Japanese Milk Buns

Try these incredibly soft and fluffy bread rolls which are delicious served with a sweet or savoury filling. Recipe for Milk Buns with step-by-step photos.

japanese milk buns on metal baking tray

Japanese Milk Buns

If you are looking for the softest, fluffiest and tastiest bread rolls, look no further than these Japanese Milk Buns! These are the perfect buns for making sandwiches, hamburgers, or to just eat as they are.

Milk Bun Recipe

This Milk Bun recipe is the same as that which I use for Japanese Milk Bread Loaf 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.

To make Milk Buns, I divide the dough to make 9 buns which I bake in a square baking pan. Baking them in a high-sided baking pan helps to create tall buns, which means a more soft and fluffy interior.

What is Japanese Milk Bread?

  • Japanese Milk Bread 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 butter.
  • 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.
japanese milk buns on metal tray with pink cloth

Yudane or Tangzhong

When making milk buns, you either 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.

japanese milk buns pulled apart on tray

What to Eat with Milk Buns

Milk Buns are essentially very soft bread rolls. You can use Milk Buns wherever your would use ordinary white bread rolls, such as:

  • The best dinner rolls ever
  • Sandwiches
  • Hamburgers or Cheeseburgers
  • Served plain, or with butter and jam, such as at breakfast

I prefer Milk Buns to Brioche buns because they are less rich and buttery, which means they often work better with other accompaniments, whether sweet or savoury. Brioche, on the other hand, is something I prefer to eat as a sweet bread or a dessert.

japanese milk buns with butter on white plate

How to Make Milk Buns

Making a Japanese Milk Buns 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. But the dough should be coming away from the sides of the bowl during the mixing. 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, and set it aside somewhere warm for about 1 hour, 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 two even portions (I recommend using a digital kitchen scale). Roll each portion into a smooth ball.

dough shaped to form japanese milk buns in baking pan

Step 8

Cover the pan with plastic wrap and leave it somewhere warm for about 30 minutes, or until the buns have almost doubled in size and are just touching each other.

japanese milk buns before going into oven

Step 9

Gently brush the buns with some egg wash, and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the buns are lightly golden.

If the buns are browning too quickly, loosely cover them with a sheet of foil for the rest of the baking time.

baked japanese milk buns in square baking pan

Variations and Tips for Making Milk Buns

Depending on what you plan to serve with the Milk Buns, here are some ideas for making them extra special each time:

  • Before baking, sprinkle the buns with furikake, sea salt flakes, everything bagel seasoning, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, fennel seeds … the ideas are endless!
  • This recipe makes dinner roll-sized buns. For larger buns, divide the dough into 6 pieces and bake in a rectangular pan.
  • Any leftovers should be stored in a ziplock freezer bag and kept in a cool place away from sunlight. The buns should keep well for several days.
9 japanese milk buns on tray with pink cloth

More Bread Recipes

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

Chinese Coconut Buns

Hot Dog Flower Buns

Japanese Milk Bread Loaf

Japanese Milk Bread (Shokupan)

Print

Japanese Milk Buns

5 from 1 reviews

  • Resting Time: 2 hours
  • Author: Thanh | Eat, Little Bird
  • Prep Time: 30 mins
  • Cook Time: 25 mins
  • Total Time: 55 minutes
  • Yield: Makes 9 buns
  • Category: Bread
  • Method: Oven
  • Cuisine: Japanese

Try these incredibly soft and fluffy bread rolls which are delicious served with a sweet or savoury filling. Recipe for Milk Buns 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

For the Eggwash

  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon milk

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.

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 9 equal portions. Use a digital scale for even-sized buns.

Shaping the Dough

  1. Line a square baking pan with baking paper.
  2. Roll each piece of dough into a smooth ball. I do this by pulling the edges of the dough into the centre, and then pinching those edges together while shaping the dough into a smooth ball as you do so. The pinched edges form the bottom of the buns.
  3. Repeat the above steps with the remaining pieces of dough.
  4. Place the shaped buns into the lined baking pan.

Proving the Shaped Dough

  1. Place the pan somewhere warm, covered with a clean tea towel, for about 30 minutes, or until the buns have almost doubled in size and are touching each other in the pan.

Baking the Japanese Milk Buns

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/356°F.
  2. Place a metal baking tray on the middle shelf.
  3. Lightly brush the buns with some egg wash.
  4. Bake the buns for about 20-25 minutes, or until they are lightly golden. Check the buns at about 10-15 minutes and, if they are browning too quickly, cover the buns with a loose sheet of foil for the remaining baking time.
  5. The buns are cooked if an internal thermometer reads 85°C/185°F.
  6. Leave the buns in the pan for about 5 minutes, before carefully removing the buns to 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.

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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1 comment

  1. Aimee 27 June 2022

    Perfection! These are best bread rolls I have ever tasted! They are so soft and fluffy, just moreish.

    Reply