I came across this recipe for hokkaido milk bread a while ago. I glanced by quickly, not paying much attention. Frankly, it was because I was intimidated by it. I didn’t know if I would be able to achieve the cloud-like texture of the bread.
On a separate occasion, as I was browsing through Two Red Bowls, I came across the recipe again and realised that it was from the same author as the one on Food52. I have a habit of simply looking through a blog’s recipe index and I would have glossed over this one like I did at Food52, except that I explicitly told myself that I should learn to venture out of my comfort zone, culinary-wise, and open every link. Yes, I’m a little extreme like that.
After doing a little reading, I learnt that the way to make the bread so wonderfully fluffy is using the tangzhong method. Tangzhong, meaning “soup” in mandarin, is essentially an Asian roux to make breads lighter, fluffier and have a longer shelf life.
I used this recipe from Food52 that was slightly adapted from this recipe from Christine’s Recipes. I was intimidated by the version posted on Christine’s Recipes as she used a bread machine to make it and since I wasn’t experienced enough making bread and don’t know what I would need to do differently since I was doing it by hand, I decided to follow Food52’s more closely as Two Red Bowls did it by hand.
As suggested by the recipe, I made the tangzhong first and I suggest reading Christine’s Recipe’s for this. Essentially, you want to put in your 6 tbsp of water and 2 tbsp of bread flour into a relatively small pan before switching on the flame, use a whisk to whisk it all up, then switch on the flame. Also, it takes about one minute to come together so you got to watch it really closely! I was too impatient the first time and did it in too big a pan (first two pictures). It came together in seconds and was pretty sure it was overdone so I redid it.
(My camera ran out of battery during the kneading phase. Sorry about the lack of pictures!)
Fast forwarding to the kneading part. The dough was indeed pretty sticky as mentioned in the recipe but it wasn’t impossible to work with. I simply dusted my hands with flour, and not on the dough since there’s a special mention not to add more than 1 tbsp of flour. I dusted my hands with flour a couple of times and that was all it took for the dough to come together nicely. It was still slightly sticky but definitely workable.
Adding the first tablespoon of butter was still pretty easy, kneading-wise. The dough was more wet but it still came together quite well. The second tablespoon of butter made things pretty messy. The dough was really wet, sticky and quite hard to control but after about 3-5 minutes, the dough seemed to magically absorb the butter and the dough came together again. I kept sniggering to myself because the recipe mentioned that kneading the dough was “oddly satisfying” and I couldn’t help but agree! At the end of it, the dough was really smooth and pliable. It was already 11.30pm when I completed this step so I opted for the refrigeration method. In any case, I’ve seen on countless websites advocating for refrigeration proofing so I’m sure this would work!
I left the dough in the fridge for about 20 hours and I was really nervous on the way home from work because…what if the dough didn’t rise at all?! Thankfully, it did rise noticeably, about 1.75x. The dough felt a little dry at first but felt okay after kneading it a couple of times before dividing the dough.
I realized that the recipe didn’t say anything about flouring the work surface at this point. I tried doing it without flouring and the dough was sticking to the work surface too much. Similar to what I had done above, I simply floured the work surface sparingly and a little on my rolling pin, never putting any flour on the dough directly. The dough was pretty hard to roll out into an oval as it kept fighting back. The trick here is persistence and not too much flour so that dough would be able to grip onto your work surface. It will eventually work out.
If you want your “mountains” to look even, you might want to weigh your dough and divide it by four, before rolling it out. I didn’t and didn’t mind it looking uneven – they looked quite cute!
During the second proofing, the dough rose really well. I did the finger test, brushed the top with egg wash and a splash of milk and shoved it into the oven.
I set my camera timer to take a picture every twenty seconds and seeing the bread’s transformation made me feel so proud!
Although the recipe says to bake it for about 30 minutes, my bread turned brown pretty quickly, at about the 20 minute mark. I didn’t want it to be burnt on top so I decided to open the oven to check. Although the top already felt hollow at 10 minutes more to go, I was afraid to take it out and risk the middle not sufficiently cooked and decided to check it using the toothpick test. Good thing I checked because the toothpick came out a little gooey. I left it for another 5 minutes and took it out at the 25 minute mark.
I’m so so so so impressed with this recipe because the bread came out extremely fluffy and had the cotton floss texture I was looking for. The bread originally had an egg-y smell (which I don’t fancy), perhaps because I put too much egg wash, but this quickly went away as the bread cooled down. It was an absolute breeze removing the bread from the loaf pan and from the parchment. The bread tasted wonderfully soft, and I especially like the crust. I would imagine this would go so lovely with a good french butter. I brought the whole loaf to work the next day and my colleagues and I enjoyed the bread with soft boiled eggs. My workplace doesn’t have a front-door toaster and warmed it in the microwave instead and this worked great!