Japanese Milk Bread Loaf

This Japanese Milk Bread Loaf is the softest and most delicious white bread you have ever tasted! Try this Milk Bread recipe with step-by-step photos.

Japanese milk bread loaf on wooden board

Japanese Milk Bread

While the rest of the world has been busy baking sourdough bread, I have been busy perfecting my milk bread recipes. Of course, there are days when a crusty loaf of sourdough is exactly what I want (especially for my toast with avocado!), but most days, it’s the soft and squishy milk bread that I crave the most.

Japanese Milk Bread is one of my favourite bread recipes, not least because there are so many different ways you can shape and use the dough. Japanese Milk Bread forms the basis of many Asian breads and buns, so once you have mastered the basic milk bread recipe, you can use the same recipe to make many different shapes.

japanese milk bread loaf on wooden board with brown cloth

Milk Bread Loaf

The classic way of baking Japanese Milk Bread is in a regular loaf pan to make Shokupan, which is essentially a loaf which you can pull apart in 2 or more segments.

Another popular method is to bake the Milk Bread as a sandwich bread, also called a Pullman’s loaf or pain de mie. This is the shape I make when I plan to make Japanese-style French Toast, although I generally have to make 2 loaves because there is never such a thing as leftover Milk Bread in my home!

What is Milk Bread?

  • Milk Bread is a Japanese-style bread which contains milk to add a bit of sweetness and richness to the dough.
  • The taste and texture is quite similar to a French brioche, but with less eggs and butter, and slightly more structure.
  • Making a Japanese Milk Bread is like making an enriched dough, but with the addition of a paste or starter called a Yudane or Tangzhong.

Yudane or Tangzhong

When making Milk Bread, you need to make a Yudane or Tangzhong. Both names refer to a paste or roux made from flour and a hot liquid (either water and/or milk).

The cooled paste is mixed into an otherwise common enriched bread dough, but because the paste has a high liquid content, it adds moisture to the dough, which creates more air pockets in the dough, which in turn results in a soft and fluffy bread.

Once you have tried making bread with a Tangzhong, you might possibly never try another bread recipe again!

japanese milk bread loaf with white knife

Milk Bread Recipe

This Milk Bread recipe is the same as that which I use for Japanese Milk Bread or Shokupan. In fact, it is a recipe I turn to very frequently whenever I want to make very moist, soft and fluffy bread, whatever the form.

There are various ways in which you can shape your Milk Bread, and one way is to make a classic sandwich bread. There is something strangely satisfying about making a homemade version of an industrially-produced loaf of bread 😉

Pullman Loaf

To make a classic sandwich bread, you can use a regular loaf pan (to make classic Shokupan), or a special Pullman loaf pan.

A Pullman loaf pan is shaped like most regular loaf pans, but it also comes with a lid to create a flat top surface. During baking, as the bread rises, the lid will prevent the bread from rising to form a domed surface; the bread will instead fill the enclosed loaf pan completely.

Pullman Loaf Pan Substitute

If you don’t own a Pullman loaf pan, you can still achieve the same end result with some creativity in the kitchen.

One tip I found in Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volume 2 by Julia Child and Simone Beck is that, as a substitute for a Pullman loaf pan or a pain de mie pan, you can use an ordinary loaf pan, cover the pan with a sheet of baking paper (Julia Child suggests foil) followed by a metal sheet pan, and top that with an oven-proof weight (such as a brick, cast-iron skillet or cast-iron lid) to hold the sheet pan down like the lid on a Pullman loaf pan.

open japanese milk bread loaf on bread board

How to Make Milk Bread

Making Milk Bread is very similar to making any other loaf of bread, except that you also add a floury paste to the dough. This paste, called a Yudane or Tangzhong, takes only a few minutes to make, but it makes all the difference to the finished loaf of bread.

Once you get started, you will quickly see that this milk bread recipe is quite similar to a brioche recipe, both in terms of ingredients, as well as texture of the dough.

Step 1

Make the Tangzhong by whisking together the ingredients in a small saucepan. Place the saucepan over low heat, and continue whisking until the mixture forms a thick paste. You want a thick enough consistency so that, as you whisk the mixture, the whisk leaves lines which do not move.

Scrape the Tangzhong into a small bowl and set it aside to cool. Once cooled, cover the bowl with clingfilm and place it in the fridge overnight.

If you are in a hurry, you can use the Tangzhong as soon as it has cooled to room temperature. But leaving the Tangzhong overnight allows it to develop more flavour.

making tangzhong in small saucepan

Step 2

Measure the flour, yeast, salt and sugar into the bowl of an electric stand mixer. Lightly mix the ingredients together.

dry ingredients for Japanese Milk Bread in white mixing bowl

Step 3

Add the egg and Tangzhong. Use the dough hook to start to incorporate everything together. Slowly add the milk until a sticky dough starts to form. Then add the butter, one tablespoon at a time.

Step 4

Knead the dough on medium speed for 10-15 minutes until you have a dough which passes the windowpane test.

To perform the “windowpane test”, pinch off a small piece of dough, roll it into a ball and use your hands to gently stretch the dough. If the dough can stretch to form a thin sheet and be almost translucent so that you can see the light through it, your dough has passed the “windowpane test”. This means that you have kneaded the dough sufficiently and that the dough is ready to be proofed.

windowpane test

At this stage, the dough will be somewhat sticky and tacky, mostly because of the butter and high liquid content. However, once the dough has had its first proofing, it will be less sticky to the touch and easier to handle.

dough for Japanese milk bread in white mixing bowl

Step 5

Lightly oil a large mixing bowl. Roll the dough into a smooth-ish ball and place it inside the bowl.

Cover with a clean tea towel or bowl cover, and set it aside somewhere warm for about 1.5 hours, or until it has doubled in size.

dough proving for Japanese milk bread in white mixing bowl

Step 6

Punch the dough back to release the air. Knead the dough gently a few times until it is soft and smooth again.

risen dough for Japanese milk bread in white mixing bowl

Step 7

Divide the dough into 3 equal portions. Use a digital scale for even-sized buns.

Lightly grease a Pullman loaf pan and its lid.

Roll each piece of dough into a ball, then roll it into an oval shape measuring approximately 20 x 13 cm/8 x 5 inches. Roll up the dough from the short end so that you have a log about 5 inches long. Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough.

Place the logs of dough into the prepared Pullman loaf pan.

portioned dough for japanese milk bread in loaf pan

Step 8

Place the pan somewhere warm, covered with plastic wrap, for about 30-60 minutes, or until the dough has risen to about 1 cm/0.5 inch below the rim of the loaf pan.

risen dough in loaf pan for japanese milk bread

Step 9

Slide the lid onto the loaf pan, and bake in a preheated oven for about 30 minutes, or until nicely golden. To check if the bread has coloured nicely, simply slide the lid off to have a peek.

baked japanese milk bread in pullman loaf pan

Tips for Making Milk Bread

  • When making bread, even Milk Bread, I prefer to use bread flour. Bread flour contains more protein than plain flour (all-purpose flour), which will help create more gluten, which will result in a chewier, nicer-tasting texture.
  • Although it is possible to make Milk Bread by hand and with an upper-body workout, an electric stand-mixer will be your best friend whenever making any enriched dough.
  • To make the Milk Bread ahead of time, make the dough as per the recipe and leave it to proof until it has doubled in size. Without touching or deflating the dough, cover the bowl with some plastic wrap, and place the bowl in the fridge overnight. The dough will continue to rise slightly overnight in the fridge. The next day, continue with the rest of the recipe. As the dough will be somewhat cold from the fridge, the second proof might take a little longer.
japanese milk bread loaf baked in pullman loaf pan on wooden board

More Bread Recipes

If you are looking for more bread recipes, you might also like:

Japanese Milk Bread (Shokupan)

Japanese Milk Buns

French Brioche Loaf

Print

Japanese Milk Bread Loaf

5 from 8 reviews

  • Resting Time: 2 hours
  • Author: Thanh | Eat, Little Bird
  • Prep Time: 30 mins
  • Cook Time: 30 mins
  • Total Time: 1 hour
  • Yield: Makes 1 loaf
  • Category: Bread
  • Method: Oven
  • Cuisine: Japanese

This Japanese Milk Bread Loaf is the softest and most delicious white bread you have ever tasted! Try this Milk Bread recipe with step-by-step photos.

Ingredients

For the Tangzhong

  • 2 tablespoons strong white bread flour
  • 100 ml (1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon) milk

For the Japanese Milk Bread Dough

  • 350 g (2 1/3 cups) strong white bread flour
  • 3 g (1 teaspoon) instant dried yeast
  • 1 teaspoon fine salt
  • 55 g (1/4 cupcaster sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 125 ml (1/2 cup) milk, warmed to 37°C/98°F
  • 50 g (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened

Instructions

For the Tangzhong

  1. Whisk the ingredients together in a small saucepan.
  2. Place the saucepan over low heat.
  3. Keep whisking until the ingredients form a thick paste. The consistency should be thick enough so that as you whisk the mixture, the whisk leaves lines in the mixture which remains.
  4. Remove the paste to a small bowl, and set it aside to cool down completely.

To Make the Dough

  1. Measure the flour, yeast, salt and sugar into the bowl of an electric stand mixer.
  2. Mix the dry ingredients together using a dough hook.
  3. Add the egg and the cooled Tangzhong.
  4. Slowly add the milk until the mixture comes together into a sticky dough. 
  5. Add the butter, one tablespoon at a time. Wait for each tablespoon of butter to be fully incorporated into the dough before adding the next.
  6. Continue kneading the dough on medium speed for about 10-15 minutes, or until the dough passes the windowpane test. (See Kitchen Notes below). By this stage, the dough should also be coming away from the sides of the bowl.
  7. Lightly oil a large, clean mixing bowl.
  8. Roll the dough into a smooth ball and place it into the mixing bowl.
  9. Cover the dough with a clean tea towel or bowl cover, and place it somewhere warm for about 1.5 hours, or until it has doubled in size.

Portion the Dough

  1. Punch back the dough to release the air.
  2. Gently knead the dough a few times until it is smooth again.
  3. Divide the dough into 3 equal portions. Use a digital scale for even-sized buns.

Shaping the Dough

  1. Lightly grease a Pullman loaf pan and its lid with butter or non-stick baking spray. Even if your loaf pan is non-stick, I still recommend greasing it. For this recipe, I use a Pullman loaf pan which measures 23 x 13 cm/9 x 5 inches
  2. Roll a piece of dough into a smooth ball. 
  3. Then roll the dough into an oval shape, about 20 x 13 cm/8 x 5 inches.
  4. Roll up the piece of dough from the short end so that you have a log which is about 5 inches long.
  5. Repeat the above steps with the remaining pieces of dough.
  6. Place the shaped pieces of dough into the loaf pan with the seam facing down.

Proving the Shaped Dough

  1. Place the pan somewhere warm, covered with some plastic wrap, for about 30 – 60 minutes, or until the dough has risen until about 1 cm/0.5 inch below the rim of the loaf pan.
  2. If you are using a Pullman loaf pan with a lid, be careful that the dough does not rise too high, otherwise you will not be able to slide the lid on.

Baking the Milk Bread

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/356°F.
  2. Place a metal baking tray on the middle shelf.
  3. Bake the loaf for about 30 minutes, or until the bread is nicely golden all over. You can check the colour of the bread by sliding the lid off the pan. 
  4. The bread is cooked if an internal thermometer reads 85°C/185°F.
  5. Leave the bread in the pan for about 5 minutes, before carefully inverting the bread onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Kitchen Notes

WINDOWPANE TEST
Pinch off a small piece of dough, roll it into a ball and use your hands to gently stretch the dough. If the dough can stretch to form a thin sheet and be almost translucent so that you can see the light through it, your dough has passed the “windowpane test”. This means that you have kneaded the dough sufficiently and that the dough is ready to be proofed.

PULLMAN LOAF PAN DIMENSIONS
The Pullman loaf pan I have used for this recipe measures 23 x 13 cm/9 x 5 inches.

PULLMAN LOAF PAN SUBSTITUTE
If you don’t own a Pullman loaf pan, simply use an ordinary loaf pan, cover it with a sheet of baking paper, followed by a metal sheet pan, and top with an oven-proof weight such as a brick, cast-iron skillet or cast-iron lid.

MAKE AHEAD TIPS
To start the Milk Bread the night before, make the dough as per the recipe, until the dough has finished the first proofing period. Without touching or deflating the dough, cover the bowl with a tea towel, plastic wrap or reusable bowl cover. Place the bowl in the fridge to continue proofing overnight. The dough will rise slightly more overnight in the fridge. The next day, proceed with the rest of the recipe. As the dough will be cold, it may require a bit more time for the second proofing period. 

DIFFERENT TYPES OF FLOUR
For Swiss readers: I use Zopfmehl (or farine pour tresse) when making bread and enriched dough.

DIFFERENT TYPES OF YEAST
* Please note that there is a difference between instant yeast (also called instant dried yeast or fast-action dried yeast) and dried yeast (also called active dry yeast). If you are not sure what type of yeast you have, please check the packaging for instructions on how to use the yeast.
* With instant yeast, you can add it directly to the flour mixture without having to activate it first.
* With dried yeast, you will need to activate it first (usually in some warm liquid).

PROOFING THE DOUGH
Dough needs a warm environment for the yeast to activate and cause the dough to rise. If you don’t have a warm place in your home, try one of the following ideas:
* In the oven with the oven light switched on (works only for some ovens).
* In the oven with a tray of boiling water on the bottom shelf.
* In the oven at a low temperature of about 25-30°C (77-86°F).

OVEN TEMPERATURES
All recipes on this website state temperatures for a regular oven (i.e. a conventional oven without fan). If you have a convection oven with a fan, please consult the manufacturer’s handbook on how to adjust the temperature and baking time accordingly.

CONVERSIONS
To convert from cups to grams, and vice-versa, please see this handy Conversion Chart for Basic Ingredients.

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8 comments

  1. Jenny 18 May 2022

    This milk bread is amazing! Wow the texture is just so soft and fluffy, and it tastes so delicious too. Thank you so much!

    Reply
  2. Adam 21 May 2022

    I tried this milk bread recipe today and it was absolutely fantastic. I’ve tried some other recipes before which also produced a fairly soft loaf, but this one was both extremely soft AND it tasted amazing. In fact, it tasted even better than the ones I sometimes buy from the Japanese bakery. Winning recipe!!!

    Reply
  3. Betty 30 May 2022

    Absolutely delicious recipe. The texture of the milk bread was amazingly soft and the taste was just beautiful. I’ve made milk bread before but I appreciated the careful instructions in your recipe. Thank you!

    Reply
  4. Pete 3 August 2022

    Brilliant recipe with easy to follow instructions and photos. I need to make two loaves next time as my family only left me one skinny slice!

    Reply
  5. Angela Chen 10 August 2022

    Thanks for the tip on using a weighted sheet pan over a normal loaf pan. This worked perfectly! My loaf also turned out perfectly! Really great recipe, thank you.

    Reply
  6. Sue 24 August 2022

    Brilliant taste and texture. I’ve never made such a good looking loaf of bread. Thanks!

    Reply
  7. Charlotte 25 August 2022

    I made this loaf as soon as I saw you post it on Instagram. I am also obsessed with milk bread!! Your recipe is just perfect. The texture of this milk bread is just amazing.

    Reply
  8. Jinny 25 August 2022

    I made this milk bread loaf today and it turned out amazing! We didn’t even have any leftover to make french toast, ha ha! I’m gonna make it again soon.

    Reply