Japanese milk bread, also known as Shokupan, is the softest, fluffiest, springiest, tastiest bread I’ve ever eaten. And though it’s so soft and fluffy, it still has some chewiness. It’s really something you have to experience to fully understand.
Japanese milk bread uses a different method, called the Tangzhong method. Essentially what this is is a roux made with milk, water, and some of the flour. It’s cooked and thickened to a pudding-like consistency, then cooled and added to the bread dough. Cooking the flour like this makes the starches in the flour gelatinous without developing the gluten, which allows it to take in more water while still remaining very stable, thus creating a moister, softer loaf. For example, if you were to just add more water to a bread dough, you’d end up with something too soft to hold a shape, so by making a tangzhong, you add more water without compromising the structure. You can add a tangzhong to any bread recipe to create a softer and moister loaf. The magic ratio is 5 parts liquid to 1 part flour.
There’s also quite a bit of milk in this bread. Milk (or dairy of any kind) adds a lot of flavor to bread. That’s one reason you see powdered milk in a lot of dinner roll recipes. The milk also helps with the soft texture.
Typically, you’ll see tall loaves of Japanese milk bread. Tall bread pans are not too easy to find (around here, anyway), but I happened to have a sandwich bread pan…one with the lid that makes perfectly square loaves. The one I have is this USA Pan Pullman Loaf Pan. I baked my milk bread in it without the lid on and it turned out nice and perfectly tall.
I also highly recommend using bread flour for this bread. It contains more gluten than all-purpose flour and helps with the structure and the chewy soft texture.
Japanese Milk Bread
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/4 cup milk
- 3 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon bread flour
- Tangzhong (as prepared from above)
- 1/2 cup milk, lukewarm
- 2 1/4 teaspoons SAF instant yeast
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 3 tablespoons powdered milk
- 1 large egg
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 2/3 to 3 cups bread flour
- 4 tablespoons butter
- Place the water and milk in a small saucepan. Add the bread flour and whisk until smooth.
- Over medium heat, whisk constantly until the mixture thickens. It should have a pudding-like consistency.
- Scrape the tangzhong into a small bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Push the plastic wrap directly onto the tangzhong to prevent a skin from forming on top.
- Cool to room temperature.
- In the bowl of your stand mixer, place milk and yeast. Add powdered milk, sugar, tangzhong, egg, salt, and bread flour.
- With the dough hook, mix the dough to combine the ingredients and form a rough dough. Continue kneading for about 5 minutes on a low speed. This dough is very soft and sticky and will stick to the sides of the bowl, but keep kneading it and it will start to pull away from the sides of the bowl.
- After 5 minutes of kneading, add the butter in 3 to 4 additions, mixing for about 30 seconds in between each addition. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl to make sure everything mixes well.
- After all the butter is incorporated into the dough, turn the speed on your mixer up to medium and knead for another 5-7 minutes. You may need to scrape the bowl a time or two during kneading.
- At this point, the dough should be smooth and satiny and pull away cleanly from the sides of the bowl.
- Place the dough in an large lightly oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in size (about an hour depending on the temperature of your room).
- When the dough is doubled, spray one 9x4x4-inch loaf pan (or the closest you have to that size) with nonstick spray.
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface.
- With a kitchen scale, weigh the dough and divide into 4 equal portions.
- Roll out each dough portion into about a six-inch square.
- Fold the opposite corners of the square in towards the middle.
- Starting from the pointed end, roll up the portion of dough. Roll it up firmly and tightly. Pinch the edges to seal.
- Place seam side down in your prepared loaf pan. Repeat with the 3 remaining dough portions, placing them side by side in the loaf pan, creating a row of 4.
- Cover the pan with plastic wrap and let the dough rise until doubled in size.
- When the dough is doubled, brush the top of the dough with milk.
- Bake at 350 degrees F for 30-35 minutes. If the bread starts to brown too much, place a piece of foil on top to keep it from over-browning.
- Remove loaf from pan and allow to cool.
- Enjoy with butter or as you would any white bread.