Bread is my weakness. Crusty French baguettes, chewy Italian ciabatta, and this oh so fluffy and heavenly Japanese milk bread.
Ever since my high school days, there have always been diets and fads telling me to stay away from breads. It’s not that I couldn’t do it, it’s just that I don’t want to deny myself something so tasty. I could give up chocolate, espresso, and maybe even whiskey, but refraining from breads…that might be a real tough one.
For most of my childhood, my mom would only purchase two types of bread: Filipino pan de sal and Japanese milk bread. (Imagine my horror the first time I tried whole wheat sandwich bread sometime in my teens. I thought it tasted like cardboard.) I grew up eating bread with a slather of salted butter, maybe a piece of hard cheese, or a giant spoonful of sweetened condensed milk (the best!).
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to favor more heartier breads, but to this day, I still cannot enter an Asian bakery without buying a loaf of milk bread. And that got me thinking…what if I had to move to an area that didn’t have my favorite breads? What would I do? Naturally, the answer is simple. Learn to make all my favorite breads starting with this Japanese milk bread. (Up next, pineapple buns/melon pans!)
Even if you’ve never made bread before (or you’ve been intimidated to try), this will be the bread that will change your mind.
Japanese milk bread (also known as Hokkaido milk bread) is known for it’s distinct slightly sweet flavor and soft interior. The secret to this fluffy milk bread is it’s use of a starter (water roux). A simple mixture of flour, water, and milk creates this paste that helps to produce the fluffiest bread ever. Even four days after baking the bread, the loaf will remain soft and springy like the first day.
Combining all the ingredients for the dough is fairly simple and straight forward. Once you’ve let the dough rest and rise for an hour, place the dough on a lightly floured work surface. Divide the dough into four equal parts. Keep the cut dough under plastic wrap to prevent it from drying out or forming an unwanted skin. Roll the dough into balls. Working with one ball at a time, flatten or roll out dough to a length of about 8 inches and width of 5 inches.
Fold in about 1-inch on both sides of the dough. Starting from the end closest to you, roll the dough into a log. Repeat with remaining dough.
Place the logs seam-side down in a buttered and parchment lined loaf pan. Cover loaf pan with plastic wrap and let rest for 30-45 minutes until dough has doubled in volume.
Lightly brush the top of the dough with heavy cream. Bake in a 350 degree F oven until the top of the bread is a nice golden brown and the internal temperature of the bread is at least 190 degrees F. If the bread top colors too fast, place a foil tent over it to prevent it from burning. Let the bread cool in the loaf pan for 5 minutes before unmolding, then allow the loaf to cool to room temperature on a wire rack. Once cool, go ahead and slice yourself a piece!
Japanese Milk Bread
Yield: 9x5-inch loaf
- 1/3 cup (45 g) bread flour
- 1/2 cup (120 ml) whole milk
- 1/2 cup (120 ml) water
- 2 1/2 cups (325 g) bread flour
- 1/4 cup (60 g) granulated sugar
- 2 1/4 tsp (7 g) active dry yeast
- 1 Tbsp non-fat dry milk powder, optional**
- 1 tsp fine sea salt
- 1 large egg, lightly whisked, room temperature
- 1/2 cup (120 ml) whole milk, room temperature
- 1/4 cup (60 g) unsalted butter, softened
- heavy cream, as needed for brushing
- Starter: In a medium pot, whisk together bread flour, milk, and water. Set over medium heat and stir often, making sure to stir the bottom edges of the pot. Cook for about 5 minutes until mixture has thickened to the consistency of mashed potatoes. Remove from heat and transfer to a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, allowing wrap to lay directly on top of starter mixture. Allow to cool to room temperature.
- Dough: In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together bread flour, sugar, yeast, milk powder and salt. Attach dough hook to mixer. Add in 1/2 cup of cooled starter mixture, egg, and milk. Knead on low speed for 5 minutes. Scape down bowl to ensure thorough mixing.
- Add softened butter and continue to knead on low speed for 5 minutes until butter is integrated into dough. Increase speed to medium and knead for another 5 minutes until dough is smooth and pulls away from the sides of the bowl.
- Transfer dough to a lightly greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 1 hour, or until dough is doubled in volume.
- Line a 9 x 4-inch loaf pan with parchment paper. Grease and set aside. Transfer dough to a lightly floured working surface. Divide dough into four equal parts and roll into balls. Cover dough with plastic wrap as you work to prevent it from drying out or forming a skin.
- Working with one ball of dough at a time, flatten or roll out dough to a length of about 8-inches and 5-inches wide. Fold in about 1-inch of the sides. Starting from the end closest to you, roll the dough into a log. Place log seam-side down in prepared loaf pan. Repeat with remaining dough balls. Cover loaf pan with plastic wrap and let sit for 30-45 minutes until dough has doubled in volume.
- Lightly brush the top of the dough with heavy cream. Bake dough in a 350 degree F oven for 35-40 minutes until the top of the bread is golden brown and internal temperature of bread is at least 190 degrees F.
- Let cool in loaf pan for 5 minutes. Unmold bread from loaf pan and allow to cool to room temperature on a wire rack. Once cool, slice bread accordingly.
* Starter mixture is enough to bake 2 loaves. Discard extra starter, or double the dough recipe to make 2 loaves.
** Milk powder provides additional flavor. It is optional and can be omitted.
slightly adapted from The New York Times
The Little Epicurean
This milk bread tastes great on it’s own. I mentioned that I enjoy milk bread with butter or condensed milk, but my MOST favorite way to eat milk bread… is this cinnamon sugar milk toast. Stay tuned for the recipe next week!