Hokkaido milk bread is a sweet, fluffy bread roll that originates from the Hokkaido region of Japan. It is popular for its sweet, milky flavour and super-soft crumb, which has been compared to biting into a cloud. Even the crusts are soft and squishy, with a texture somewhere between a muffin top and a croissant.
The secret to that irresistible fluffiness is all in the dough. Hokkaido dough has a much higher liquid content than Western breads, which not only gives it that trademark soft, squishy texture, but also helps to keep it that way for longer after it has been baked, without the need for processed ingredients.
Japanese milk bread in general is known as ‘shokupan’, which literally translates as ‘food bread’. Shokupan is a Japanese take on the soft white loaves brought over by American GIs during the post war occupation, and was originally made from imported wheat and condensed milk as a cheap staple food during times of austerity. Hokkaido is a particularly milky type of shokupan, with a sweeter flavour than other milk breads.
The Yudane method and the Tanzghong method
Like all shokupan, Hokkaido is made using a starter (sometimes also referred to as a ‘roux’), which helps make the wet dough easier to work with. If you’ve ever made sourdough, you’ll know that high-hydration doughs can be quite sticky, which makes them difficult to knead. Shokupan bread is made using one of two types of starter, known as the Yudane method, or the Tanzghong method. Both of these starters gelatinise the starches in boiling water, helping to avoid any sticky situations.
The Yudane method is the traditional Japanese method of making milk bread. It involves taking 20% of the flour used in the recipe and mixing with an equal amount of boiling water, then leaving the mixture to rest overnight.
The Tanzghong method is a faster method, invented by Yvonne Chen in her book 65°C Bread Doctor, published in Taiwan in 2003, and popularised by food blogger Christine Ho in the 2010s. Many bakers prefer this new method because it involves less waiting time.
The Tanzghong method uses 7% of the flour content of your recipe, mixed with 5 times as much liquid. So if your recipe calls for 300g flour, your Tanzghong starter will require 21g of that flour, mixed with 105ml of liquid. The liquid can be water, milk, or a mixture of the two.
The flour and liquid mixture should be heated on the stove until it reaches 149°F (65°C), at which point it should form a thick paste. Unlike the Yudane method, there is no need to leave this starter overnight. It can be used in your recipe as soon as it is cool to the touch.
Dough proofing and baking tips
Making milk bread is simple when you know how. Follow these tips and tricks to get the best from your Hokkaido dough.
Use the right ingredients
Good ingredients are the foundation of any recipe, and baking, in particular, relies on getting that chemistry just right. For best results, use bread flour, as this has a slightly higher gluten content than all-purpose flour, and will make your bread rise higher. You should also use unsalted butter, as too much salt will start to soak up all that lovely liquid you need to keep things light and fluffy.
Use the right equipment
Baking is an exact science, so don’t try to guess your amounts. A good set of scales will make sure you have everything in the right proportion. So if your dough seems too wet, you know it’s meant to be like that.
If you have a stand mixer, now is the time to use it. Making your Yudane or Tanzghong starter goes a long way to making the dough more manageable, but it will still be pretty sticky, and using a mixer will save valuable time, not to mention your arm muscles.
Premix wet and dry ingredients
To ensure even distribution, mix your dry ingredients together first, then mix your wet ingredients together and tip them into the dry a little at a time, mixing all the while. This dough can be tricky to mix, so every little helps.
Proof your dough at the right temperature
The perfect temperature for proofing your dough is between 70°F - 90 °F. If the temperature in your kitchen or proofing drawer is too low, check if your oven has a proofing setting. If not, you can preheat it on the lowest setting for around 3 minutes, turn off the heat, and place the bread inside. Check your dough every 30 minutes to keep an eye on both its progress and the temperature.
Now you know the basics, why not try baking your own Japanese Hokkaido bread? Our recipe uses a version of the Tanzghong method, for sweet, fluffy rolls that are ready in just under an hour.