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.
Other than that, the ingredients are fairly standard: bread flour, whole-wheat flour, milk, sugar, instant yeast, melted butter and an egg.
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
Healthy Skillet Cornbread
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.
These rolls look sooo soft and delicious! Cannot wait to make!
We’ve been on a bread making kick over here and these have hands down, been our favorite recipe! Thank you!
I cannot even tell you how amazing these rolls are!!!!! They are perfectly soft and tender on the inside and golden on the outside. My family LOVED them. This is now my go-to roll recipe.
I can actually taste these through the picture! YUM!
What a wonderful recipe, my family loved these. Thank you so much for the recipe
I was totally drooling watching you make them on IG… they did not disappoint!
Yay!! These are a fav around here!
Hi! Wonderful recipe I want to try. However, I don’t have dry milk powder… is there anything I can substitute it with to minimise the effects on my end product? Thanks 🙂
Hi Dana! Do you by chance have dried buttermilk powder or powdered coffee creamer (unflavored)? If so, you can use those. Otherwise, you can leave it out altogether and the buns should come out beautifully. Dry milk powder adds conditioning to the dough and helps to create a really tender crumb. The end result shouldn’t be too different without it!
Hi. I would love to try this recipe but cannot get some of the ingredients because of the lockdown in our place. I have powdered milk but do not have dairy whole milk can i substitute it in this recipe? If so, how? Thanks and hope to hear from you.
Hi Lorna! Thanks for reaching out—such a great question! Do you have access to soy milk? If so, I would substitute the dairy milk with unsweetened soy milk. Any unsweetened nut milk will work, but soy is best as it’s the most similar to dairy milk.
If you ave access to other dairy products, you can make whole milk with these combinations:
2 tbsp. cream + 7/8 cup skim milk
6 Tbsp. half-and-half + 10 Tbsp. skim milk
1/3 cup half-and-half + 2/3 cup 1% milk
1/4 cup half-and-half + 3/4 cup 2% milk
Let me know if you have any other questions!
Can I make the dough overnight and leave in fridge chiller for baking the next day?
Hi Hazel! Great question, yes you can! I recommend going through that first 75-90 minutes proof, then forming the dough into balls and placing then in the pan according to the directions. Instead of proofing on the counter for another 45-50 minutes, cover the pan loosely with plastic and place it in the refrigerator. The next day, pull the pan out and let it rest at room temperature for 20–30 minutes prior to baking according to the directions. Let me know how it turns out!
Hi there, I don’t have bread flour, can I substitute regular all purpose flour for that? My kids are going to love these!
The rolls will have the best texture (and rise) if bread flour is used, but in a pinch you can use all-purpose flour. The rolls likely won’t rise quite as much, and you may need a bit additional flour if the dough is super sticky. Otherwise, swapping the flour should work fine!
My go to bread recipe! Delicious! Thanks for sharing.
Hi Lily! So happy to hear you enjoy this recipe, it’s one of my all-time favorites!
Thinking about making for Thanksgiving…is it possible to make ahead? Should I bake and freeze or put dough in freezer overnight?
Hi Devon, I would recommend baking the rolls then, once cooled, wrapping them tightly in plastic wrap and foil and freezing. Let the bread thaw on the counter for a few hours prior to serving. If you want to serve them warm, reheat them in a 350°F oven until warm.
I hope that helps!
Can i use ap flour instead of white whole wheat flour
Great question! I would recommend just using more bread flour!