter 1 tablespoon at a time. Increase the speed to medium-low and knead until the dough is very strong and elastic, 10 to 12 minutes; it will stick to the sides of the bowl. Scrape the dough into the prepared bowl, then brush the surface with melted butter. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm spot until doubled in bulk, about 1½ hours. Meanwhile, coat 2 metal 8½-by-4½-inch loaf pans with melted butter.
  4. 04
    Lightly flour the counter. Gently punch down the dough, then turn it out onto the prepared counter. Using a chef’s knife or bench scraper, divide the dough into 4 equal portions, each about 355 grams (about 12½ ounces). Shape each portion into a smooth ball. Using your hands, pat one ball into a 7-by-4-inch rectangle, then fold the dough into thirds like a business letter. Pinch the seam to seal. Turn the dough seam side down and place on one side of one of the prepared loaf pans so the seam is perpendicular to the length of the pan. Shape a second portion of dough, then place it in the pan alongside the first portion, positioning it the same way; there should be just a small amount of space between the 2 pieces of dough. Cover the pan with a clean kitchen towel.
  5. 05
    Repeat the process with the remaining portions of dough, then place under the towel alongside the first pan. Let rise until the dough domes 1 to 1½ inches over the rim of the pan, about 1 hour. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 350°F with a rack in the middle position. In a small bowl, whisk the remaining egg until well combined; set aside.
  6. 06
    When the dough is properly risen, gently brush the tops with the beaten egg. Bake until the loaves are well risen and golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool in the pans on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Gently invert the bread out of the pans, stand them upright on the rack and cool for at least 1 hour before slicing.
    See Demo
    japanese-milk-bread-step
Tip: Don’t be tempted to add more flour to the dough as it is kneaded. The dough will be sticky and gluey, but after rising, it will be workable. When shaping the dough, use minimal flour so the dough remains as moist as possible. Lastly, when inverting the loaves out of the pan and turning them upright to cool, handle them gently as they are delicate and easily separate at the seam.
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Reviews
Jonelle K.
June 27, 2022
Love this recipe!
This is some of the best bread. The recipe is so well written it is easy to follow for even a novice bread maker like myself.
Nelida S.
June 2, 2022
Best sandwich bread
Absolutely love this recipe
Scott P.
July 25, 2022
Japanese Milk Bread
This turned out just like the video and magazine pictures. A very clear set of instructions for a four-hour process---bravo!
Jason F.

If I don’t have milk powder, is it better to substitute 27g of something else (more flour, for example), or just leave it out entirely?

Lynn C.

Hi Jason -

Neither is a great option, unfortunately. Removing it entirely will throw off the dry to wet ratio of the ingredients. Adding 27 grams more flour which, unlike milk powder, develops gluten could alter the texture of the bread. If we had to choose we would probably add more flour, but we can't say for sure how that might impact the final texture since we haven't tested it.

Best,
The Milk Street Team

Alex Z.

I've been making Shokupan (Japanese Milk Bread) for years, since I had it in Tokyo.... remarkable bread. This recipe seems pretty close to what I've used and other than mixing in the eggs to the tangzhong, seems very traditional. The article mentions the lack of butter in the original recipe, but yours has it included (as does mine). Is that really the only change?

Lynn C.

Hi Alex -

Sonoko Sakai's version of milk bread includes buckwheat flour, which is pretty nontraditional. In our adaptation of her recipe we chose to use rye flour instead.

Best,
The Milk Street Team

Scott M.

Is the rye flour for flavor only or would substituting bread flour for rye effect more than just the taste?
Thanks,Scott

Lynn C.

Hi Scott -

We are primarily using the rye flour for flavor but it can also affect the texture. Rye flour has less gluten than white flour and will often produce a bread with a slightly denser crumb. Since there isn't a lot of rye flour in this recipe you may not notice the difference. Rye flour usually absorbs a bit more liquid than white flour so you may find that the dough is wetter than it should be if you use all white flour.

Best,
The Milk Street Team

Wesley M.

Any modifications if I want to use a long Pullman bread pan?

Lynn C.

Hi Wesley -

Since most of our readers don't own a pullman bread pan we didn't test it in one. As such, we don't have the modifications you would need to make to make the bread in a pullman pan.

Best,
The Milk Street Team

John H.

Does it matter if you use Light Rye Flour or Dark Rye Flour?

Lynn C.

Hi John -

We haven't tested the recipe with dark rye flour so we can't say for sure what the results will be. That being said, a darker rye flour will yield a milk bread with a more prominent rye flavor and, potentially, a denser texture. Also, be sure to substitute by weight rather than by volume to account for the difference in weight per cup. Good luck!

Best,
The Milk Street Team

Ken M.

I have made this recipe many times and I consistently have a tough time with it over-rising during baking. Texture is good, taste is great, shape is super funky (think side-by-side mushrooms on steroids). Am I just proofing too long? Determined to get this right as my son describes the flavor as croissant-like and I don't have to laminate!

Lynn C.

Hi Ken -

Our guess is that it's over proofing on the second rise. It should rise about an inch over the rim of the pan. Another test is to poke it with a finger. If the dough springs back right away, it needs more proofing. But if it springs back slowly and leaves a small indent, it's ready to bake.

Best,
The Milk Street Team

Peter F.

Hi team! I'd wager it's the opposite problem, usually extreme oven spring is a result of *under*proofing. I'd suggest letting it proof a bit longer in the pan prior to baking.

Peter F.

Wondering if you might be able to include gram weights for all the ingredients or at least the liquid ones? Thank you!

Jennifer B.

This was great! I didn't change a thing. Am wondering if it would work in a bread machine. But no matter mixing on my dough hook worked fine. Thanks for this. Delicious beautiful bread!

Carol G.

Mika of http://www.the350degreeoven.com/2011/09/japanese-hawaiian/japanese-milk-bread-tangzhong-or-water-roux-method/ shows how to use a bread machine for milk bread. I use her recipe for cinnamon rolls, but I’m going to try this without the rye and maybe a little more sugar. I was searching for a way to get the soft, pillowy texture of bakery shop cinnamon rolls (mine were always not soft enough) and the roux technique is magic.

Mary W.

I weighed my dry ingredients and measured accurately my wet ingredients. My dough was not sticky when I mixed in my kitchen aid mixer. It was a soft cohesive dough after mixing just a few minutes. I live in Arizona. Could that be why it wasn’t a sticky dough?

Lynn C.

Hi Mary -

Your dry climate is likely the reason. Bread baking is quite fickle and different climates and even daily weather conditions can affect how much moisture is in the air and, therefore, how much water your flour can and does hold. In a drier climate, the flour is also drier and therefore will need more water/liquid to achieve a loose, sticky dough. This article from King Arthur explains a little bit about this (although in the reverse) - https://www.kingarthurbaking.com/blog/2018/06/22/winter-to-summer-yeast-baking. Based on their testing, it seems like adding about 10% more water may be helpful to achieving the proper result. We would recommend watching our TV episode on this bread to see what texture the dough should be so you can gauge how to adjust yours in your climate.

Best,
The Milk Street Team

Connie H.

This bread has become a staple in our house since trying this recipe. We freeze one loaf and it is just as delicious as freshly baked. It also keeps on the counter for days. Amazing toasted! I even tried turning it into dinner rolls for Christmas. I rolled the dough into small balls and baked in a pie plate. It worked great! Highly recommend trying this, you will never want to make any other kind of bread. Thank you milk street!


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Japanese Milk Bread

Get Ready to Cook

2

1½-pound loaves

4 hours

50 minutes active, plus cooling

Tip

Don’t be tempted to add more flour to the dough as it is kneaded. The dough will be sticky and gluey, but after rising, it will be workable. When shaping the dough, use minimal flour so the dough remains as moist as possible. Lastly, when inverting the loaves out of the pan and turning them upright to cool, handle them gently as they are delicate and easily separate at the seam.

For the roux:
  • ½

    cup water

  • ¼

    cup plus 2 tablespoons whole milk

  • ¼

    cup (34 grams) bread flour

For the dough:
  • 113

    grams (8 tablespoons) salted butter, cut into 8 pieces, room temperature, plus 28 grams (2 tablespoons), melted, for brushing

  • 3

    large eggs, divided

  • 1

    cup whole milk, room temperature

  • 639

    grams (4⅔ cups) bread flour, plus more for dusting

  • 60

    grams (½ cup) rye flour

  • 80

    grams (¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons) white sugar

  • 27

    grams (¼ cup) nonfat or low-fat dry milk powder

  • tablespoons instant yeast

  • teaspoons table salt

Step 1 of 6

Prepare Roux

½
cup water
¼
cup plus 2 tablespoons whole milk
¼
cup (34 grams) bread flour

To make the water roux, in a medium saucepan, combine the water, milk and flour, then whisk until lump-free.


Set over medium and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens (a silicone spatula drawn through the mixture leaves a trail) and bubbles slowly, 2 to 4 minutes.


Scrape into a medium bowl, press a sheet of plastic wrap directly against the surface and cool to room temperature.

Step 2 of 6

Add Eggs and Milk

28
(2 tablespoons) salted butter, melted, for brushing
2
large eggs
1
cup whole milk, room temperature

To make the dough, brush a large bowl with melted butter; reserve the remaining melted butter.


Add two of the eggs to the cooled roux and whisk until well combined. Add the room-temperature milk and whisk until homogeneous and smooth.

Step 3 of 6

Combine Ingredients In Stand Mixer

639
grams (4⅔ cups) bread flour
60
grams (½ cup) rye flour
80
grams (¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons) white sugar
27
grams (¼ cup) nonfat or low-fat dry milk powder
tablespoons instant yeast
teaspoons table salt

In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the bread and rye flours, sugar, milk powder, yeast and salt. Attach the bowl and dough hook to the mixer and, with the machine running on low, slowly add the roux-egg mixture.


With the mixer still running, add the softened butter 1 tablespoon at a time. Increase the speed to medium-low and knead until the dough is very strong and elastic, 10 to 12 minutes; it will stick to the sides of the bowl.


Scrape the dough into the prepared bowl, then brush the surface with melted butter. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm spot until doubled in bulk, about 1½ hours. Meanwhile, coat 2 metal 8½-by-4½-inch loaf pans with melted butter.

Step 4 of 6

Shape Dough and Add to Pan

Bread flour, for dusting

Lightly flour the counter. Gently punch down the dough, then turn it out onto the prepared counter. Using a chef’s knife or bench scraper, divide the dough into 4 equal portions, each about 355 grams (about 12½ ounces).


Shape each portion into a smooth ball. Using your hands, pat one ball into a 7-by-4-inch rectangle, then fold the dough into thirds like a business letter. Pinch the seam to seal.


Turn the dough seam side down and place on one side of one of the prepared loaf pans so the seam is perpendicular to the length of the pan.


Shape a second portion of dough, then place it in the pan alongside the first portion, positioning it the same way; there should be just a small amount of space between the 2 pieces of dough. Cover the pan with a clean kitchen towel.

Step 5 of 6

Rest Dough In Pan

1
large egg

Repeat the process with the remaining portions of dough, then place under the towel alongside the first pan. Let rise until the dough domes 1 to 1½ inches over the rim of the pan, about 1 hour.


Meanwhile, heat the oven to 350°F with a rack in the middle position. In a small bowl, whisk the remaining egg until well combined; set aside.

Step 6 of 6

Bake, Finish and Serve

When the dough is properly risen, gently brush the tops with the beaten egg. Bake until the loaves are well risen and golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes.


Cool in the pans on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Gently invert the bread out of the pans, stand them upright on the rack and cool for at least 1 hour before slicing.

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