If I could only eat one food for the rest of my life, there is no doubt that bread would be high on my list. My favourite types of bread have always been the heavier loaves such as pumpernickel, multigrain and soda bread. So, in complete contract, when I recently discovered Japanese milk bread with its soft, springy texture, it was a surprise to find it so appealing.
What is Japanese Milk Bread
Japanese milk bread is known by a number of names including “shokupan” which is a general term for a loaf you slice and toast into sandwiches. This bread is made using tangzhong which is a combination of starch and water. Although there is variability among recipes and tangzhong can be a mix of flour, milk or water, sugar, salt, active dry yeast, and on occasion butter, this recipe uses just water and flour.
The tangzhong is made by cooking a portion of the flour and liquid in the recipe into a thick roux prior to adding it to the remaining ingredients and this contributes to the bread’s texture and helps to keep it fresh longer without the use of artificial preservatives..
Origin of Japanese Milk Bread
Although there are many unique and tasty breads in Japan today, there was a time when bread wasn’t a big thing. In a brief history of Japanese bread there are theories about bread’s origins in Japan. It is believed that it was first introduced in 1543 by a Portuguese ship of Christian missionaries. Interest was revived during the Opium War in 1840 and, as bread was easy and cheap to make, it was mass-produced to sustain the soldiers. Then during the food shortages of World War 2, with large quantities of wheat being delivered to Japan, bread steadily became a staple.
Although milk bread is gaining popularity, Bon Appetit says it is challenging to pin down when milk bread officially came onto the scene. One legend is that a British baker by the name of Robert Clarke came to Japan in 1862 and started a bakery creating his own variation of milk bread using tangzhong.
This particular milk bread recipe is vegan and and I found it on one of my favourite recipe sites, Foodie Yuki.
- 45 grams bread flour
- 1 cup water
- 440 grams bread flour
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon (optional)
- 2 grams instant yeast
- 30 grams light brown sugar
- ½ tsp fine sea salt
- 45 millileters soy milk, room temperature
- 100 millileters water
- 2 TBSs cocoa or cacoa powder, mixed with 1 TBS water
- 30 grams vegan butter, room temperature
- vegan butter, melted, to brush
- Make the roux. In a small pan over medium heat, by whisking together the water and flour. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture starts to thicken. Let cool completely.
- Using a mixer fitted with the hook attachment, combine all dry ingredients, except the cocoa powder. Add water, milk and tangzhong and knead until just combined. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let rest for 5 minutes.
- Add butter and knead until smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes). Divide dough into thirds. Shape two of the pieces into a ball and place into a greased bowl. Cover and set aside.
- Add cocoa powder and water to the remaining 1/3 dough and knead to combine. Cover and let rest until doubled in size (1-1.5 hours).
- Roll out the plain 2/3 dough into a 20 x 30 centimeter rectangle. Roll out the chocolate dough into a 20 x15 centimeter rectangle. Place the chocolate dough over one half of plain dough and fold the remaining plain dough over. Roll out to into a 20 x 30 centimeter rectangle again. Cut dough cross wise and stack the two doughs. Roll out again. Repeat two more times.
- Cut dough into 3 equal stripes, lengthwise. Roll out each stripe into a rope and braid the 3 ropes together. Fold ends under so that the bread fits the pan. Let rise for 1.5-2 hours until nearly doubled in size.
- Preheat oven to 350ºF (175ºC) and bake for 25 minutes until top is browned slightly. Brush with melted butter. Let cool in the pan for 15 minutes then transfer to a rack to cool completely.
As described in Bon Appetite, milk bread is know for its “milky-sweet flavor and a feathery soft texture that tears into wispy strands and melts in your mouth”. One of its typical uses is as a sandwich bread because of it texture and ease to cut. With the right loaf pan, the typical style is a “perfectly rectangular loaf and a minimal crust which can be cut into thick, even squares.
However, one of the aspects of the bread that I find so appealing is its versatility and I have seen some amazing renditions with different colours and shapes. In fact, in some ways although it serves as a tasty and sustaining food, it also seems to be a bit of an art form and I am looking forward to experimenting with!