If you grow up in Asia, you probably prefer bread that has a soft and fluffy texture with a strong milky flavor. It really doesn’t matter if you grow up in Indonesia like me, or maybe in Malaysia, Singapore, or even in Japan or Korea, the bread we get from our bakery is pretty much a milk bread.
Or more specifically, this tang zhong milk bread, which is soft and fluffy and milky, and can stay like that for days stored in nothing but the plastic bag the bread comes in. I am happy to report that this recipe will give you that bread.
If you have tried your hands with bread baking in the past, you know that as you increase the amount of water to the dough, you should get softer and fluffier bread. But there’s only so much water a typical bread dough can absorb before the dough becomes too wet to handle.
Tang zhong method is created to solve this exact problem, to trick the dough to absorb more liquid than it previously can, and thus leads to a softer, fluffier, and airier bread. And how does this technique do that?
The tang zhong technique calls for precooking a small amount of the flour and liquid (water/milk) from any yeast bread recipe to create a thick roux/slurry, and this roux/slurry is called a starter which will then be combined with the rest of the dough ingredients.
The chemistry reaction created by this roux/slurry allows the flour to absorb more liquid and hold onto that extra liquid during kneading and baking and well into the cooling process.
Basically, a tang zhong bread will have these beneficial properties:
1. The dough will be less sticky and easier to knead.
Despite the high water content, I can still knead tang zhong dough with hands. For comparison, a brioche dough also has a high water ratio, but it is such a big mess kneading brioche dough with hands compared to a tang zhong dough that I usually won’t even bother trying to do it with my hands.
2. Bread will rise higher.
Tang zhong bread usually will rise higher because more liquid equals more steam during the baking process.
3. The bread stays soft, moist, and fresh for days.
Also, because the roux/slurry can hold onto that extra liquid so much better than regular dough, tang zhong bread usually stays moist, soft, and fresh much longer compared to regular bread.
Tang zhong starter calls for cooking a small amount of flour and liquid into a thick roux/slurry. For this particular recipe, our starter is made from:
Simply whisk together all the ingredients in a small saucepot until smooth, and place the pot over low heat and continue whisking until a thick slurry is formed. This can take anywhere from 3 to 5 minutes. Then we need to remove the slurry to a small bowl to let it cool to room temperature before using it with the rest of our dough ingredients.
Tips: To save time, this is usually the first thing I do when preparing a tang zhong bread. While I let the starter cools to room temperature (you can stick the bowl in the fridge to speed up the process), I measure out the rest of the ingredients. :)
Once your tang zhong starter is cooled to room temperature, we can start preparing our bread dough.
To shape the bread, do the following:
If you want to recreate the glossy look of typical Asian milk bread, you definitely need to apply egg wash prior to baking your bread. To prepare an egg wash, mix together one egg with one tablespoon of water/milk. Then brush the dough with this egg solution right before baking.
Every oven is slightly different, but it usually takes about 25 minutes to bake a perfect golden brown tang zhong milk bread in my oven. If you want to be really technical and specific, a digital thermometer inserted into the center of the loaf should register at least 88 Celsius (190 Fahrenheit).
To cool the bread properly, I let the bread cools in the pan for 10 minutes once out from the oven, then gently remove from the pan and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
A tang zhong bread is not fussy, once they are properly cooled, I cut them to slices and store in a Tupperware container on my kitchen counter. My bread never lasts any longer than 5 days from the day they are baked, but they always stay soft and fluffy up to day 5. But let’s be honest, they are softest and fluffiest when they are out from the oven. But compared to any other bread out there, you will swear that a day 3 tang zhong bread is really comparable to day 1 any other bread.
In this recipe, I show you how to make a standard loaf bread. But you can use the very same dough to bake other more elaborate bread! Use this tang zhong dough for the bread, and use the filling from these recipes: