I’ve always had a preference for asian style bread. The breads usually have an incredibly soft texture and stay soft and fresh for days. I’ve looked up recipes a couple of times and it seemed that a lot of the recipes required a “bread improver” to keep the bread soft. I don’t believe this ingredient is available here in the U.S., but apparently is more common in Asia.
Then I read about the “Tangzhong method.” It’s been popular for a few years now, but since I don’t read chinese, I didn’t learn about it until recently. One of the blogs I follow is Christine’s Recipes. I really enjoy her blog because she makes a lot of chinese recipes and her blog is in English and in Chinese, which has allowed me to try recipes of a lot of my favorite chinese desserts.
I first read about the Tangzhong method on her blog. Basically, a few years ago, a woman named Yvonne Chen wrote a book entitled 65 degrees, which details her secret ingredient to keeping bread fresh and soft. She uses a flour and water mixture, cooked to 65 degrees, to make a flour paste called “tang zhong” which is added to the bread. What I loved about this idea is that it is natural and doesn’t use chemicals.
As soon as I saw the beautiful, soft and fluffy breads that Christine had made, I knew I had to try making my own. I read up on the tangzhong method on a few other blogs and also a few different recipes. You can use this method to make a variety of breads that are sweet and savory. You can also use it to make soft milk bread rolls.
I decided to try making a simple milk toast, which is one of my favorite breads to get from chinese bakeries. It’s sweet and has no filling, so you can just enjoy the plain, soft bread.
You need to make the flour paste ahead of time and give it a few hours to cool, but it’s not too hard. I made mine in the morning, put it in the fridge and then used it that evening.
The bread portion was a little harder to make. It took several hours of proofing my bread and kneading it before it was ready. But it was totally worth it. When my bread came out, the crust was shiny and it looked and smelled like I was in a chinese bakery. After I let the bread cool, I peeled off a section of the bread and the texture was so fluffy. Even the next day, the bread remained as soft and fresh tasting as the day before.
I can’t wait to make this bread more often. Now I just need a bread maker for the kneading. The recipe allows you to knead by hand or use a bread maker. I highly recommend using a bread maker for the kneading because it takes quite a while.
1/3 cup bread flour
1 cup water
1. Mix flour and water together and whisk until it is completely dissolved and no lumps remain.
2. Pour mixture into a small pot and turn on medium heat. Begin stirring constantly as the mixture heats up. It will begin to thicken. When the temperature of the mixture reaches 65 degrees Celsius, turn off the stove and take the mixture off the stove to let it cool. I used a thermometer but I’ve read from Christine’s website and several others that you can sort of eye it. If you are continually stirring, the mixture will start to have “lines ” and then it is done. I started to see lines around the same time the temperature reached 65C.
3. Once the mixture is cooled, pour it into a bowl and cover the top using plastic wrap. Place the wrap directly onto the mixture to keep it from drying out and put it in the fridge for several hours or overnight. The paste does not keep well, so use within a few days.
Update: Since my first attempt, I’ve got a better understanding of how the texture should turn out, how long the kneading should be, and I’ve taken better step by step photos. You can view the updated post here.
1/2 tsp salt
1 large egg
½ cup milk
120g tangzhong (about half of the tangzhong made)
2 tsp instant yeast (instant!! not active dry yeast!)
3 tbsp butter (cut into small pieces, softened at room temperature)
1. Combine the flour, salt, sugar and instant yeast in a bowl. Make a well in the center. Whisk and combine all wet ingredients: milk, egg and tangzhong, then add into the well of the dry ingredients. Knead until your dough comes together and then add in the butter and continue kneading. If you own a breadmaker or a food processor powerful enough to knead dough, I HIGHLY recommend using it. The dough takes a long time to knead. About half an hour by hand. The dough will start out to be extremely sticky. Keep kneading until the dough is no longer sticky and is elastic. You should be able to stretch the dough without it breaking right away.
2. Knead the dough into a ball shape. Take a large bowl and grease with oil. Place dough into greased bowl and cover with a wet towel. Let it proof until it’s doubled in size, about 40 minutes.
3. Transfer to a clean surface. Divide the dough into four equal portions. Knead into balls. Cover with cling wrap, let rest for 15 minutes.
4. Roll out each portion of the dough with a rolling pin into an oval shape. (Christine took great step by step photos. Mine are a bit rushed and in bad lighting) Take one end of the dough and fold to meet the middle of the oval. Take the other end and fold to meet on top.
7. Beat an egg and brush egg mixture on top to create shiny eggwash finish.
8. Bake at 350 degrees F for approximately 30 minutes.
Here’s a printable recipe:
Soft and Fluffy Milk Toast
For the Tangzhong
- 1/3 cup bread flour
- 1 cup water
For the Milk Bread
- 2 ½ cups bread flour
- 3 tbsp plus 2 tsp sugar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 tsp instant yeast see note
- 2 large eggs
- ½ cup milk
- 120 g tangzhong use only half- add this to notes
- 3 tbsp cubed butter softened
Make the Tangzhong
- To make the tangzhong, whisk the flour and water until smooth.
- Transfer the flour mixture to a small saucepan and warm it over medium heat. As the mixtures heats up, stir continuously. You want to cook the mixture until it thickens and creates "lines" (see the blog post for more details). These lines indicate it's reached approximately 150°F (65°C). If you are unsure, use a kitchen thermometer to measure the temperature. Once it's at temperature, turn off the heat and set the pan aside to cool. Once the mixture is cooled transfer it to a bowl and place a piece of plastic wrap large enough to directly cover the surface of the mixture (to protect it from drying out) and to seal the bowl. Place the bowl in the refrigerator and chill it for several hours. You will use half of the tangzhong for this recipe, so keep the leftovers in the refrigerator for up to two days.
Make the Milk Bread
- In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, salt, and yeast. In a separate bowl, whisk one egg, milk, and tangzhong. Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour the wet ones into it. Using your hands, mix the dry ingredients with the wet ones until a loose dough forms and add the butter. Continue mixing until the butter is incorporated. At this point, the dough will be very sticky so remove it from the bowl and knead it on the countertop. Knead the dough until it's no longer sticky. It should be elastic, which means you should be able to stretch a piece of it quite thin without it breaking. This process will take approximately 30 minutes to do by hand. To shorten the kneading process, you can use the kneading function on a breadmaker or a high-powered food processor instead of doing it by hand.
- Coat the inside of a large bowl with oil. Shape the dough into a ball, place it in the oiled bowl, and cover the bowl with a wet towel. Leave the dough to proof for 40 minutes or until it has doubled in size.
- Transfer the dough to a clean work surface and divide it into four equals parts and shape each into a ball. Cover the dough balls with plastic wrap and rest them for 15 minutes.
- Using a rolling pin, roll each dough ball into an oval shape. Fold one end of the dough to the center of the oval. Fold the other end so that it just overlaps the other in the middle. Turn the dough over with the folds facing down and flatten the dough with a rolling pin. Turn the dough over again - with the folds facing up - and, starting at one end, roll the dough up. Repeat with the remaining dough balls. Place each rolled dough in a baking pan. Leave the dough to rise for 40 minutes.
- In a small bowl, beat the remaining egg and brush it on the top of the dough rolls in the pan. Bake the bread at 350°F (177°C) for approximately 30 minutes.
- For this recipe, it's important to use instant yeast, which is mixed right into the dough and not dry active yeast, which needs to dissolve in water before using.
The nutrition information provided are only estimates based on an online nutritional calculator. I am not a certified nutritionist. Please consult a professional nutritionist or doctor for accurate information and any dietary restrictions and concerns you may have.