Japanese milk bread

There are a great many ways of traveling: plane, ship, train, car, bus, cycling, walking. But there are also other forms of travel that don’t necessarily mean physically going anywhere: books, photos, movies and series, conversations, music, food, smells, yoga and meditation for some, perhaps even herbs for others…


The recipe for today is a short but delicious trip to Hokkaido, the northernmost island in Japan. It is popular for its wilderness, snow and open spaces. It is also well known for its fresh seafood, dairy products and beer. I have been mind-traveling to Japan a lot since I came back, editing pictures, reading books, researching food recipes, etc. When in Japan I didn’t get a chance to go to the North but I did meet a girl though, Saori, who is from Hokkaido. She told me lots about her hometown, Sapporo, their food, the beautiful white winters, Mount Yōtei…


I finally got myself to baking this fluffy briochy milk bread. In my opinion it is very similar to the Spanish “pan de leche“, the French “pan au lait” or “brioche” (or any Viennoiserie) and a distant cousin from the Jewish “challah” bread. I consulted different sources for recipes and methods first and decided to follow DeliciousMartha’s recipe, which calls for some Matcha too, adding that bitter and very Japanese element to it.


The special thing about this bread is that we use the Tangzhong method (aka flour and water roux) which, apart from sounding fancy, is a simple way of giving any yeast bread a more tender crumb and a longer shelf-life. Tangzhong means “soup” in Chinese and this technique was first mentioned by Yvenne Chen in 2000. You can apply it to any yeast bread recipe and the general rule is the following:

Tangzhong (roux) = flour (5-10% of recipe amount) + water/milk (5x flour taken here)

This is mixed and heated up in a pan at around 65ºC. The flour is gelatinised and a pudding is formed. The roux traps and retains moisture during the baking, making the final bread a moister and lighter one. If you’d like to know more about how this technique works, visit this article – mindblowing! The one thing to remember is that the Tangzhong does not call for additional flour or water, these are taken from the original recipe amounts.


This bread is perfect to satisfy both a savoury or sweet crave: at breakfast, toasted or non-toasted, with jam, nutella or meats and cheese; as a french toast (“torrija”) or as a sandwich to go or an afternoon snack. The one downside (or upside!) is that it needs a few resting periods and it overall takes a good while to make… which makes it a perfect Sunday evening recipe to prepare while you have dinner, watch TV or play cards.

I hope you enjoy it!



Total time: 3h 15mins (30-45mins prep & kneading + 2h resting in between + 30mins baking)

Notes: For this recipe you can use a dough mixer if you have one or alternatively knead the bread with your hands, like I did – consider it a workout!



  • 20g flour
  • 120ml water/milk


  • 25g fresh yeast (or 8 g bread yeast)
  • 100ml milk
  • 50g sugar
  • 400g flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 egg (M), at room temperature
  • Tangzhong
  • 75g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 tsps matcha powder tea
  • milk, to brush


  1. Heat the milk in the microwave so it is warm but not burning hot. Add the yeast and sugar, stir until it is dissolved.
  2. The Tangzhong: set a pan to low-medium heat, add the Tangzhong ingredients and mix & whisk well until it becomes a thick and dense paste. Once some of the liquid has evaporated and you can see the bottom of the pan, remove from heat and pour into a bowl, cover with cling film and set aside.
  3. The dough: mix the flour, salt, sugar in a large bowl. Create a small hole and pour the egg and the yeast&milk. Mix and knead the dough well, then add the Tangzhong. Mix and knead, then add the butter, bit by bit. If you are using your hands to knead the dough you will find that adding the butter is no easy task, be patient. A good tip is to flatten the dough, rub the butter across the surface until it melts, then fold the dough and knead. Repeat.
  4. Knead the dough for a good 15-20 mins, until it’s elastic and doesn’t break easily. Once ready, cut the dough in half. Take 1/2 and place it in an oiled bowl, cover with cling film. Take the other 1/2 and add the matcha powder until the dough becomes distinctively green (I didn’t put enough and so the end result was not was *excentric” as I had hoped). Place the dough ball in another oiled bowl, cover with cling film. Let the doughs sit in a relatively warm place for 1h, or until they double in size.
  5. Deflate both dough balls, then cut each ball in half, twice. You will end up with 4 plain balls, 4 matcha balls. Cover with cling film, let them sit for 15-20 mins.
  6. Start with 1 plain + 1 matcha ball. Roll out each portion of the dough with a rolling pin into an oval shape of  1/2cm thickness approx. Place the matcha dough on top of the plain dough, fold both ends to create an envelope. Roll flat and stretch to about 25-30cm in length. Roll into a cylinder.

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Repeat this with the other 3 pairs of balls, place them into a rectangular tin container, cover and let it sit for 45 mins.

7. Preheat oven to 170ºC. After letting the dough rest, brush surface with milk or egg, place in oven and bake for 30 minutes, until golden brown.


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