Japanese Milk Bread… using the tangzhong method.

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Japanese Milk Bread… using the tangzhong method.  Happy Easter! I haven’t baked bread in such a long time, and I’ve  been missing it a lot. For me, baking bread has got to be one of the most relaxing and enjoyable tasks in the kitchen. I just love baking bread. But for the past few months I’ve slowly moved away from using too much flour in my baking. Thankfully, I don’t have a gluten intolerance, so I can still use flour from time to time….
But recently my husband has been asking for pizza:)… and while I was making the pizza, I realized how much I enjoyed working with doughs. I had forgotten how good it felt to hold the soft dough in my hands, to stretch it, to see it rise and eventually taste the result. So I got in the bread making mood, and didn’t stop with the pizza. I ventured to try out a recipe I had been wanting to make for years. A super-fluffy and soft milk bread that uses a water roux called tangzhong. 
The Japanese have been using a water roux to make super-soft and fluffy bread for years.  But the Chinese and Taiwanese(and other Asian countries) have borrowed this method to make all sorts of soft breads and rolls. Bread that stay fresh for longer without the use of chemical preservatives….  found in many Asian bakeries. 
In the 1990’s, author Yvonne Chen popularized this water roux method in her book called 65 deg Bread Doctor . From there, many home cooks began using the formula to make all sorts of breads… be it sweet or savory, and in various shapes and sizes. The water roux method was truly a success… it gave breads an undeniably soft, fluffy and tender texture. 
I was really eager to try my hand at baking a Japanese milk bread. There are plenty of recipes online, but the one I adapted came from Christine’s site. She also has a few other recipes that use the tangzhong method. But the result gave me the softest and fluffiest bread I’ve ever made or eaten! Similar to the American version of Wonder Bread, but oh, so much better. Soft, velvety and so tender… I loved this bread. Simply amazing. Sometimes pictures don’t do justice. Hope you enjoy…   
Note: I ended up baking two loaves at one time… one I left unfilled, the other I filled with a sweet walnut and cocoa rum flavored paste. I’m wanting to implement this technique for making the Romanian cozonac. This was just a trial in that direction. But possibilities are endless…

Tip: Feel free to shape the dough in various ways…  
You will need a VERY sharp knife to cut slices without compacting the bread. Or freeze, cut  and defrost. You can also just pull the rolls apart.    
Extra Note: I made this recipe using two (2) methods…. using the stand mixer (kneaded for 15 minutes), and the food processor (dough processed for about 2 minutes). Both yielded the same result. The food processor was a bit trickier in that some of the dough(being quite sticky) has the tendency to get underneath the blade, making the processor struggle a bit. You’ll just have to stop and check on it… you’ll also need a powerful processor.

Tangzhong roux:    for two(2) loaves
1/3 cup bread flour
1 cup water (could be replaced by milk, or 50/50 water and milk)
Dough:   for one(1) loaf
2½ cups bread flour
4 TBS sugar  
1/2 tsp table salt (original uses 1 tsp)
1 egg, at room temp. 
1/2 cup milk, warm 
1/2(scant) cup tangzhong (use half of the tangzhong you make from above)
2 tsp instant yeast
4 TBS butter (cut into small pieces, softened at room temperature)
flavorings/ extracts of choice can be added(vanilla, lemon/orange peel, rum almond etc.)

Filling: of choice… can be sweet or savory… you might end up getting”tunnels” with some of these fillings, braiding the dough might be another option.  These are just some suggestions…
sugar/cinnamon…and ground nuts
sugar, ground nuts, cocoa
raisins, dried fruit
turkish lokum
maybe spreads: nut butter, nutella, biscoff, preserves?
cheese, ham, bacon
1 egg, beaten for brushing unbaked loaves
butter for brushing baked loaves, optional
Make Tangzhong:

1. Mix flour in water well so you don’t have any lumps. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring consistently with a wooden spoon, whisk or spatula to prevent burning and sticking while you cook it.
2. The mixture becomes thicker and thicker…. similar to a creme patisserie (thin pudding-like ). You will notice some “lines” appear in the mixture every time you stir and the roux should fall slowly off a whisk … the temperature should be at 150 deg F.   Remove from heat.
3. Transfer the tangzhong into a clean bowl. Cover with a cling wrap. Let cool. The tangzhong can be used straight away once it cools down to room temperature.  If making only one loaf, the leftover tangzhong can be stored in fridge up to 3 days… as long as it doesn’t turn grey. If so, you need to discard and cook another batch. Bring the chilled tangzhong to room temperature before adding to other ingredients.
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Knead Bread Dough:

1. Combine all dry ingredients, flour, salt, sugar and instant yeast in a your mixer bowl. Mix to combine… a few seconds. 
2. Add all the wet ingredients, milk, egg and tangzhong (remember to use only 1/2 of the tangzhong if making only 1 loaf)… and any flavorings of choice, if you desire. 
3. Knead until you get a dough shape and gluten has developed(about 5 minutes), then add in the butter while mixer is still kneading…. continue kneading for an additional 10-12 minutes. 
4. Remove dough from bowl, and form the dough into a ball shape. Place in a greased bowl and cover.
5. Let proof till doubled in size, about 40 minutes… though the time will vary depending on the weather and warmth in the house. I like to place mine in a cozy oven.
6. Deflate dough and divide into four equal portions. Form into ball shapes. Cover with plastic wrap, let rest for 15 minutes.
7. Form rolls….

For non-filled: Roll out each portion of the dough with a rolling pin into an oval shape. Fold 1/3 from top edge to the middle and press. Then fold 1/3 from bottom to the middle and press. Roll flat and with seal upward, roll into a cylinder. Place the roll with seal facing down in greased and parchment lined loaf pan… Repeat with rest of the dough. 
For filled: Roll out each portion of the dough with a rolling pin into an oval shape. Spread/sprinkle filling of choice evenly over the rolled out dough and fold jelly-style, pinching  the seam to seal. Place the roll with seal facing down in greased and parchment lined loaf pan… Repeat with rest of the dough.
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8. Leave rolled dough to proof, about 30-40 minutes, or until the dough doubles in size. The filled dough tends to rise slower, about 40-50 minutes or so.
  • Preheat oven to 350 deg F

9. Brush  risen dough with whisked egg on surface. Bake in a pre-heated (350 deg F) oven for 35 to 40 minutes. … you may need to cover the bread lightly with foil, especially if bread is coloring too fast. I found myself covering it after 10 minutes… and then removing the foil later on to get the bread fully brown.
10. Remove from the oven. and remove bread from the pan. I like to brush the top of the loaves with some butter to soften the crust, but it is optional. Transfer onto a wire rack and let cool completely. Slice to serve or place in an airtight plastic bag or container once it’s thoroughly cooled…. you can freeze and reheat later to get it to be just as fluffy.

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