Milk Bread (Shokupan)

Freshly baked milk bread with golden brown top

It's no surprise that milk bread (shokupan) gets rediscovered every few years. Compared to western style sandwich loafs, the insides are light, soft and fluffy. It's hard to resist tearing the bread apart just to see the elastic inside. Milk bread not only derives its name from the using milk but also the bright white milk-like colour of the inner crumb. Some people may only associate this bread with Hokkaido (Japanese) milk bread but the bread actually has Chinese origins.

One of the key steps to making milk bread is a Chinese technique called TangZhong (湯種法). Chinese bakers have been using this technique since the early 1900s to make soft buns. TangZhong is like a roux, it's made by cooking a small amount of flour in a liquid (milk). The resulting gel releases more steam during the baking process resulting in higher loaves.

In terms of shaping, milk bread often comes in two or three lobes in the span of a single loaf pan. The instructions show how to make a three-lobed loaf but you can adapt this to any style.

This recipe makes 1 loaf.

Equipment

  • Buttered loaf pan
  • Small pot to make tangzhong
  • Small bowl to hold tang zhong
  • Small bowl to hold milk and yeast
  • Large bowl (to hold dough as it doubles)
  • Scale (optional)
  • Baking tray (optional)
  • Rolling pin (optional)
  • Silicone or bristle Brush (optional)

Ingredients for the loaf

  • 330 g all Purpose flour (1.5 Cups of flour)
  • 24 g sugar (approximately 1.5 tablespoons)
  • 7g salt (approximately 1 tsp)
  • 4g dried active yeast (about 1/2 teaspoon)
  • 95g warm milk (26C-32C/ 78F-89F)
  • 1 egg
  • 20g unsalted softened butter (1 tablespoon)
  • 2 tablespoons of milk (for brushing the loafs)

Ingredients for Tangzhong

  • 100g of boiling milk (1/2 Cup less 1 tablespoon)
  • 40g of flour (2 tablespoons)

Instructions

  1. Make the tangzhong in a small bowl, mix the boiling milk with the of flour. Keep stirring until all the flour is cooked. It should smell a bit like almond. Set aside and allow to cool.
  2. Using a microwave to warm the milk to (30-35°C); this should take approximately 20 seconds. The milk should be warm, not scalding. Mix the yeast into the warm milk and let sit for 5 minutes.
    A bowl of tangzhong a gel of starch made by cooking flour in milk

  3. Mix the dry ingredients (flour, salt, and sugar) together in a large bowl.
  4. Add in the yeast-milk solution (should be slightly foamy by now) and mix.
  5. Add egg, butter, and tangzhong.
  6. Using a stand mixer with a dough hook, mix for about 8 minutes or until the dough comes together and it doesn’t stick to the sides of the bowl. Alternatively, you can knead by hand for about 12-15 minutes.
  7. Cover the bowl and let the dough rise until doubled (about 90 minutes based on room temperature). At this point, if you need more time you can punch down the dough and keep it in the fridge overnight.
  8. Divide the dough into 3 portions.

  9. You are now going to shape each of the portions into a small loaf. Do the following: 
    1. On a lightly floured surface flatten out into a long rectangle so that the short end is facing you.
      Roll the dough into a long rectangle
    2. Taking the top edge fold it over the middle and take the bottom fold it over the top like a letter (letter fold).
      Fold the dough over itself like a letter
    3. Rotate the dough so that the short end is facing you.
    4. Flatten out into another long rectangle with the width about the same width as your loaf pan.
    5. From the short end facing you, firmly roll the rectangle up into a smooth cylinder.
      Dough rolled up
  10. Place each of the rolls with the spiral facing the long sides of the loaf pan into a well-buttered loaf pan with some space in between. The rolls will rise and expand one last time so they need room to grow.
    Three rolls of dough in a glass loaf pan
  11. Brush the top of each of the rolls with milk.
    Brushing the top of each roll dough with milk
  12. Cover the loaf pan and wait 30-45 minutes for it to rise (rolls should expand above the height of the loaf pan).
  13. Preheat oven to 375F.
  14. Carefully brush the top of the rolls with milk one last time before placing the loaf into the oven.
    Rolls of risen bread dough glistening with milk
  15. Bake for 35 minutes or until the tops are golden brown and it sounds hollow.
  16. Remove from the oven and let it cool down before removing from the loaf pan.

A three-lobed milk bread with golden top

Milk bread has this interesting property where the outside will harden but the inside remains very soft.  This means you should only slice as you need it so each slice is nice and soft. You can eat it plain, or toast it and spread it with your favourite jam or some condensed milk. If there are any leftovers after a few days, it makes a great french toast.

Freshly sliced milk bread

While this bread is not as simple as a "no-knead" style bread, it only takes a few tries before you get the hang of it and add your own twists and modifications.
Milk bread

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