You know how I said in my last bread post that I’d found a new favourite bread? I was wrong. Or at least, I’ve found a new new favourite bread. This, this is the bread to end all other breads, the kind of bread that dreams are made of…Hokkaido milk bread is quite simply the fluffiest, softest, lightest, most pillowy cloud of deliciousness I have ever eaten. It’s better than brioche…there, I said it. I’m not going to kid you, it’s not the easiest or the quickest bread to make (that’s not to say it’s difficult), but boy is it worth the effort; in fact, I thoroughly recommend that you double the recipe and make two loaves in one go, it’s not really that much extra work and you Will. Not. Regret. It.
The reason it is so soft is because it is made with tangzhong – a roux of flour and water which is added to the dough, this helps to keep the bread soft for days (I don’t exactly understand the science behind it, but it works!). The dough is also enriched with milk, egg, sugar and butter, which gives it a delicious, sweet, milky flavour, and also helps to keep it soft. Because the dough is quite soft and sticky it takes longer to knead than usual, and as it is sticky it is quite difficult to knead by hand, it took me probably about half an hour to knead it by hand until it passed the windowpane test; so if you have a stand mixer, use it! It is perfectly do-able without one though (I did), it will just take a while and you will get a bit messy – you’ll get a good arm workout though!
The bread stayed extremely soft for a good few days in an airtight container, though I would be surprised if it lasted long enough to go stale as it is so good. It makes great sandwiches, and is also fabulous toasted, and I suspect that it would be brilliant for bread and butter pudding (in the unlikely event that you have any leftover…)
Hokkaido Milk Bread
- 20 g (3/4 oz) strong white bread flour
- 100 ml (6 + 1/2 tbsp) water
- 350 g (scant 3 cups) strong white bread flour
- 7 g (2 tsp) fast action yeast
- 1 tsp salt
- 60 g (scant 1/3 cup) sugar
- 1 tbsp milk powder
- 1 egg
- 120 ml (1/2 cup) full fat milk
- 30 g (2 tbsp) softened butter
- 1 egg beaten with a splash of milk, to glaze
To make the tangzhong
Whisk together the flour and water in a small saucepan until smooth. Place over a medium/low heat and whisk constantly until the mixture has thickened to a paste/pudding-like consistency (think wallpaper paste...). Scrape it into a small bowl, cover with clingfilm directly on the surface to prevent a skin from forming and leave to cool to room temperature.
To make the dough
Place the flour in a large bowl (or the bowl of your stand mixer, fitted with a dough hook) and add the yeast to one side, the salt, sugar and milk powder to the other (if the salt is added on top of the yeast it can kill it), stir to combine.
Whisk together the cooled tangzhong, egg and milk and add it to the dry ingredients. Mix everything together until it forms a soft, shaggy dough. If you are kneading by hand, turn the dough out onto a worktop and knead for 5-10 minutes until it starts to feel smooth and a little less sticky (it will still be very sticky), add no more than a spoonful of flour while you are kneading, the dough is meant to be sticky! The best way to knead a wet dough by hand is to stretch it up away from the worktop (it will stick), then slap it back down, make sure that you pull from a different section each time and keep a dough scraper handy. If you are using a stand mixer, mix for 5 minutes or so until the dough is smooth.
Add the butter and mix until it is fully incorporated, continue to knead until the dough is very elastic and begins to come away from the worktop (or sides of the stand mixer bowl) cleanly. It should pass the windowpane test - stretch the dough with your hands, you should be able to stretch it to a very thin, almost transparent membrane without it tearing. This can take up to 20 minutes of kneading, especially by hand.
Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with clingfilm, leave to rise for 1-2 hours until well doubled in size. Alternatively, place it in the fridge to rise overnight. If you refrigerate it, the following day let it come up to room temperature for about half an hour before continuing.
Line an 8.5x4.5in (or thereabouts) loaf tin with greaseproof paper. Once the dough has risen, punch it down and fold it in on itself a couple of times. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface, divide it in to four equal pieces and roll each one into a ball.
Roll each ball out into a long oval, fold one third of the oval over the middle (from the side, not the top), then the other third over the top to form a long, narrow packet. Roll over the seam to flatten it, then roll it up from one end to make a fat sausage. Repeat with the other balls of dough then arrange them in the loaf tin, seam side down.
Loosely cover with oiled clingfilm and leave to rise until at least doubled in size, this can take 1-2 hours (mine took nearly 2). If you press the dough gently with a finger the indentation should spring back slowly but remain visible. If it springs back quickly it needs to prove for a little longer. Preheat the oven while the dough is rising to 180C/350F/gas mark 4.
Brush the top of the dough with some of the beaten egg then bake on the lower middle shelf of the oven for 30-40 minutes until well risen and the bread sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom, the internal temperature should reach 94C/200F on a probe thermometer. Cover the bread with foil partway through baking if it starts to get too dark.
Transfer to a wire rack and leave to cool completely before slicing.