hokkaido milk bread
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I have made Hokkaido bread rolls before, amazed at how bread starting off as a bit of thick white goo ends up looking like fluffy puffy cushions and tasting like a cloud. The best burger buns. The most impressive dinner rolls.
But this – the recipe I broadly followed was that of Karen’s Kitchen – is even better, as the starting point goo is greyish, lumpy gruel, set, cold and with milk skin over the surface. Pretty hideous. It is magically transformed into pillowy rolls, reluctantly squashed into a too-small tin, wanting out and rising over the rim in three shiny domes. It’s fluffy, airy, makes the words ‘white bread’ take on a new, noble meaning. It toasts like a dream. It’s breath-taking as a ham sandwich. It takes the concept of grilled cheese to new levels.
Tangzhong, the starter kit for the Fluffy Central Loaf, is basically a roux: a cooked up mix of flour and milk or water. The principle is similar to scalding part of the flour prior to making bread dough and the aim is alike: for the crumb to be delicate, evenly airy and for the loaf to last longer and stale later. Come to think of it, it’s the Far Eastern anti-aging method, only applied to baking.
Hokkaido milk bread is also the basis for the best breadcrumbs in the world, panko. Quite like they manage to have any bread spare to be dried, crushed and processed is beyond me: my loaf nearly disappeared before you could say ‘Konnichiwa’…
hokkaido milk bread
- For the tangzhong:
- 50g strong bread flour
- 240ml (1 cup) water
- For the dough:
- 120g tangzhong
- 25g caster sugar
- 1 tsp fine salt
- 15g fresh or 2 tsp instant yeast
- 220ml full fat milk, warm
- 70g butter very soft plus more for brushing the tin
- 1 egg beaten with 1 tbsp. milk, for the egg wash
Make the tangzhong the night before baking: place the flour in a small saucepan and whisk in the water. Cook on medium heat stirring often, until it reaches 65C/149F – or significantly thickens but isn’t bubbling yet. Leave it to cool and cover the surface of the tangzhong with cling film. Refrigerate overnight.
The next day bring the tangzhong to room temperature. Mix the flour, sugar, salt in a large bowl or the bowl of your standing mixer. Add 120g of the tangzhong into the flour mix; discard the rest unless baking another loaf in the next couple of days. Crumble in the yeast and add the milk.
Knead with the dough hook attachment or by hand (it will be hellishly sticky) for 10-15 minutes until the dough becomes smoother and more elastic. Add the butter and continue kneading until the dough passes the windowpane test: when you pull up a little of the dough and stretch in your fingers, it should form a thin membrane and not tear.
Cover the bowl with the dough with cling film and leave in a warm place for 1 hour to double in volume.
Turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and divide in three equal pieces. Grease a large loaf tin with butter. Shape the dough pieces into balls, cover with a tea towel and let them rest for 15 minutes.
Roll each piece out into a long oval; fold it in three like an envelope. Flip it over, roll our again in the same direction; give it a quarter turn and roll up into a tight cylinder. Place it seam side down in the tin. Repeat with the other pieces of dough.
Cover the tin loosely with cling film and leave in a warm place to rise up to almost above the rim, about 30-40 minutes. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas 4.
Brush the top of the risen loaf with the egg wash. Bake for 35 minutes; if the top of the loaf is getting too brown, cover it loosely with aluminium foil.
Remove from the oven and cool in the tin for 10 minutes. Turn the loaf out onto a wire rack and cool completely.