Hokkaido Milk Bread Recipe - How to Make Japanese Milk Bread


Hokkaido Milk Bread

June 30, 2020
15 Ratings
Author Notes

When I first set out to make Hokkaido milk bread from scratch, I was nervous. These sky-high, snow-white loaves are the cornerstone of any respectable Asian bakery–feathery soft yet rich and decadent, with wisps of bread that pull away in sheets when you separate its parts. For me, it was practically legendary.

To add to the mythos surrounding this lofty bread, I couldn’t find much in my research on traditional ways to make it, or even on its origins. Most recipes appeared to use tangzhong, a type of roux-like paste designed to give bread a finer crumb and a softer, fluffier texture. And many of them lead back to the Hokkaido Milk Toast recipe by Christine Ho, which is in turn based on a cookbook called 65 Degrees C by Yvonne Chen.

In the end, I tested three different recipes, and the one that won my heart was indeed the one I adapted from Christine’s. It was a dream to knead, shape, and bake, and the bread was just like I’d imagined: sweet, fragrant, and pillowy-soft. It’s good enough to eat plain and even better in sandwiches, but in my opinion, it’s best when toasted, lightly buttered, and smothered in sweetened condensed milk–the milk toast of my dreams.

Note: This recipe yields one loaf made in a 9- x 4- x 4-inch pan. Taller loaf pans are ideal–I used a Pullman without the lid. For those using the metric system or a bread machine, feel free to check out Christine’s original recipe: https://en.christinesrecipes.com/2010/10/hokkaido-milk-toast-japanese-style.html; hers will also yield two smaller loaves or one 13 x 4 loaf instead of one 9 x 4. —Cynthia Chen McTernan

  • Prep time 4 hours
  • Cook time 30 minutes
  • Makes one tall 9- x 4-inch loaf
  • For the tangzhong:
  • 6 tablespoons water
  • 2 tablespoons bread flour
  • For the rest:
  • 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 2 1/2 cups (about 320 grams) bread flour, plus up to 1/4 cup (30 grams) more
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 tablespoon sweetened condensed milk or milk powder (optional)
  • 2 eggs, 1 for the dough and 1 for the egg wash
  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 splash milk or water, for the egg wash
In This Recipe
  1. In a small saucepan, whisk together 6 tablespoons of water and 2 tablespoons of bread flour until no lumps remain. Heat the mixture over medium-low heat, whisking constantly. It should thicken to a gel-like consistency after just a few minutes. As soon as lines appear in the mixture when stirred, remove it from the heat and transfer it to a small, clean bowl. Let cool to room temperature.
  2. Next, heat the milk briefly to just above room temperature, about 110° F or lukewarm to the touch (I do this simply by microwaving it for 10 to 15 seconds). Sprinkle the yeast over the milk and set it aside for 5 to 10 minutes for the yeast to activate (you’ll see the milk start to foam).
  3. In the meantime, whisk together 2 1/2 cups of the bread flour, salt, and sugar in a large bowl. In a smaller bowl or a measuring cup, whisk together the tangzhong, cream, condensed milk (or milk powder), and one egg.
  4. When it’s ready, add the yeast mixture to the wet ingredients, and whisk gently, just to incorporate. Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in all of the wet ingredients. Stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture forms a loose, shaggy dough, then switch to using your hands. Knead for 4 to 5 minutes, or until the dough forms a semi-smooth ball. The dough will be quite sticky -- sprinkle the extra 1/4 cup flour, a tablespoon or so at a time, over the dough and your hands as you knead to keep it from sticking too much. I usually use at least 2 tablespoons and often up to the full amount, but you may not need it all.
  5. Add the butter to the dough, one tablespoon at a time, kneading after each addition. Add the second tablespoon of butter only after the first has been evenly incorporated. The dough will be slippery and messy at this point, but just keep kneading (actually, it’s oddly satisfying) and it should eventually form a soft and pliable dough that’s easy to work with. Knead for an additional 4 to 5 minutes, or until the dough becomes smooth and elastic.
  6. Place the dough in a large bowl with plenty of room and cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp towel. Let rise for 1 to 2 hours, or until well doubled. Alternatively, you can let the dough proof overnight in the refrigerator, which I prefer. It gives extra time for the gluten to develop, and yields a better flavor, in my opinion. Plus, dividing the labor over two days makes the process much more manageable. The dough should be fine for up to 24 hours. If storing in the refrigerator, cover more tightly with plastic wrap to avoid drying out, but do not seal completely (an airtight seal can sometimes cause an alcohol-like smell to build up in the dough).
  7. Once the dough is doubled, turn it out and punch it down. Divide it into three or four equal pieces. For each piece, roll the dough out to a long oval. Fold the oval into thirds widthwise, then flatten again. Roll the dough up lengthwise, then place into the loaf pan. Repeat with remaining pieces.
  8. Let the dough rise again until it's nearly doubled, another hour or so. After about 40 minutes, preheat the oven to 350° F. When the dough seems ready, test it by pressing it gently with one finger; when the indentation bounces back slowly but remains visible, the dough is ready to bake.
  9. Whisk your second egg with a splash of milk or water, and brush the egg wash over the dough. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until golden-brown on top. (If your heating element is at the top of your oven and the bread begins to brown too quickly, cover with foil to prevent burning.) When it’s done, the bread will sound hollow when tapped. Let it cool briefly, then slice and enjoy!

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • katktdenada
  • Sepe Doll
    Sepe Doll
  • Zoey Wei Le Deng
    Zoey Wei Le Deng
  • paulifaktorbakes
  • Srivani Mukkamala
    Srivani Mukkamala

    88 Reviews

    Michelle November 12, 2020
    Hi Cynthia, Thank you so much for this recipe and for including the link to the photos. Question: If I want to make this in a stand mixer, what do you recommend I do as far as approximate kneading speed and time? How can I tell it's done kneading? Should I add the butter only by hand or is it okay to also do by stand mixer? Thank you!
    TDeu August 28, 2020
    Cynthia, thanks so much for sharing this recipe and being so explicit. I’m new to bread making and this came out PERFECT!

    If you’re debating whether to make this or not. Just make it, trust me, you won’t regret it! I didn’t make any changes to the sugar and it came out amazing. Also, “let it cool slightly”?! lol. Good luck with that!
    katktdenada July 2, 2020
    It really makes a difference to let the dough cold rise overnight or start it morning and it will rise by dinner time. It’s such a good base recipe. I folded in Ube Jam or red bean or sweet onion jam—- it’s fantastic. Tweaks— is that I did not have whipping cream so I nixed the milk and cream and did 1/2 cup of half and half instead. Just as great if not better!
    And 6 tbsp of water is not enough to dissolve the tangzhong gel/paste so you gotta add 6tbsp more liquid (water or milk).
    xanmama July 1, 2020
    Hi! Can I use the lid with my 9 by 4 inch Pullman pan? If yes, how should I do my last proof? As in how do I proof it such that I can have the lid on prior to baking and also know when the bread will be done since the lid is on during baking? I just got a loaf pan with lid to try since I’ve always made mountain top bread. Hope you can help! :)
    CApam June 30, 2020
    Awesome recipe! I’ve made this bread two times in two days (one for me, one to share with my parents): that’s how good it is. I’ve tried using Christine’s recipe as referenced in the author’s overview, but I was not as successful then. Like paulifaktorbakes mentioned below, I really appreciate the notes on texture/stickiness at each stage. My additional note: make sure to butter your baking pan really well before adding the dough for the second rise! I used a 9”x4”x4” Pullman pan, without the cover, baked for 30 minutes.

    The only change I made to the recipe was to decrease the sugar down to 2 TBS, which yielded the perfect taste for my preferences.
    Sepe D. May 31, 2020
    Hi! If I double the recipe, will it fit a 14x4x4 pan? Thank you!
    CApam June 30, 2020
    A 14x4x4 pan is about 1.6 times the volume of a 9x4x4 pan, which Is what I used; the bread rose about an inch above the pan line (as I didn’t cover it). Maybe you can double the recipe, but remove a third after the first rising to shape into rolls and bake in a separate pan.
    Zoey W. May 16, 2020
    Hi! When doubling the recipe, do you just double all of the ingredients? Should I expect to add 60 grams more flour (instead of 30g) during kneading. Any help is appreciated!
    Author Comment
    Cynthia C. May 16, 2020
    Hi Zoey, yes, just double all the ingredients! For adding extra flour, I would go by feel while kneading, rather than measuring out how much more to add. I add about a tablespoon at a time, sprinkling over the dough and my hands, just to keep the dough from sticking too much. I often do not add all of it. I hope that helps!
    Noah May 17, 2020
    Only if needed. If the dough is not sticky u might not even need flour at all ;)
    paulifaktorbakes April 13, 2020
    first, thanks so much for making this recipe so accessible Cynthia! I get nervous baking new thing, and really appreciated your description of how the dough will be sticky, but with the butter worked in, will become what it needs to. It did! It was so so gratifying. I love baking challah bread, but this was my first time making a tangzhong. I'm about to bake it, and already can't wait to try making this again. One question: I squeezed the base of the ovals together; is this necessary or just side by side enough to create that milk bread pull-apart but together consistency?
    Noah May 17, 2020
    Would u share ur favorite challah bread recipe.?
    I would love to try it.
    paulifaktorbakes May 20, 2020
    I’d be delighted to! I use Joan Nathan’s “My Favorite Challah” recipe. I increase the eggs from 4 to 5. And sometimes sneak in an extra tablespoon of sugar :) Let me know if you have any questions!
    Author Comment
    Cynthia C. May 20, 2020
    This makes me so happy! Thank you for such kind words. As for squeezing the ovals together, I shouldn't think this is necessary as long as the pan is snug enough--the four pieces should meet as they rise and that's enough to form that "pull-apart" effect. I can't wait to try the challah recipe you mentioned!
    Srivani M. April 9, 2020
    Can I use APF as I don’t get bread flour at my place.
    Author Comment
    Cynthia C. May 16, 2020
    Hi Srivani, sorry for the delay in replying! APF should work, the bread just may rise a bit less and perhaps have less developed strands in the crumb. Hope you enjoy if you try it!
    Noah October 19, 2019
    perfect recipe i have worked with over the years, i bulk it up and split between bread, donuts, steamed bread.
    Cynthia Z. July 6, 2019
    The best bread recipe! Tangzhong is truly a godsend. It yields a heavenly soft bread with a flavorful, chewy crust, and helps keep the crumb soft and moist for several days at room temperature. The enriched dough with butter also makes the dough easier to knead, though I do recommend a bench scraper to get the bits that stick to your counter.

    I've made this multiple times in the past week, taking the sugar down to 2tbsp as recommended by others in the comments. The recipe doubles easily, and can be adapted to different configurations. I've made the standard loaf shown in the article, but I've also made buns (10-12 buns per recipe) and 3 mini loafs. Baking smaller loaves/buns takes the cook time down to about 20-22 minutes at 350F.

    The bread also takes on fillings/add-ins beautifully. I made a coconut filling (1 cup sweetened coconut, finely shredded; 2 tbsp cake flour, 2 tbsp milk powder, 2 tbsp softened butter, 1/4 tsp salt) and just added it when I rolled and folded the dough pieces. The coconut filling goes great with the buns, too.

    I have also added raisins (about 1/2-3/4 cup per loaf), and the bits of sweetness complements the bread very well. I also add them when I am rolling and folding the dough pieces for more even distribution.
    LULULAND July 6, 2019
    Thanks for your advice! Do I have to use bread flour? I have all purpose flour would love to use that.

    Zoey W. May 16, 2020
    Do you double the ingredients to make more dough? Thanks!
    Noah May 17, 2020
    Jyothi M. May 7, 2019
    Perfection! I halved the quantity. of the sugar based on earlier comments. And I think it needs a few more minutes in the oven but will be making this often. Thank you
    Elizabeth December 3, 2018
    I made this three times in a week in an attempt to get it right so I have some thoughts to share. The first time, I found my yeast was dead when it didn't rise so I threw the dough away. The second time, I am pretty sure I overkneaded it. I kept kneading it, trying to get it to pass the windowpane test (first time I've ever tried that) instead of just paying attention to the texture/feel. I'm used to using a Kitchenaid mixer with a dough hook rather than hand kneading, so I imagine this is just a matter of getting a feel for it. I also found that when I measured the flour by volume, spooning into a measuring cup, I ended up using most of the additional 1/4 cup the author called for. When I measured it by weight (320 g), I used a little over 1/3 cup to keep it from totally globbing on my hands. The texture ended up great even with that extra flour so I think again, it's just about arriving at the right feel. I did not find the dough too sweet with 1/4 cup sugar as other reviewers said - this is personal preference but I like my shokupan sweet!

    Last thing - I need to measure the temp in my oven in case it's off, but the first time I successfully baked it, I found the middle to be raw even though the loaf appeared perfect. An extra 5 minutes would have done it well. That egg wash makes it deceptive. Other recipes for milk bread call for an internal temp of 190F, so when I baked it in a cast iron loaf pan for more even heating, I found that it took about 45 minutes to get that temperature but the interior was perfect. Until I get really great at telling from look and thumping it, I'll probably be using a probe thermometer to check doneness. Thanks for a great recipe. The cast iron made it rise up really beautifully - and the interior had that perfect cloud-like tearaway texture that I love about this kind of bread!
    Hiromi M. July 15, 2018
    I made this again, but doubled the salt and halved the sugar and it is perfect! I can’t stop eating it. Can’t wait to make different versions of this.
    Hiromi M. July 7, 2018
    It has a very good flavor and doughy. I can eat the whole thing. I grew up in Japan and breads there are so good, I was disappointed when I moved here. Sourdough bread has good texture, but I hate the flavor. I decided it is just better find a good recipe and make one myself.

    I would use a bit less sugar next time. I used Kitchenaid to mix the first part, then knead with 2tbs of flour and butter by hand. I let it sit in the fridge overnight for the first proof.

    I think my yeast is getting old, so it didn't rise as much as it should have, so I will try this again with less sugar and new yeast.
    Diana February 27, 2018
    Can this process be done in a kitchenaid?
    Hiromi M. July 7, 2018
    I used Kitchenaid to mix flour and liquid the first time for about 5 min. Then I used my hand to knead in 2 tbs of flour and 2tbs of butter part.
    CoffeeAndBaconYum July 18, 2017
    Can SAF instant yeast be used in place of the active dry yeast?
    Author Comment
    Cynthia C. July 18, 2017
    It most certainly can! I love SAF yeast! In that case, you can just whisk it into the flour in Step 3 with the salt and sugar, and you don't need to proof it in the milk first. I hope the bread turns out well for you if you try it!
    CoffeeAndBaconYum July 19, 2017
    Thanks for the quick reply! I just got some SAF yeast for the 1st time. Looking forward to trying this recipe!
    Lisa L. May 20, 2017
    My dough is currently proofing and, at this point, I'm approximately 96% certain that I overcooked my tangzhong, kudos to my inability to read directions ahead. Not to be daunted at the stiffness of my dough and the soreness in my arm, I added exactly 1-2 tbsp extra of heavy whipping cream (or howevermuch two capfuls equals). My dough was still a bit stiff, but I pushed on and, after incorporating all of my butter, introduced it to my favorite kneading move, something I like to call "throw-dough-at-table-repeatedly-until-it -feels-right," until it was soft as a baby's bottom (or at least, what I imagine a baby's bottom to feel like). As extra insurance, perhaps I should give it a second rise before shaping..? Any advice would be very much appreciated!
    Author Comment
    Cynthia C. May 22, 2017
    Hi Lisa, I'm sorry I didn't catch this while your dough was still proofing, and sorry that your dough was so stiff! Did you end up giving it an extra rise? How did the bread turn out? I'm not too sure what an extra rise would do, since I've never tried, but I did have one batch turn out too stiff from a little bit too much flour and it ended up baking up just a little shorter and denser. It sounds like you did the right thing if you eventually got it to "baby-bottom" status! What I've begun to like to do with this bread is add 2 1/2 cups of flour at the beginning and reserve the 1/4 cup to add as I knead. I usually end up using most or all of it, but it adds a little extra insurance to make sure the dough isn't too stiff. I know this is a bit too late, but maybe if you feel like giving it another go. Let me know how the bread turned out and thank you so much for trying it!
    Author Comment
    Cynthia C. May 22, 2017
    (PS I edited the recipe to reflect the 2 1/2 cup + 1/4 cup tip!)
    Lisa L. May 23, 2017
    I ended up not giving it that extra rise, but I did let it rest in the pan for a bit over an hour before baking. I thought it turned out pretty good (though I've never had milk bread before), considering how dry my dough was initially, and my family members were none the wiser! I'm definitely planning on trying it out again sometime - I definitely want to experience the same success that so many other people did!
    melissa Y. April 14, 2017
    This is our family's go-to bread (it goes especially well with ham-perfect for Easter leftovers!). I have made it countless of times and it turns out perfectly every time. I double the recipe to make two loaves, though this does max out my pro mixer. I have forgot the tangzhong and it still turns out ok, though the texture is much spongier and softer with it in. This makes loaves comparable to the best bakeries in Japan and I am indebted to Cynthia for sharing!
    Author Comment
    Cynthia C. April 14, 2017
    Melissa, this just absolutely made my day. Thank you so much for letting me know! I'm beyond thrilled. Wishing you and your family a restful Easter weekend.
    tanblanc March 7, 2017
    I just made this bread and it is spectacular! My housemates are going to love me! I replaced the heavy cream for coconut milk and it worked beautifully - and you can't feel the coconut flavor in the end, it really feels like the final taste is exactly what it was meant to be!
    Author Comment
    Cynthia C. April 14, 2017
    Hurray! That makes me so happy, and I love the coconut milk idea!