Milk Bread Rolls! Also known as Japanese Milk Rolls or Hokkaido Milk Bread, these yeasted rolls 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 rolls 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. 

These rolls are:

  • Soft and tender
  • Pillowy
  • Slightly sweet
  • Easy to make 
  • SO good with some melted butter and sea salt
Side angle image of a milk roll topped with butter set on a plate

Healthy-ish Milk Rolls

Milk rolls don’t have too long of an ingredient list, and much of those ingredients are non-negotiables. But, since this is ZK, I did want to up the nutritional value a bit. 

To do so, I added some white whole-wheat flour to mix and decreased the sugar from ¼ cup to 2 tablespoons.

If you want to use a natural sweetener instead of white sugar, add some honey to the wet ingredients and ditch the sugar. 

Overhead image of milk bread ingredients on a white table

How to make Japanese milk bread rolls

Step 1 & 2: make the tangzhong (starter) by cooking milk, water and flour together. 

Step 3 & 4: combine the tangzhong with the remaining ingredients in a stand mixer.

Step 5: mix and knead the dough until a smooth, elastic dough forms.

Step 6 & 7: let the dough proof for 1½ hours. 

Gallery of images showing the steps to making milk bread rolls

Step 8 & 9: gently punch the dough down, divide into 8 equal pieces and form into smooth rolls. 

Step 10: let the rolls proof for 50 minutes. 

Step 11: brush rolls with milk and bake. 

Step 12: let cool slightly, then brush with butter and sprinkle with sea salt. 

Gallery of images showing the steps to making milk bread rolls

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 rolls like I did here.

What is 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 rolls get more lift during baking, and create rolls that are more moist in general (they will last longer because of this). 

Overhead image of someone puling rolls apart over a cake pan

Quality ingredients matter

Quality of ingredients matter when it comes to cooking, but especially in bread baking. With such short ingredient lists, each ingredient matters and each ingredient is important for the success of the recipe. 

Aside from salt and sugar, this recipe calls for just seven ingredients. SEVEN. That is all. Plus, they are all pantry ingredients. 

Here’s what we’re working with:

  • Unbleached bread flour (unbleached. period.)
  • White whole-wheat flour (white works best here, but you can also use whole-wheat pastry flour)
  • Nonfat Dry Milk Powder (essential for the texture of the bread—you can also use dry milk powder in these animal cookies!)
  • Instant yeast (check the expiration date! Make sure your yeast isn’t past its prime)
  • Whole milk (these are called milk rolls, which is why I only use the highest quality milk—AE Dairy!)
  • Egg
  • Butter (unsalted, always bake with unsalted)
Side angle of a milk roll set on a plate with milk set in the background

What kind of milk to use

Because these are milk rolls you need to use milk. I know that may seem obvious, but it’s really a non negotiable here. A few things on the milk: use whole milk not low-fat or skim. And don’t be tempted to make these more decadent by using half-and-half. The added fat will mess with ratios of the recipe. 

It’s important to use high-quality milk for these rolls, 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. 

For my fellow Midwesterners, did you know that AE Dairy sources their milk from Iowa family farms? Which means fresh local milk can hit your store’s shelves in a matter of hours. Plus, AE Dairy limits how far their dairy travel—ensuring you get the highest quality product every single time. Isn’t that incredible? 

I grew up eating AE vanilla yogurt and cottage cheese from their iconic wax containers. I still remember adding multi-colored sprinkles to my little yogurt cups after school—looking back it sounds like such a bad idea, but at the time it was genius.

And their cottage cheese—don’t even get me started on their cottage cheese. It’s like liquid gold in our house. You can bet the rest of us will call you out if you take the last bit of it. 

If you’re wondering where you can find AE Dairy products, you can find more details here. I recommend their cottage cheese, but don’t forget to grab some whole milk for these delicious rolls! 

Overhead image of milk rolls in a round cake pan set on a white table

You may also like…

Japanese Milk Bread Rolls (Hokkaido Milk Bread)

Print Recipe
5 from 7 votes
Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 40 mins
Resting Time 2 hrs 20 mins
Total Time 3 hrs 5 mins
Yield 8 rolls
Category Baking / Side Dish
Cuisine Japanese
Author Lauren


These milk rolls are tender, fluffy, and perfectly moist.


Tangzhong (starter)

  • 3 tablespoons (43g) water
  • 3 tablespoons (43g) AE Dairy Whole Milk
  • 2 tablespoons (14g) unbleached bread flour


  • 2 cups (244g) unbleached bread flour
  • ½ cup (61g)white whole-wheat flour
  • 2 tablespoons (11g) nonfat dry milk powder
  • 2 tablespoons (25g) sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon instant yeast
  • ½ cup (113g) AE Dairy Whole Milk + more for brushing rolls
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 4 tablespoons (57g) unsalted butter, melted + more for brushing on rolls
  • Flaky sea salt


  • For the Tangzhong, vigorously whisk together 3 tablespoons water, 3 tablespoons AE 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.
  • For the dough, combine bread flour, whole-wheat flour, milk powder, sugar, salt and yeast in a medium bowl; set aside.
  • Add AE 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).
  • Place dough 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.
  • Brush rounds with AE Whole Milk. Bake rolls 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 rolls cool in pan for 10–25 minutes. Run a butter knife around edges of pan and gently lift rolls out of pan; transfer to wire rack.
  • Brush tops of rolls with melted butter and sprinkle with sea salt.


To form smooth, taut dough balls, set a piece of dough on your countertop (unfloured). Loosely cup your hand around the dough and, without applying pressure to dough, rapidly move your hand in a circular motion. The tackiness of the dough, the bare work surface, and the rapid motion should naturally create a smooth even ball. If by chance the dough sticks to the counter or your hands, very lightly dust your hands with flour.
To make a loaf of bread instead of rolls: 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.


Serving: 1rollCalories: 237kcalCarbohydrates: 34gProtein: 7gFat: 8gSaturated Fat: 4gCholesterol: 41mgSodium: 319mgFiber: 2gSugar: 5g
Keywords Japanese milk bread, Japanese milk bread rolls, milk bread, milk bread rolls
Did you make this recipe?Leave a comment below and tag @ZestfulKitchen on Instagram and hashtag it #zestfulkitchen!
Overhead image of Japanese Milk Bread Rolls in a. cake pan with a roll taken out and butter set up to the top right

Pin This Recipe

Love this recipe and want to save it? Pin this recipe!

Pin This Recipe

This post was sponsored by AE Dairy. As always all thoughts, opinions, and recipes are my own. Thanks for supporting all things ZK!

Share it with the world


About The Author

Lauren Grant is a professional culinary food scientist, food writer, recipe developer, and food photographer. Lauren is a previous magazine editor and test kitchen developer and has had work published in major national publications including Diabetic Living Magazine, Midwest Living Magazine, Cuisine at Home Magazine,,, and more.

Learn More

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.

How many stars would you give this recipe?


  1. 5 stars
    We’ve been on a bread making kick over here and these have hands down, been our favorite recipe! Thank you!

  2. 5 stars
    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.

  3. 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 🙂

    1. 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!

      1. 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.

        1. 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!

    1. 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!

  4. Hi there, I don’t have bread flour, can I substitute regular all purpose flour for that? My kids are going to love these!

    1. Hi Ruth!
      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!