Learn how to make the softest fluffiest milk bread using tangzhong and autolyse methods. A bread that you can just tear layer by layer. A complete tutorial with step-by-step photos and a video recipe to make sure you can replicate this in your own kitchen.
I was probably only 8 years old or so, but I remember there was this house, probably about 3-4 houses down from ours, and they baked fresh bread daily. I often went there to get a fresh loaf of milk bread and other pastries. The smell of whatever she was baking was so intoxicating daily. It’s probably the highlight of my day when I walked down there, anticipating the delicious bread and pastries. Milk bread was one of her specialties. It never lasts more than 2 days in our house and so I got to walk down there to get fresh bread daily.
TANGZHONG MILK BREAD
Tangzhong is a technique of bread making in Asia by using a roux starter, which is basically made with milk (or water) and flour that is being cooked into a paste and then incorporated into the dough. This tangzhong method contributes to the ultra soft, pillowy and tearable texture or this milk bread. So soft that my daughter who isn’t crazy about bread, love this milk bread. The first bite into this bread and she said “Mommy, this is one delicious bread”. I know babe !! that’s the exact memory I have of me when I had that bread as a little girl. Tangzhong milk bread is seriously soft and fluffy! I’ve been “tang zhong-ing” every bread and roll I’ve made ever since. Won’t you?
HOW TANGZHONG MAKES DOUGH SOFTER
From what was explained to me, tangzhong adds extra hydration to the dough. BUT HOW? Imagine incorporating the extra 90 ml of liquid (for making tangzhong roux in the recipe) directly into the dough making process, it would be a wet mess, which means you need to add more flour so you have a workable dough (kinda defeats the purpose for that extra hydration!). To solve this problem, the bakers back in the old days thought of this method of thickening the liquid with the flour (in this case bread flour) into the paste and THEN only this paste is incorporated into the dough later. I thought…WOW! that was brilliant! It works. The dough is rather sticky at first, but we can work through the whole process to achieve soft, stretchy dough without adding any more additional flour.
Now, ever since I stumbled upon this term “autolyse” in the world of breadmaking, I’m curious to learn more about it!
AUTOLYSE IN BREADMAKING
I learned about autolyse from here. This method was developed by a French bread expert and scientist. I won’t elaborate in this post but in a nutshell, you are basically hydrating the flour with water and then let them rest for the period of as short as 20 minutes to as long as 1 hour or sometimes longer. During this resting period, some magic happens. Once flour absorbs the water, it activates enzymes in the flour that stimulate the proteins to start gluten development and then the enzymes also break down the starch to simple sugar, which later will feed the yeast when we proof the dough. All this happens before we even knead the dough. I used to think the more we knead the dough the better. Well, the dough needs to be kneaded, BUT, overworking it will deteriorate its flavor, texture, and color. So, autolyse reduces kneading time, which in turn improves the quality of your bread. All you need to do is that little break!. Just like how my misbehaved kids need a little time-out somedays 😉
A MODIFIED AUTOLYSE
If I may call it so! Hopefully, the French scientist won’t kill me for this!!! In this recipe, I didn’t do the simple autolyse as I mentioned above with just flour and water (that’s how it is usually done). Because we’re making milk bread and the recipe calls for milk, I use milk instead and I also included yeast and few other ingredients in the process.
HOW TO MAKE TANGZHONG STARTER
Fortunately, making tangzhong starter is a no-brainer. It’s fast and it’s pretty fool-proof, you really can’t mess it up. Here’s how:
1. Mix bread flour with milk (or water). Stir until they are combined and no more lumps
2. Cook this mixture on the stove over low-medium heat and keep stirring until they turn into a sticky paste. Let it cool down and you just made yourself a tangzhong starter! Yup! simple as that!
HOW TO MAKE ULTRA SOFT HOKKAIDO MILK BREAD WITH TANG ZHONG AND AUTOLYSE METHOD
Now that you have your tangzhong, you can proceed to prepare the bread dough. Here’s how:
1. Mix dry ingredients together, make well in the center and add the wet ingredients
2. Add the tangzhong you prepared earlier
3. Use a dough hook attachment to start mixing the dough. Mix until all the dry crumbs are picked up and form a rough dough
4. Once it comes into a rough dough, stop the machine. You might still see some yeast, that’s ok, don’t worry
5. Cover the dough and let it rest for 20 minutes. This is an important rest that bakers refer to as an autolyse (though in our case it’s a short one and it’s a modified autolyse. Read my post above for detail
6. After the rest, turn on and knead the dough again for another 1-2 minutes until it’s a bit smoother and you no longer see the yeast granules or anything rough
7. Add the salt and sugar into the dough. It will start making noise because of the salt and sugar granules. Continue to knead until the dough is relatively smooth and the sugar and salt are no longer visible and picked up by the dough.
8. You may need to stop and scrape the dough off the hook and the bowl several times during this process. I promise it’s worth the effort!
9. You should have quite a smooth dough now
10. Once you have a smooth dough, turn the machine back on again to knead and gradually add in the softened butter a bit by a bit
11. The dough will turn into a sticky mess again because of the butter, just keep kneading and DO NOT be tempted to add any flour
12. Stop halfway and scrape the dough off the hook and bowl again and continue to knead until the butter is absorbed by the dough.
13. Now you can see how the side of the bowl is clean and all the butter is picked up and absorbed by the dough already
14. Now you have a smooth and shiny dough
15. And stretchy too
16. First proofing
Oil the bowl and place the dough in there and let it rise in a warm place (use your bread proof function in the oven if you have one) for one hour. They may not double in size, but will puff up some for sure
17. When you push the dough down, the indentation stays. Your dough is ready
5. Place the dough on a lightly floured surface.
This dough looks different from above because I took all these step-by-step photos from different time I was making the bread. This dough has craisins in it
6. Punch it down or deflate to push out all air. I literally use my fist to do this 🙂
7. Cut into 3 equal portions (or you can leave it one piece for one large loaf)
8. Cover the dough again and let them rest for 15 more minutes. Make sure you do let them rest.
9. Work with one dough at a time. Roll the dough out into long oval shape
10. Fold the two sides in
11. Roll it again with rolling pin
12. Then roll it up from the short side
13. Now you just have your first mini loaf
14. Place this in a loaf pan
15. Repeat with the other two doughs and place the rolled dough in the pan next to each other
16. Second proofing: Cover and let them proof for the second round for about 40 minutes. They will puff up and fill up the pan
17. Preheat oven to 350 F. Brush the bread with egg wash
18. Sprinkle with sesame seeds if you choose to, otherwise just skip this part
19. Bake in the oven at 350 F for 30-40 minutes (30 minutes in my oven). Check at 30 minutes mark to see how yours looks. It should be golden brown on the top. Let them cool down in the pan for 5 minutes then transfer to a cooling rack to cool down completely
TOP TIPS YOU NEED TO READ BEFORE YOU START MAKING THIS RECIPE
SALT AND BUTTER (OIL) INTERFERE WITH GLUTEN DEVELOPMENT
1. Don’t mix salt in too early
I used to just throw everything in and start kneading. I’ve learned that salt interferes with gluten development. It tightens the gluten network and making it hard to stretch. Only add salt after a smoother dough is formed, this is called a “delayed salt method” in the breadmaking world.
2. Don’t mix in oil or butter too early
Butter or oil also interferes with gluten development. They coat the protein that we need to develop the gluten in our bread. Softened butter is added only after a relatively smooth dough is formed
3. Use a machine if possible
I’m not sure about you, but I prefer to use a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment to get this job done. It’s really going to make your life easier. REALLY! But of course, it’s possible to use your elbow grease too! Just not me!
TOO MUCH SUGAR IS NOT GOOD FOR THE YEAST
Yeast does feed on sugar, but contrary to what I used to believe that I need sugar in the dough for the yeast to work. You don’t! The starch in our flour is broken down into simple sugar and the yeast gets what it needs. Too much sugar in the dough can definitely kill the yeast too and that’s why I added the sugar after a relatively smooth dough is formed
CAN I SUBSTITUTE BREAD FLOUR WITH ALL-PURPOSE FLOUR
I won’t if I were you, but if you must, yes you can. Bread made with all-purpose flour (lower gluten content) usually doesn’t rise as high compared to bread flour. It is also less chewy compared to bread flour. If all those aren’t important to you, then all-purpose flour it is! Also, you may need to start with a lesser amount of liquid if you use all-purpose flour because it absorbs water differently compared to bread flour.
CAN I USE BREAD MAKER WITH THIS RECIPE?
The order of ingredients that go into the bread maker is slightly different from the traditional recipe, as far as I know. I don’t own a bread maker or bread machine, so I really can’t tell you for sure. I’m pretty sure you probably can, I just don’t have enough knowledge to advise on how to do so.
If you have never tried making bread or rolls with tangzhong and autolyse methods, you seriously need to try, because I can guarantee that you will get addicted to that soft pillowy texture that you can just tear layer by layer. These 3 mini loaves of bread were gone the same day I made them!
TO MAKE THE DOUGH AHEAD AND FREEZE
Freezing unbaked yeasted dough is a great idea to be ahead of your game, however, there are a few modifications that need to be done because some yeast that has been activated may die in the cold freezer. I actually prefer to bake and then freeze, but if you must make ahead and freeze the unbaked dough, here are what you can do:
1. Prepare the dough as instructed in the recipe up to the point where you have done kneading until it reaches a windowpane stage
2. DO NOT let the dough rise. Divide the dough and shape them immediately
3. Place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and put the shaped buns not touching each other in the coldest part of your freezer, for about an hour or so until they are hard but may not be completely frozen. We want them to be frozen as quickly as possible to avoid ice crystals from interfering with the yeast
4. Transfer them to a freezer bag and push all the air out and seal and keep them frozen
5. I recommend not to freeze them for more than 2 weeks for the best result (I would do only one week if I were you). Freezing them for too long will decrease the yeast ability to rise well because some of them may have died in the cold
6. When ready to bake, thaw at room temperature and then proceed to let them rise at a warm place and bake as instructed in the recipe
TO MAKE THE DOUGH AND REFRIGERATE
1. Prepare the dough as instructed in the recipe up to the point where you have done kneading until it reaches a windowpane stage
2. Put it in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with a lid or wrap to prevent the dough surface from drying out. Let it do its first rise at a warm place for about 30 minutes or until you notice it is about 50% puffy. Put this in the fridge to continue the first rise in the fridge. The dough can be kept in the fridge for up to 48 hours for the best result. Make sure your bowl is large enough as the dough will rise and grow larger
3. On the day you are ready to do the baking, get the dough out and let it comes to room temperature, may take about an hour or so, and then proceed to shape and continue with second proofing at a warm place
*Recipe was originally published in 2015 (I made them with chocolate morsels) and now I made the craisins and sesame seeds variety. The recipe is also improved by incorporating autolyse and salt-delayed methods. Recipe and photos have been improved and updated accordingly. A video recipe was added in May 2020.
Do you bake sourdough bread?
Try this sourdough pandan milk bread
How To Make Soft and Fluffy Hokkaido Milk Bread (Tangzhong and Autolyse Method)
Roux starter (Tangzhong):
- 15 gr bread flour 5 tsp
- 90 ml whole milk 6 Tbsp
- 120 ml whole milk 1/2 cup
- 1 large egg lightly beaten
Ingredient to add last to the dough:
- 40 gr butter 3 Tbsp, softened
- ¾ tsp salt
- 2 Tbsp sugar see notes
- 1 egg beaten
- Sesame seeds for sprinkling (optional)
- Almond Thinly sliced
Prepare tang zhong:
- Place milk and the bread flour in a small saucepan. Whisk until there is no more lumps. Cook this mixture over medium heat until it is thickened, about 5 minutes or less. Remove from the heat and let it cool down completely
Make the dough:
- Mix all the dry ingredients together in a mixing bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in the wet ingredients and the tang zhong you made earlier. Use a dough hook attachment to knead the dough on speed 2 until all the crumbly dough starts to come together into one mass, it may take about 2-3 minutes for this to happen. Don't be tempted to add any liquid. You may need to stop halfway and scrape the dough off the hook and the sides of the bowl and knead again several times
- Once it comes into a dough, stop the machine. The dough will not be smooth, don't worry.Cover the dough and let it rest for 20 minutes. This is an important rest that bakers refer to as an autolyse (though in our case it's a short one. Read my post above for detail)
- After the rest, turn on and knead the dough again on speed 2 and knead for 1-2 minutes until it is a bit smoother. Then add the salt and sugar into the dough. Continue to knead until the dough is relatively smooth. You need to stop and scrape the dough off the hook and the bowl several times during this process. I promise it's worth the effort!
- Once you have a smooth dough, turn the machine back on again to knead and increase speed to 4. Gradually add in the softened butter a bit by a bit. The dough will turn into a REAL sticky mess again because of the butter, just keep kneading and stop halfway and scrape the dough off the hook and bowl again and continue to knead until the butter is absorbed by the dough. IT WILL HAPPEN, don't worry! DO NOT be tempted to add any extra flour. You will get a shiny smooth dough that is very elastic. This may take about 10-15 minutes. The dough must pass a windowpane test, meaning, when you stretch a small amount of dough thinly, it won't break and a light can pass through
- Place this dough in a lightly oiled large bowl, cover it with a clean and damp tea cloth or plastic wrap and let it rise at a warm place for about 1 hour. It may not double in size, but it will puff up some for sure.
- Lightly oil your loaf pan and line your loaf pan with parchment paper with side overhanging (easier to pull the bread out later). Punch the dough down, separate it into 3 equal size balls. Cover these doughs loosely with plastic wrap and let them rest for 15 minutes. Make sure you don't skip this part of resting the dough before shaping
- Roll each ball out into a rectangle shape (don't have to be exact). Fold the two long sides up and then roll it from the bottom to top. Place the seam side down in the loaf pan and repeat with the other 2 doughs. Place them next to each other. Cover with a plastic wrap
- If you don't plan to bake on the same day, you can also put this shaped dough in the fridge to let the 2nd proofing happen overnight in the fridge. The next day just bring it out to let it comes to room temperature before baking
- If youare going to bake on the same day, let the dough proof again for another 40 minutes or until they fill up the loaf pan. Brush the top of the dough with egg wash
- Sprinkle with some white sesame seeds or other seeds of your choice if you like
- Preheat oven to 350 F and pop it into the oven (3rd rack from the top) and let it bake for the next 30-40 minutes depending on the oven, mine took 30 minutes. It will be golden brown on top. Remove from the oven and let it cool down in the pan for about 5 minutes and then lift the bread out and let it cool completely on a cooling rack. Enjoy and once it's cooled down completely, wrap it up with plastic wrap and it's good for about 3 days or so (it didn't last that long in our house)