Let’s make Japanese Milk Buns! Also known as Japanese Milk Rolls or Hokkaido Milk Bread, these yeasted buns are as soft, tender and pillowy as they come. I can’t say enough about them. With a golden brown exterior and fluffy white interior, these buns are perfect for any family gathering or Sunday night dinner. Even better—they keep well and make a delicious breakfast topped with some butter and jam.
Table of Contents
What is Japanese Milk Bread
Japanese milk bread, also called tangzhong milk bread and hokkaido milk bread, is a light and tender yeasted bread made with bread flour, milk and dry milk powder. Japanese milk bread has a golden exterior with a creamy bright white interior. Fluffy and slightly sweet from the milk and sugar, milk bread can be used for sandwiches, toast, or made into milk buns like we did here.
About the Recipe
Milk buns don’t have too long of an ingredient list, and much of those ingredients are non-negotiables. But, around here we like to bake with whole-wheat flour. So we did our due diligence and created a partially whole-wheat version.
In addition to adding whole-wheat flour, we also decreased the amount of sugar traditionally used in these buns. If you want a Hawaiian-style buns, consider doubling the sugar.
Like we mentioned, the ingredient list for Milk Buns is pretty straight forward (aside from the salt and sugar, you need just 7 ingredients). The one thing that may throw you for a loop would be the dry milk powder. You can find dry milk powder in the baking aisle.
The Importance of Tangzhong
Baking with tangzhong is a Japanese baking technique used to create softer, fluffier yeast breads. Tangzhong is essentially a starter for yeast breads and consists of cooking a small portion of flour and liquid (most often water or milk) together to create a thick, gluey mixture that is then combined with the other ingredients.
And there’s good reason to use a tangzhong, or starter, in yeast breads. It pre-gelatinizes the starches in flour which allows them to absorb more water throughout the kneading and baking process.
Using a starter also helps the dough to create structure and hold on to liquid throughout the proofing and baking process. All of this helps to create a dough that’s less sticky (aka easier to knead), create more steam in the dough which means the buns get more lift during baking, and create buns that are more moist in general (they will last longer because of this).
- Make the tangzhong (starter) by cooking milk, water and flour together.
- Combine the tangzhong with the remaining ingredients in a stand mixer.
- Mix and knead the dough until a smooth, elastic dough forms.
- Let the dough proof for 1½ hours.
- Gently punch the dough down, divide into 8 equal pieces and form into smooth buns.
- Let the buns proof for 50 minutes.
- Brush buns with milk and bake.
- Let cool slightly, then brush with butter and sprinkle with sea salt.
What Kind of Milk to Use
For the best results, you’ll need two types of milk. The first, dry milk powder. The second, whole milk. We don’t recommend using low-fat milk or skim milks.
It’s important to use high-quality milk for these buns, which is why I’m using Anderson Erickson whole milk. AE Dairy, an Iowa-based dairy company, is known around Iowa for its dedication to creating high quality dairy products through innovation.
We recommend storing them wrapped in plastic wrap and foil at room temperature for up to 2 days. (We actually like to store them in the microwave.) You can refrigerate them for up to 4 days, but their texture will slightly dry out over that length of time.
We developed this recipe using dry milk powder and whole milk. Because of that, we do not recommend you use condensed milk.
You can, but you will need to dilute it a bit. Dilute half-and-half just slightly, like a couple tablespoons. If you’re using whole milk, dilute it with 1 tablespoon.
Absolutely! After the first rise, divide dough into four equal pieces. Flatten each piece into a rectangle, then fold the short ends in towards one another like a letter. Flatten the folded pieces into rectangles again and, starting with a short end, roll them each into a log. Place the logs, seams side down, in a row of four in a generously greased 9×5-inch loaf pan. Cover the pan with a kitchen towel or loosely with plastic and let it rest until puffy, 45–50 minutes. Brush the loaf with milk and bake at 350°F until golden brown on top and an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center registers 190°F, about 30 minutes. Transfer pan to a rack and let cool at least 30 minutes.
We recommend brushed the buns with milk. The proteins and sugars in milk will help the buns brown nicely while baking. We also find milk to be easier and more convenient. No need to waste an egg for an egg wash. However, if you want to use an egg wash you can—dilute it slightly with a splash of water.
Japanese Milk Buns (Hokkaido Milk Bread)
- 3 tablespoons (43g) water
- 3 tablespoons (43g) whole Milk, such as AE Dairy
- 2 tablespoons (14g) unbleached bread flour
- 2 cups (244g) unbleached bread flour
- ½ cup (61g) white whole-wheat flour, or additional bread flour
- 2 tablespoons (11g) nonfat dry milk powder
- 2 tablespoons (25g) sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon instant yeast
- ½ cup (113g) whole milk + more for brushing on buns
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 4 tablespoons (57g) unsalted butter, melted + more for brushing on buns
- Flaky sea salt
- Vigorously whisk together 3 tablespoons water, 3 tablespoons whole milk, and 2 tablespoons bread flour in a small saucepan until thoroughly combined and no lumps remain.
- Cook Tangzhong over low heat, whisking constantly, until thickened and whisk leaves a trail on bottom of pan, 3–5 minutes.
- Transfer Tangzhong to the bowl of a stand mixer (or large bowl is mixing by hand) and let cool to room temperature.
- Combine bread flour, whole-wheat flour, milk powder, sugar, salt and yeast in a medium bowl; set aside.
- Add ½ cup whole milk, egg and melted butter to stand mixer with Tangzhong; stir to combine.
- Add flour mixture to stand mixer, attach dough hook to mixer and turn mixer to low speed. Mix and knead until a smooth, elastic dough forms, 8–9 minutes.
- Remove dough from mixer, briefly knead a couple of times by hand then transfer to a large greased bowl.
- Cover bowl with a kitchen towel or loosely with plastic and let rest until puffy but not quite doubled in size, 75–90 minutes.
- Gently punch down dough.
- Divide it into 8 equal pieces.
- Form dough pieces into smooth, taut rounds (see recipe note below). Then place rounds in a generously greased 9-inch cake pan (round or square).
- Cover Pan with a kitchen towel or loosely with plastic and let rounds rest until puffy, 45–50 minutes.
- Meanwhile, heat the oven to 350°F (176ºC) with rack set in middle position.
- Using a pastry brush, lightly brush rounds with milk. Bake buns until tops are golden brown and an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center registers 190ºF (87ºC), 25–28 minutes.
- Transfer pan to a wire rack; let buns cool in pan for 10–25 minutes. Run a butter knife around edges of pan and gently lift buns out of pan; transfer to wire rack.
- Brush tops of buns with melted butter and sprinkle with sea salt.
Bread Recipes to Try
This post was sponsored by AE Dairy. As always all thoughts, opinions, and recipes are my own. Thanks for supporting all things ZK!
This recipe article was originally written on April 14, 2020.