This Sourdough Japanese Milk Bread recipe is addictively fluffy and light.
This recipe will shock you because though it is risen with all sourdough and no yeast, there is absolutely no super "sourdough" flavor in it. You feel me? I'm talking that ultra sour sourdough. None of that. This bread is perfectly sweet, tender, and full of flavor. I literally can’t stop munching it every time I make it. And the way it pulls apart makes it really fun to eat!
I used to eat milk bread all the time when I spent summers in China growing up. I really looked forward to the mornings my grandma would come into the kitchen from the market with a bag of freshly baked milk bread hanging from her hand. This sweet, pillow-y bread was simply like no bread I’ve ever had in the US. I had no idea what made this bread so amazing and I could only delight in its joyous wonder.
Well, I’ve grown up (a bit), and along with that, I now know what makes milk bread so amazing. Let's just say my itty bitty self manifested the ability to create fluffy milk breads over the years. It’s been a dream to create an all sourdough recipe for this bread, with simple ingredients and some extra love sprinkled in. Thanks for letting me share this recipe with you!
Sourdough Japanese Milk Bread: Recipe details!
This Sourdough Japanese Milk Bread dough is really lovely to work with. It’s soft and gentle, with no stickiness whatsoever. It’s the queen of all bread doughs, I like to think. Why is it so soft and easy to work with, you ask? What makes this bread so amazing?
The Tangzhong, my darlings.
If you’ve never made tangzhong, it’s really rather simple. The recipe will guide you through it and you’ll never forget how effortlessly rewarding this tiny extra step is.
Tangzhong is just a quick mix up of flour and milk in a pan before making the dough. This mixture is what enables the super soft pull apart texture that milk bread is known for. Some recipes use a yudane method, which create a softer and gentler dough, but I’m a bit partial to a milk bread that reflects a bit of buttery richness (reminiscent of brioche), and the tangzhong method offers us just that.
Anyways, when I make this recipe, my sourdough starter is at PEAK. Let me repeat that:
Your sourdough starter needs to be at PEAK.
I’m talking max peak. Like happiest your sourdough starter can be. Because something beautiful about this recipe is that there is no levain required! All that is required is a sourdough starter at peak. I made it this way because I wanted to make this recipe a teeny bit more convenient than a classic levain-based recipe. So just make sure that starter is fed the night before and you'll be ready to go. You’ll need 100g of peak starter. And that being said, here’s the rundown on timing…
The night before: feed your starter!
11 am: Make the tangzhong
11:30 am: Mix the dough and let rise
8:30 pm (approx.): Shape the dough and let it proof overnight in the fridge
8:30 am: Preheat the oven
9:30 am: Bake!
Other Sourdough Milk Bread Recipe Notes
Milks for milk bread!
So, I make this recipe with oat milk. I love plant-based milks much more than regular milk (and I’m lactose intolerant), so I’m just letting you know that if you prefer using a plant-based milk, do so! Oat milk is one of the richer plant-based milks so I think it works well in this recipe. I wouldn’t recommend any of the more watery milks like almond milk (unless you home make it and it’s ultra rich).
This milk bread recipe will make either two 9-inch loaves or one large 13-inch loaf.
I prefer Pullman pans for the 90-degree sides and option for a lid, but you can definitely use normal loaf pans if that’s what you have. I love both my 13-inch pullman pan and my 9-inch pullman pans equally, so it's really up to you!
Lid versus no lid
If you make two 9-inch loaves and use a lid for the entire bake, you’ll end up with two milk breads that loosely resemble this (I say loosely because all sourdough starters’ capacity for growth are unique!):
I could've proofed this dough a little less. Check on the dough as it proofs, especially if you're going to keep the lid on for the entire bake. You want it to be about an inch from the top of the pan before putting it in the oven. This one was maybe a half-inch from the top.
If you don't use a lid, the loaf will turn out like the other photos on this post, all puffy at the top. A very cute option!
Kneading the milk bread dough!
This recipe uses a stand mixer to evade the process of hand kneading. If you’d prefer to hand knead, please do so. Just know that it will take about 15-20 minutes to knead until the dough passes the windowpane test. Though I'm partial to stand mixer kneading because I'm ~lazy~, I must say that this is a beautifully malleable dough to hand knead.
Egg wash on the milk bread!
When you egg wash (if you do egg wash), try to avoid letting the egg get into the crevices between the dough and the pan. This can cause sticking or egg streaks down the sides of the dough. It's easiest to use a normal pastry brush over a silicone pastry brush just because they can be more precise.
And if you use the sugar top wash, you are in for a real treat. It’s not that noticeable flavor-wise, but it’s an eye treat. Your milk bread will be *bakery status* milk bread. It will look très chic, if you know what I mean. Now, enjoy this recipe and let me know what you think!
Sourdough Japanese Milk Bread
- Two 9-inch loaf pans or One 13-inch loaf pan
for the tangzhong
- 110g milk
- 30g bread flour
for the dough
- 150g milk
- 1 egg
- 70g sugar
- 100g sourdough starter
- all the tangzhong
- 325g bread flour
- 100g all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 60g unsalted butter room temperature
for (optional) egg wash
- 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon water
for (optional) sugar shiny top
- 12g sugar
- 50g boiling water
- Make the tangzhong. Add the milk and bread flour to a small pan over low-medium heat. Whisk this mixture and as it heats, it should start to get thicker (3-5 minutes). At this point, you can use a spatula to push it around until it is a thick but light paste. Remove from the pan to a small bowl, cover, and let cool for 30 minutes.
- To mix the dough, pour the milk into the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the egg, sugar, starter, and tangzhong. Use a fork to break up the mixture and mix until mostly combined. It might have clumps, but that’s fine.
- Add the bread flour, all-purpose flour, and salt. Set the mixer to low-medium speed and let it combine until a moist dough forms.
- Add pats of the butter one by one and let the dough consume each pat fully before adding the next pat. Then let the mixer mix the dough at medium speed for 7-9 minutes, or until the dough passes the windowpane test.
- Oil a work surface and dump the dough onto the surface. Shape the dough into a ball.
- Oil the mixer bowl if it’s relatively clean (or use a clean bowl) and place the dough inside. Lightly oil the top of the dough, cover with a clean kitchen towel, place in a warm place and let bulk rise for 8-10 hours.
- When it’s done rising, it should be about 2.5-3 times the original size.
- Lightly oil your work surface and dump the dough out onto it. (Look at that bubble!)
- Press out any large bubbles and shape into a ball. Let rest for 10 minutes. Oil two 9-inch loaf/pullman pans or one 13-inch Pullman pan and set aside.
- Using a lightly oiled bench scraper or sharp knife, slice the dough ball into six equal triangles, then set aside so you have some space in the center of your workspace to work.
- Grab one triangle. With the triangle point facing towards you, gently flatten the dough with your fingertips into a rectangle (should flatten to resemble a strange envelope).
- Pull the sides into the center.
- You can stitch the sides together if they do not stay together well on their own.
- Then roll up the dough from the top down (not too loose and not too tight, should just roll over itself rather naturally).
- There will be tension in the dough, but don’t worry, it’s not too tight.
- Slide the roll into the pan with the seam on the bottom. Repeat with each dough triangle (3 into each 9-inch pan or all 6 into the 13-inch Pullman pan), sliding the rolls in the pan to the side as you add each roll.
- When you are finished shaping, cover the pan(s) with plastic or a clean kitchen towel and let them rise overnight in the fridge (10-12 hours).
- Preheat the oven to 375F. When the oven has reached temperature, remove the pan(s) from the fridge. For the 9-inch pans, if you want a square loaf, leave the Pullman lids on for the entire bake. If you want a shiny, bulbous top, whisk the egg wash ingredients together and brush the loaf’s top and leave the lid off. For the 13-inch pan, you can leave the lid on and it should become bulbous without actually touching the top of the pan.
- Bake for 45 minutes. If your loaves are bulbous, you can mix the sugar shiny top ingredients in a small bowl until the sugar dissolves. Set aside until the bake is done.
- Remove the bread from the oven and gently overturn the loaf onto a cooling rack. Set upright. For bulbous loaves, brush the sugar shiny top mixture over the bulbous area of the loaf straight out of the oven. Let the bread cool for 2 hours before consuming for optimal crumb.
Let me know what you think about this recipe below in the comments! And if you love making sourdough breads, check out my Chestnut Fig Sourdough Baguettes. Thanks for stopping by!
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