There are plenty of things I didn’t get to try during my very brief visit to Sapporo a few weeks ago, and one of them is Hokkaido breads and pastries. It’s a known fact that Hokkaido produces the best dairy products in all of Japan, so can we all just take a second to imagine how amazing the pastries and desserts scene in Hokkaido probably is? Most pastries rely heavily on milk usage after all!
As is my tendency when I miss out on something during my travels, I go in search of a recipe I can make at home that will allow me to sample some sort of specialty dish. At the moment, I have no way of comparing whether this bread is close to the real Hokkaido breads, but I was really happy with the result of this recipe regardless.
When I set out to make this Hokkaido Milk Bread recipe, I already knew I was going to be impressed by this. ‘Pillowy soft! Pillowy soft!’ Those are the words that are always uttered by anyone who has ever made this particular kind of bread at home. Differing recipes aside, those two words are always associated with the Japanese Milk Bread. Now, I’ve made enough Asian tangzhong breads to know that this recipe isn’t going to fail me, but I didn’t realize just what “pillowy soft” really meant until I cut into this.
Until I saw that crumb.
If I could dole out an award for best crumb of the year, I’d give it to this. Ladies and gentlemen, meat the softest loaf of bread I have ever made.
If you’ve been following my blog for a while then you’d be familiar with how much I fuss over crumbs. There is always, always a close-up shot of the pastries broken or bitten into to highlight its crumb. Sometimes I feel like I make these things just to see the beauty of it inside– the texture, the lovely swirls and patterns and folds if any, the crumbling bits and pieces. There’s definitely a lot of ogling; just a teeny bit more than eating. (But there’s lots of eating, rest assured.)
I like seeing the pastry’s heart, I guess you could say. And boy does this bread have a soft and amazing heart! I couldn’t stop my exclamation of delight when I sliced into this loaf. Admittedly a bit of a difficult thing because of how soft it was, but you should slice it with a very sharp bread knife starting from the bottom. Set the bread on its side so you don’t deform it. 🙂 Can you tell I find a lot of excitement in cutting into a baked good for the first time?
The flour I used for this recipe is Hokkaido Bread Flour, just a random find from the Japanese grocery store really. Coincidentally, Hokkaido also produces about 70% of Japan’s wheat products. So apart from the dairy, they also make all the flour. Hokkaido is an amazing place.
As with most super soft Asian bread recipes, the tangzhong or water roux method was used for this Hokkaido Milk Bread. Normally it produces a dough that feels a little more moist compared to Western breads. Maybe you’d be tempted to add more flour to the dough because of this, but to keep this bread super soft I really don’t recommend adding much more than what the recipe says. Weather conditions can affect bread-making, so if you live in a warm climate, you can try to reduce the milk by a quarter cup first and then just add more, little but little, if you think the dough is too dry. Your goal is to have a smooth and elastic dough that’s just slightly sticky.
You’ll also be working this dough on your floured surface once you go into the shaping stage so keep that in mind. You don’t want the dough to be too wet but you don’t want it dry either, otherwise it won’t come out as pillowy soft.
Of course, you should always use the windowpane test to check if the dough is ready for proofing. It’s when you stretch a piece of the dough and it can keep going without breaking. (See procedure pictures below.) That means the gluten is well-developed. You can see a video of the tangzhong procedure through this Matcha-Milk Bread recipe I previously shared. That recipe makes a bread quite similar to this, with a lovely swirl of matcha within.
Honestly the bread is a lot lovelier than I was expecting. Considering I wasn’t able to eat any Hokkaido Milk Loaf while I was in Japan, I didn’t really have a concrete idea how much its reputation preceded it. One of the best things in life is when you expect something good, but God gives you something better. I realize this is a rather shallow example– I mean it’s bread!– but I’m grateful nonetheless when the things I’m passionate about surprises me in the most pleasant ways.
This Hokkaido Milk Bread recipe may start out like any other tangzhong bread, but when you get ready to shape the dough for the pan, you roll the dough in four increments to get those hill-like tops on the loaf. It makes the loaf a lot prettier, don’t you agree? The scent and taste is lightly of sweet milk, but the pleasure is derived from the feeling of the bread in your mouth. Pillowy soft. Now I really get it.
Makes one 9-inch loaf
- 1/3 cup (45 grams) bead flour
- 1 cup (240mL) whole milk, or a combination of water and milk
- 2½ cups (325 grams) bread flour
- ¼ cup (60 grams) granulate sugar
- 2¼ teaspoons instant yeast
- 1 Tablespoon powdered milk (optional)
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 large egg, lightly whisked, room temperature
- ¼ to ½ cup whole milk, room temperature*
- ¼ cup (60 grams) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
- Heavy cream, for brushing
- 1. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk flour into the water until completely dissolved and no lumps remain.
- 2. Set the pan on the stove at medium heat and begin to stir as the mixture heats up. To avoid burning, stir constantly until the mixture begins to thicken. Keep stirring until the mixture forms lines right on the path where you move your spoon. (If using a thermometer, stir until the temperature of the mixture reaches 65°C.) Turn off the heat and take the mixture off the stove. Transfer immediately to another to stop the cooking process and let cool.
- 3. Turn off the heat and take the mixture off the stove. Transfer immediately to a bowl to stop the cooking process and let cool. Press clingfilm right on the surface to prevent the tangzhong from forming skin. Let cool to room temperature before using, or place in the fridge up to 2 days if not using right away. (Make sure to use within a few days as this does not keep well.)
- 4. In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix together flour, sugar, yeast, milk powder (if using), and salt. Add in ½ cup of the tangzhong mixture, egg, and milk. Using a wooden spoon, mix the ingredients together briefly until shaggy dough is formed. Attach the bowl to the stand mixer.
- 5. Using the dough hook, begin kneading the dough on low speed for about 5 minutes, until the dough starts to come together. Increase speed to medium and add in softened butter pieces. Continue kneading another 5 minutes until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the sides and bottom of the dough. It may be a little bit wet, but not too much that you can't hold it. It should not be too sticky on the surface, but it must be elastic.*
- 6. To check if the dough is ready, you should be able to take a chunk of dough and gently stretch it to a very thin membrane before it breaks. When it does break, a circular hole-like shape on the stretched dough should form.
- 7. Transfer the dough to a lightly greased bowl; cover with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel and let rise for about 1 hour, or until dough is doubled in size. Meanwhile, grease or line a 9x4-inch loaf pan with parchment paper. (If lining with parchment don’t forget to grease the parchment paper too.) Set aside.
- 8. Once dough has risen, transfer to a lightly floured surface. Divide dough into four equal parts and roll into balls. Take one piece of dough and cover the rest with a towel or plastic wrap to prevent drying.
- 9. Working with your first piece of dough, flatten or roll out to a rough rectangle/oblong shape about 8-inches long and 5-inches wide. Fold the long sides about 1-inch inwards over the dough, then starting from the end closest to you, roll the dough into a log.
- 10. Place log seam-side down in the prepared loaf pan (parallel to the short side of the pan), then repeat the process with the remaining three pieces of dough until all the four rolled logs are filling the pan side by side.
- 11. Cover loaf pan with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel and let dough rise a second time for 30 to 45 minutes, until doubled in volume. Around 15 to 20 minutes before end of rising time, preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).
- 12. Lightly brush the top of the risen dough with heavy cream, then bake for 35 to 40 minutes until the top of the bread is golden brown. Let cool in the loaf pan for 5 minutes before unmolding to a wire rack. Once cool, slice into desired thickness.
- *For warm weather, ¼ cup of milk may be enough for the dough. If you will notice, my dough looks very wet because I accidentally added too much liquid. I needed to use a bit more flour during the kneading process and this is something you should avoid.