Wed, 14 July, 2021
Japanese milk roll meets French brioche – and the resulting bread rolls are out of this world delicious.
Brioche or milk dough?
Technically, this isn’t standard brioche dough. It’s a cross between brioche and the Japanese milk bread dough, which uses the cooked starter of flour and milk called tangzhong. But since I had to give these rolls a name, and an ‘enriched dough tangzhong bread rolls is a bit of a mouthful, I settled on ‘brioche rolls’.
Still, this is a little constraining: brioche is only good for butter and jam in the common perception, while these rolls are up for anything – anything at all, including a bacon sarnie and a burger.
On the other hand brioche as a housing for a burger has recently gained much popularity so perhaps I’m not shooting myself – and the rolls – in the foot.
How to make tangzhong
Making tangzhong is very much like cooking roux for a bechamel sauce, just without the butter (but who knows?). A slurry of flour and milk is cooked while whisked energetically over medium heat until it thickens and turns silky and glossy, slightly like choux pastry or perfectly mashed potatoes.
It needs to be cold to use it so it’s completely appropriate to make it a day ahead. The whole dough making process takes up to two days anyway so another day added to the mix will not take much more planning.
Making the enriched bread dough
Cold tangzhong constitutes the base for the dough and with the eggs and the butter it’s seriously rich. Therefore, it needs working for a long time and without a standing mixer it is going to be really hard labour.
The gluten strands need to develop strong enough to lift this rich mix to an airy and light bake – not entirely unlike panettone and similar breads – which is why this is the only occasion apart from Christmas when I test the dough’s stretchiness with a windowpane test.
Pinch a ball of dough and try to stretch it into a membrane without it tearing, thin enough for the light to pass through. It is an exciting exercise, even more so if the dough passes the test at the first attempt. If it fails, work it some more and try again.
Long cold proof, short hot bake
The dough then proves overnight in the fridge and the following day we need to shape it while still cold. If it warms up, it will become sticky and impossibly runny.
Shaped buns rise in a warm kitchen though one of these days I might try putting them back in the fridge to prove.
And what of the end product? They are superb, light, fluffy, melting in your mouth – all the characteristics of all-white, delicate rolls. NY Times, where I found inspiration for the dough, calls them hamburger buns but that is far too limiting. I want them every day, not just on burger occasions!
brioche rollsServings: makes 16 rollsTime: 3 hours plus proving overnight
- For the tangzhong:
- 240g (1 cup) whole milk or buttermilk
- 50g (6 tbsp.) plain flour
- For the dough:
- 490g (3¾ cups) strong bread flour
- 4 large eggs, cold
- 2 tbsp. vegetable or olive oil
- 50g (¼ cup) caster sugar
- 10g (3 tsp) fine sea salt
- 16g fresh or 1½ tsp instant yeast
- 113g (½ cup) cold unsalted butter
1. To make the tangzhong, whisk the milk or buttermilk gradually into the flour in a medium saucepan. Bring it to the boil on medium heat and cook, whisking continuously, for about a minute until the mix thickens and smoothens.
2. Transfer the tangzhong into a large bowl or the bowl of a standing mixer and leave it to cool completely. You can cover it and place in the fridge when it’s not steaming hot.
3. To the cold tangzhong add the flour, oil, eggs, sugar, salt and yeast (even if using fresh, just crumble it into the bowl). Mix it with a dough hook attachment at low speed until combined into shaggy dough. Up the speed to medium and mix for about 15 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl often, until the dough is smooth and elastic.
4. Cut the cold butter into dice and add half to the bowl. Mix at low speed until absorbed. Add the rest of the butter and mix at medium speed for 15-20 minutes until the dough is very stretchy and elastic and doesn’t stick to the sides of the bowl. You can do the windowpane test at this stage: stretch the dough in your fingers until it forms a membrane which doesn’t tear easily and lets the light through. If it still tears, give it another 5 minutes of mixing.
5. Transfer the dough onto a work surface and shape it into a smooth, taut ball by folding it on itself several times. Return it to the bowl, cover it with cling film and place in the fridge for between 4 and 24 hours, preferably overnight.
6. The next morning prepare two large baking trays lined with parchment.
7. Take the dough out of the fridge and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide it into 16 portions, each weighing about 72g (or make them larger if you prefer). Shape each portion into a smooth taut ball and place on the trays, evenly spaced. Cover the trays with plastic wrap or a clean bin liner and leave to prove in a warm corner of the kitchen, for about 1 ½ - 2 hours until doubled in size and almost touching.
8. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas 4. When the buns are ready to go, bake each tray for 20 minutes, until the buns are deep golden brown.
9. Remove from the trays onto wire racks and cool completely.