Asian Milk Bread

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I played a game with my family once where we each had to choose which two foods we could live on for the rest of our lives. Now, let me make the premise clear. This is not a survivor-esque question asking which two foods will be the healthiest to live on for the rest of your life (as my lovely sister first misconstrued). There should be no strategy involved in your answer. The question is: if you could only eat two things for every meal for the rest of your life, what would they be? Or, put another way, what two foods do you love SO much that you would never get tired of eating them?

Pretty fun, hey?

No surprise, we all went for more or less staple foods. My mom went with eggs + rice. My dad: salted duck eggs + Chinese sausage. My sister was uninterested in the two-food limit and picked char kway teow like an asshole.

Me? Easy: Milk and bread. Done.

Not that I wouldn’t desperately miss eating almost every other kind of food, but when I think about a food combo I would never, ever, EVER get sick of eating, it is most definitely milk + bread. (bbq duck + rice I could do for maybe a month or two, tops.)

And the type of bread I mean to eat for the rest of my life is crucial too. I’m not talking no sad loaf of white Wonderbread. I’m not even talking no crusty French baguette (though I could totally go for one anytime, anywhere). I’m talking the kind of bread you get at Asian bakeries. You know the one. It’s often perfectly square shaped, super soft with a distinctly rich, slightly sweet milky flavour. Some people call it Hokkaido Milk Toast, or milk loaf, but in our house, it was just bread.

About a year ago, I finally learned the secret to making this – for lack of a better word – Asian milk bread and since tweaking it to perfection, I’ve made it as often as I can for as many people as I can. What can I say? It was truly a revelation.

The secret is to add a water roux (湯種 tang zhong) – basically just flour and water cooked together until thick – to the dough. Now, I don’t know the scientific details exactly (please let me know if you do), but something about the water roux keeps the bread beautifully soft for days after baking. Don’t believe me? Try it.

The one catch to this recipe is that you absolutely need some kind of machinery to make it. This is NOT a dough you want to be kneading by hand. I know, I know, you love kneading, I do too, but trust me on this one. The addition of the water roux makes the dough extremely wet and sticky and it needs to be kneaded for a good 15-20 minutes without the addition of much flour. I use my standmixer, but you could also knead it in a bread machine.

First, you make the water roux by cooking together some flour and water in a pot until it looks like this:

Water Roux

While that cools down a little, activate your yeast in some warm milk (heated to just above body temperature).

Measure all the dry ingredients into the bowl of a standmixer fitted with a dough hook. This recipe calls for bread flour (sometimes called high protein flour) but if you don’t have any on hand, you may also use all-purpose flour. The bread will be ever so slightly less chewy, due to the lower amount of protein (aka gluten strands) but still pretty delectable nonetheless.

Whisk the butter into the warm water roux until melted and combined. Then whisk in the yeast+milk mixture followed by the eggs. Pour this entire wet mixture into the dry ingredients.

Wet Ingred

Let this knead on medium low speed for a good 15-20 minutes. The dough will start out looking very sticky and you’ll begin to understand why you need a standmixer for this part.

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Once the dough has been kneaded into submission and you’ve left it to rise until doubled, there is a bit of a procedure to shaping it for its second rise. I have tried my best to iron out all the details – complete with pictures!

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Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, dust your hands with flour and punch it down. Basically what we are aiming to do here is to get rid of any large air bubbles from the first rise and challenge the yeast to do it all over again. Divide the dough into pieces and roll each piece of dough into a ball. Here’s how I do it:

How to Ball

Cover the balls of dough with a towel or saran wrap while you roll each of them out so that the ones you’re not working with don’t dry out while they sit.

One by one, roll each ball of dough into a circle(ish) – dusting with flour as needed to prevent sticking. Flip the circle over and fold the top and bottom of each dough circle inwards. Flip the dough over again and roll into a long rectangular shape, dusting with flour as needed. Since this step is about squeezing out the air bubbles in the dough, don’t be afraid to put some muscle into your rolling. Don’t worry, the yeast can take it. Flip the dough over once more and starting from the bottom, roll it up with your fingers into a cylinder shape, pinching at the seam.

How to Roll

Line the dough cylinders side by side into your prepared pans like so:

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We made this loaf in a large pullman pan, but the recipe given will make two standard sized loaves of bread.

Cover and let rise until doubled (about 1.5 hours)

Bake in a 350°F oven for 25-30 minutes until beautifully golden brown.

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Download and print the full recipe in PDF:

6 responses to “Asian Milk Bread

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