Amazingly soft with a delicious chew, Asian milk bread is wonderful to eat all by itself or as part of a very tasty sandwich. It's better than regular plain breads, and if you've never tried it, you don't know what you're missing!
If you've never heard of milk bread, you could very well be asking "What IS milk bread?"
If you already know what it is, you're probably thinking, "Oh my gosh, YES!"
Asian milk bread is actually that good that it can illicit that sort of response!
Reactions in my house to me making milk bread have been, "Yay! THANK YOU!" and "This is INSANELY good!"
Have you ever heard of such enthusiasm for ANY kind of bread??
So What Is Milk Bread?
Asian milk bread can also be known as Hokkaido milk bread, with Hokkaido referring to a region in Japan where their claim to fame is their milk! Asian milk bread may not necessarily use Hokkaido milk but the basis of the recipes are the same, yielding the same delicious bread. This recipe is based on Hokkaido Milk Toast from Christine's Recipes.
Milk bread has more flavor than regular bread. It is soft, but not dry. It is tender and "chewy" at the same time, and can almost melt in your mouth. It really is good enough to eat all by itself, requiring no butter or jams as they would simply interfere with the flavor.
Chinese bakeries are stocked full of wonderful baked treats where milk bread is used as the basic bread for many of their pastries. There is nothing like the smell of a Chinese bakery to put you in a trance-like state and pull you right inside to see what baked treasures they've got.
Just To Be Clear...
...this is NOT a gluten-free recipe. Unfortunately, there is no way I have found (at the moment) to make a gluten-free version that reproduces all the qualities that makes Asian milk bread so amazing. It doesn't mean it's not possible and that there isn't a solution...I just haven't found it yet! This just happens to be a recipe for a bread that is one of hundreds of food memories that relates to my childhood and my Chinese culture that I really wanted to be able to share.
Another point to make is that this recipe requires time and work. If you have a stand mixer with a kneading attachment, your work will be simplified dramatically. I, unfortunately, do not have a stand mixer. So I did all the working of the dough by hand, which just goes to show that making this bread IS possible without the appliance and you can still get amazing results!
With all that being said, let's get on with it!
Making the Dough
An important part of milk bread is the tangzhong roux, which is basically flour and milk that have been heated together and made into a sticky paste. This sticky mixture ends up making the dough sticky as well, but it's also the magic that contributes to the chew and softness that makes milk bread so amazing.
Besides the tangzhong roux, the ingredients for this bread are straightforward. A mixture of all-purpose flour, caster (or very fine) sugar, milk powder, yeast and salt gets combined with warm milk and eggs. Once you've got the basic dough put together, then you add in the softened butter and get to work kneading the dough.
If you've got a stand mixer with dough attachment, this will be a breeze. You just let the mixer have at it for 15-20 minutes. You can even let it go longer, it won't hurt it.
If you're mixing by hand, it's going to start to get a little messy! But never fear! Just dive into and start working the dough and butter. The longer you work it, the less sticky and slimy it will get, believe it or not, and the dough will actually start pulling away from your hands. Keep kneading/working the dough for 15-20 minutes (you'll get the best workout!) and don't skimp on that time. Go longer if you can!
When you start kneading the dough, if you were to pull the dough, it would break easily. After kneading the dough for 15-20 minutes, if you pull the dough, it will stretch and pull and not break off that easily. THAT is what you're looking for! All that kneading of the dough is what builds the gluten and the stretchiness and chewiness of the bread that you want.
Once you're done working the dough, now it's time to let it rest. Shape it into a ball and placed in a lightly greased/buttered bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a towel. Let it hang out for about an hour, until it has doubled in size.
For this recipe, I cut the dough in half and use one portion to make a loaf of bread, and the other half to make rolls. You can use both portions to make two loaves of bread or a whole pan of rolls if you want. You can also easily halve this recipe to make one loaf of bread or one batch of rolls.
To Make A Loaf of Bread
A loaf of milk bread is really three small loaves put together, which is kind of cool in itself. And each small loaf is basically a section of dough that has been rolled out, folded over a couple times, and then, literally, rolled up like a jelly roll!
Repeat this with each piece of dough, place them in a baking pan and let them rise. Brush with egg wash and bake and you've got bread!
This recipe makes two full loaves of bread, or you can do like I do and make one loaf of bread and also make rolls!
To Make Rolls
For the rolls, if using a half portion of this recipe, I cut the rolls into 8 equal pieces. You can simply shape them into balls and placed them in a greased dish, or if you want to make them look a little fancier, you can roll each piece out, twist them, tuck the "tails" underneath, and place it in the dish.
I place the rolls in a round Pyrex dish, and just like the loaf of bread, put aside the rolls to let them rise before baking. If you use this entire recipe for rolls, you can fill a rectangular baking pan with them so you have a pan-full to feed a crowd.
And that's it! As I mentioned above and as you can see from all the instructions, this recipe entails some time and work. However, your efforts will be rewarded ten-fold when you finally get to bite into this bread!
Whether you bake loaves or rolls, you will love how they bake up.
And the smell! The delicious smell as they bake will blow your mind...it will be difficult to wait for it to cool down to eat it!
This smell and taste of this bread brings me back to my childhood, and oddly enough, it is something that makes me happy to be Chinese. It's like a treasure that you don't really know about unless you're Asian or have immersed yourself in Asian food culture. And while living in Hong Kong means I can find milk bread in just about every bakery here (and there are A LOT of them!), being able to make my own means I can have this bread no matter where we live.
When you finally do rip off a chunk of bread and take a bite (and I highly recommend this as the way to enjoy it....forget the knife!), you will discover what the hype is around milk bread and agree that it was worth the effort. And hopefully, you'll want to make it again!
Deliciously Soft Asian Milk Bread
- 40 g all-purpose flour
- 1 cup whole milk
- 540 g all-purpose flour
- ½ cup caster sugar
- 6 tbs milk powder
- 4 teaspoon instant or active yeast
- 2 teaspoon salt
- 2 eggs room temperature
- ½ cup warm whole milk about 100 deg F (38 C)
- 6 tbs butter room temperature
- Egg whites separated from 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon water
- Combine milk and flour in a small pot over low heat.
- Stirring frequently, heat the mixture until the texture becomes like a thick pudding.
- Remove the roux from heat and transfer to a bowl. Cover and allow to cool to room temperature.
Stand Mixer Method:
- Add all the dry ingredients to the mixing bowl, sifting through a metal sieve to work out any large lumps.
- Combine the room temperature roux, eggs, and warm milk and mix together. Add to the dry ingredients in the mixing bowl.
- Using the dough hook attachment for your mixer, mix the ingredients for about a minute.
- Add the softened butter to the bowl and scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula.
- Turn the machine back on and let it mix on low speed for about 15-20 minutes until bread becomes smoother, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.
Hand Kneading Method:
- In a large mixing bowl, sift together all the dry ingredients.
- Combine the room temperature roux, eggs, and warm milk and add to the dry ingredients.
- Mix the wet into the dry using a spoon until mostly combined.
- Add softened butter and start kneading it in with your hands. Dough will be very sticky.
- Continue to work and knead the bread for 15 minutes at least until dough becomes smoother and more cohesive.
Shaping the dough for a loaf:
- Shape dough into a ball and cover with a cloth or plastic wrap. Allow to rise for about 1 hour until it has doubled in size.
- Transfer the dough to a floured work surface. Cut into 2 equal portions and work with only one portion at a time. Place the other dough section aside.
- Cut dough into 3 chunks.
- Using a rolling pin dusted with flour, roll one dough portion into a rectangle on a floured work surface.
- Fold the rectangle into 3rds lengthwise. Flip it over so the seam side is down.
- Flatten with rolling pin again. Flip the dough over so the seam side is now up.
- Starting from a short end, snugly roll the dough until you end up with a roll.
- Place the roll into a parchment lined loaf pan, seam side down. Repeat with the remaining two dough chunks.
- Cover loaf pan with a towel or plastic wrap and let rise about an hour, until dough has expanded to fill the pan.
Shaping the dough for rolls:
- Cut dough into 8 equal portions.
- Roll into a log about 10-inches (25 cm) long. Fold it in half.
- Starting from the folded end, twist the dough.
- Tucking the tails in, roll snuggly into a round shape. Place on a greased baking dish. Repeat with remaining dough.
- Cover rolls with a towel or plastic wrap and let rise about an hour.
- Preheat oven 350 deg F (180C).
- Brush bread dough with egg wash.
- Bake for 25 minutes.
- Let cool 15 minutes before serving.
- You can use bread flour instead of all-purpose flour for this recipe. Bread flour has slightly higher protein and will give the bread slightly more chew than all-purpose. Both flours work.
- If you do not have caster sugar, you can process regular sugar in the food processor for about a minute to make it fine like caster sugar. Alternatively, regular sugar will also work in a pinch if you don't have any other options.
- Do not use icing sugar. It is too fine and will not give the bread the right texture. It is also often mixed with cornstarch to prevent clumping.
- I have not tried it, but if you choose to use a non-dairy milk, choose one that contains more fat like a nut milk or coconut milk. Note that it may affect the flavor of the bread.
- If you do not want to fuss with making 3 separate mini rolls for the loaf of bread, simply shape the dough into a cohesive ball, or roll it into one big roll and set it right in the loaf pan. Keep in mind that rolling or braiding the dough is what gives it that "stretching" quality when you pull it apart, however the bread will still be delicious just the same!
- If you are using a stand mixer to work the dough, you will have a much softer, finer texture than if you work it by hand. However, from my own experience, working the dough by hand still yields delicious results.
- The dough will be very sticky when you first start working in the butter. Then it will become more tacky as it is worked longer, but not so sticky that you cannot get it off your hands or the dough hook. You can always sprinkle a bit of extra flour on the dough to help with working it.
- For a shiny glistening bun, brush the buns after they come out of the oven with either melted butter or a simple syrup, if desired.
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So glad you liked it, Richelle!
My bread didn't rise at all and I know my yeast is good, it's on a second rise now but not doing anything I'm def new at bread making and followed the recipe exactly
Hi Tina. Thank you for the comment and for trying the recipe. How long did you let the bread proof for the first rise? Sometimes it may take longer than an hour...it depends on how warm the conditions are. Of the times I have made the bread, the dough will usually rise in an hour, but sometimes it has taken two hours. You mentioned that you know your yeast is good...have you used the yeast recently to bake other bread successfully or done a test proof of it? I'm just trying to think of possibilities of what might have happened without actually having been there.
Great turnout, I will make it again regularly and it taste good👍☺️
Question: what happened to the bread if not adding dry milk powder?
Hi Phil! Thank you for making my recipe! The milk powder adds more protein to the bread which contributes to structure, nicer texture, and make it more tender. It also adds flavor, and also helps with nice browning. I hope that helps!
This bread was AH-mazing!! Thanks for sharing. It lasted maybe 30 mins. So perfect when it's warm! The house smelt like a bakery!
Hi, Jeanette! Wow -- 30 minutes to eat all that bread is fast! Thanks so much for making the recipe...I'm so glad you liked it!
Thank you so much for sharing this recipe! Seriously the best bread I have ever had.
Hi Kristen! Thank you for giving the recipe a try! I'm so glad you enjoyed the bread!
Never mind my last question, I understand now. Because you say three of the rolled up loaves together make one loaf. Got it! Can’t wait to try this bread!!
Hi Ann! No worries! I understand how it might seem confusing at first. I hope you like the bread!
CAN I make this bread as 2 long ones instead of separating them, and also i saw the question before butt what can I use instead of milk powder. I assume this is instant milk?
I made this bread like 10 times already from different recipes and I want a go too, going to see if this is it, sounds like it may be thanks much,
Hi Ileen! Yes, milk powder is instant milk and it adds tenderness and flavor to the bread. You can try omitting the milk powder and see how the bread turns out. I would not hesitate to do that myself if I didn't have milk powder handy. If you are making the full recipe, you can certainly just have two regular loaves of bread. I would do the same folding and rolling steps for each loaf and make sure that you use loaf pans for support and structure when baking. I hope that helps!
Thank you for an exceptionally fantastic recipe. I always make reservations when it comes to Tangzoung Roux. No specific reason. But the way you describe the process made me want to try it.
Like Foon Lam I also accidentally added the butter together with the wet ingredients but that worked out fine. I shall follow the recipe to the T in my next try.
The bread turned out soft and fluffy. Outstandingly brilliant. Follow the recipe and I can almost guarantee the bread would seem like it came from the bakery. I didn’t manage take any photos. Will do so in my next try.
Thank you once again.
Thanks so much for your comments, Mala, and for trying the recipe! I'm very happy that you liked the bread so much, and I would love to see photos from the next time you make them! Feel free to share them on Instagram and just be sure to tag me @dayinthekitchen!
We have a roll recipe we have made for decades. The flavor is outstanding and sweet. But they are rather hard by the next day. So I made a recipe virtually the same as yours. The texture was amazing but, even with the addition of vanilla extract, there was simply no real flavor and I believe it was because of the scanty amount of sugar. Have you ever attempted this recipe with an increased amount of sugar? Thank you for any ideas!
Hi Harriett! I have not tried adding more sugar to this recipe as I already find this bread quite sweet! A large part of the flavor also comes from the milk powder, not just the sugar. I'm not sure how it would work if you add more sugar as it may also affect the bread itself. If you try it, please report back with how it turned out! Thanks for the question!
I so loved reading about your creation of this recipe! I tried it for the first time during COVID lockdown and it immediately became a HUGE hit!! I’ve now made it many times for family, friends and neighbors. When my daughters smell it cooking, (yes, they know the smell) they wait by the oven to for it to be done!! It’s so soft, chewy and delicious. Thank you for the care and detail you put into this recipe! I have some in the oven as I type!!!
Hey Lisa! I love that you have made it multiple times and that you and your family love the bread. Thanks so much for giving my recipe a try and for your kind words!
Lisa, have you ever made cinnamon rolls with this bread recipe?
Thanks - Pam
Hi Pam! I have not, but I know other readers who have with success. This bread would definitely make a delicious cinnamon roll!
I am trying to turn this one into burger buns and store on the fridge overnight because of time as i want to serve at lunch but won’t have time in the morning. Should i double proof after bringing the buns to room temperature?
Hi Camila! Yes, you can shape the buns and store them in the fridge overnight, then do the second proof the next morning. Instead of proofing for a certain amount of time, though, like you would if you made the buns in the same day, I would simply check to see when the buns have approximately doubled in size and then bake them. Thanks for the question!
I've accidentally put the whole amount of dough in one tin.. it looks amazing on top but it's definitely not baked all the way through
Hi Kaitlyn! It can happen to anyone! Were you able to eat any of the fully baked parts?
I know exactly what you mean about the nostalgia factor of walking into a Chinese bakery and smelling all of the bread...Is there a way to modify the recipe if I don't have milk powder?
Considering milk is already used in the recipe, I would try omitting the milk powder as see how the bread turns out. Let me know if you try it and thanks for the question, Dani.
Good clear instructions but still managed to get it wrong. I added the butter together with the wet ingredients instead of after 10 mins of kneading. And i also forgot to add the eggs. No wonder it seemed to be a bit dry the after trying to let to proof for half an hour i discovered that i forgot the eggs. So i put it back in the mixer and slowly added the eggs. Thank goodness it was quite forgiving and the result seemed to turn out ok. Having it for dinner with soup tonight.
I'm glad to hear that the bread seemed to be okay after adding the eggs, Foon. I hope you'll give the recipe another try, now that you know you have to add the eggs earlier and the butter later. Hope you enjoyed your dinner!
do i need to oil or butter the pan before baking? or should i use parchment paper? or is that even necessary?
I use parchment to help lift the bread out of the pan, but greasing the pan with butter will work. Thanks for asking, Jessie!
If I want to make only bread, does this recipe make 6 loaves. I ask because you say to cut the dough in half & then thirds. So then I would cut both halves in thirds?