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Weekend Recipe: Japanese Milk Bread

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Japanese Milk Bread
Photo courtesy of America's Test Kitchen

This recipe for Japanese milk bread, or Hokkaido milk bread, from America's Test Kitchen may yield bread that looks like any white loaf. But this plush bread is distinctly different from American sandwich bread; it boasts a superlatively fluffy texture and a unique shaping method. A staple in Asian bakeries, the loaf is composed of portions of dough rolled thin and formed into tight spirals. This shaping organizes the gluten strands into coils, which bake into feathery sheets. Here’s why: When dough is kneaded, the proteins link up in a random way. Standard shaping organizes the proteins into a matrix on the exterior of the dough, but they remain random in the interior. Shaping the dough instead into two spirals before placing in the pan builds an orderly structure throughout, creating this bread’s gossamer-thin layers. The bread also employs a special technique called tangzhong to yield its delicate crumb. This method incorporates extra moisture into the dough in the form of a flour-and-water paste. Typically, a well-hydrated dough like this one is hard to shape. The paste avoids this. We microwaved a portion of the flour with the water and then mixed the paste into the dough; flour can absorb twice as much hot water as cold, so heating the two together allowed us to pack in moisture for a pillowy crumb without making the dough too slack to work with.

Japanese Milk Bread
Makes 1 loaf

INGREDIENTS

2 cups (11 ounces) plus 3 tablespoons bread flour
½ cup (4 ounces) water
½ cup (4 ounces) cold whole milk
1 large egg
1½ teaspoons instant or rapid-rise yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
1½ teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, plus 1 tablespoon melted

INSTRUCTIONS

The test kitchen’s preferred loaf pan measures 8½ by 4½ inches; if you use a 9 by 5-inch loaf pan, increase the shaped rising time by 20 to 30 minutes and start checking for doneness 10 minutes earlier than advised in the recipe. We do not recommend mixing this dough by hand.

1. Whisk 3 tablespoons flour and water in small bowl until no lumps remain. Microwave, whisking every 20 seconds, until mixture thickens to stiff, smooth, pudding-like consistency that forms mound when dropped from end of whisk into bowl, 40 to 80 seconds.

Japanese Milk Bread: Step 1
Photo courtesy of America's Test Kitchen

2. Whisk milk, egg, and flour paste in bowl of stand mixer until smooth. Add yeast and remaining 2 cups flour. Using dough hook on low speed, mix until cohesive dough starts to form and no dry flour remains, about 2 minutes, scraping down bowl as needed. Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let dough rest for 15 minutes.

Japanese Milk Bread: Step 2
Photo courtesy of America's Test Kitchen

3. Add sugar and salt to dough and mix on low speed, about 5 minutes. With mixer running, add softened butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, and mix until butter is fully incorporated, about 2 minutes. Increase speed to medium-low and knead until dough is smooth and elastic and clears sides of bowl but sticks to bottom, about 5 minutes.

Japanese Milk Bread: Step 3
Photo courtesy of America's Test Kitchen

4. Transfer dough to lightly floured counter and knead by hand to form smooth, round ball, about 30 seconds. Place dough seam side down in lightly greased large bowl or container, cover tightly with plastic, and let rise until doubled in size, 1 to 1½ hours.

Japanese Milk Bread: Step 4
Photo courtesy of America's Test Kitchen

5. Grease 8½ by 4½-inch loaf pan. Press down on dough to deflate. Turn dough out onto lightly floured counter (side of dough that was against bowl should now be facing up). Gently press and roll into 24 by 4-inch rectangle, with short side parallel to counter edge. Using pizza cutter or chef’s knife, cut rectangle lengthwise into 2 equal strips.

Japanese Milk Bread: Step 5
Photo courtesy of America's Test Kitchen

6. Roll 1 strip of dough into snug cylinder, pinch seam closed, and place seam side down in prepared pan, with spiral against long side of pan. Repeat with remaining strip of dough, placing it adjacent to other in pan.

Japanese Milk Bread: Step 6
Photo courtesy of America's Test Kitchen

7. Cover loosely with greased plastic and let rise until loaf is level with lip of pan and dough springs back minimally when poked gently with your knuckle, 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Japanese Milk Bread: Step 7
Photo courtesy of America's Test Kitchen

8. Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Bake until deep golden brown and loaf registers 205 to 210 degrees, 30 to 35 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking. Let loaf cool in pan for 15 minutes. Remove loaf from pan and transfer to wire rack. Brush top and sides with melted butter. Let cool completely, about 3 hours, before serving.

Japanese Milk Bread: Step 8
Photo courtesy of America's Test Kitchen

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