Mastering Milk Bread: The Key Steps to Making the Perfect Buttery, Fluffy Dough

Novice bread bakers and old pros alike can revel in the satisfaction of achieving bouncy featherlight bread.

milk bread slices

Kelsey Hansen

There's nothing quite like a slice of homemade bread. If you hang out in the baking and cooking social media video world or stop by a local Asian bakery, there's a good chance you've come across milk bread. The trendy bread is know for its light, springy texture and rich, slightly-sweet flavor. The concept of making milk bread isn't new. In fact, milk bread's famous texture comes from a roux starter that dates back to the 20th century called tangzhong (more on this later). New and old bakers alike: Get ready for tips on milk bread and how to achieve that irresistible soft dough at home.

What Is Milk Bread?

Milk bread (aka Hokkaido milk bread) is a slightly sweet Japanese white bread that is known for its super soft, fluffy texture. The secret to getting milk bread's so-soft texture and whispy pull-apart strands is the heated milk and flour paste known as tangzhong. Cooked on the stove top, the starch in the flour retains more moisture so the rolls (bonus!) stay fresh longer as well.

The Difference Between Milk Bread and Other Breads

The main difference between milk bread and traditional bread is the only liquid used is milk. In most yeast bread recipes, the liquid is usually water. There are also no eggs in most yeast breads. When it comes to milk bread vs. brioche, the texture and look is similar, though brioche uses more eggs in the dough and also has a sweeter taste.

honey milk bread rolls

Carson Downing

How to Make Milk Bread

In baking, details matter. We're referencing our Test Kitchen's milk bread rolls in some of the images here, but you can use these important steps and tips for success when mixing, kneading, and shaping milk bread into a loaf as well.

Start with the Right Stuff

Milk bread starts with an enriched dough (one that includes eggs, butter, sugar, and honey). The butter and sweeteners make the rolls tender. Yeast, bread flour, and eggs give the dough structure.

milk bread dough tutorial steps

Kelsey Hansen

Trust the Tangzhong

The tangzhong (cooked flour paste) helps the dough retain moisture and gives the milk bread greater oven-spring (the rise that occurs when dough is put in the oven) to ensure a lofty crumb.

milk bread dough tutorial steps

Kelsey Hansen

Go Easy on the Flour

Resist the urge to knead in too much flour, which can make your milk bread tough. Recipes for milk bread reference the dough should be "tacky." Here are our tips for the tacky test: When you’ve finished kneading, press your hand on the dough. If it sticks to the dough but releases without leaving much dough on your hand, then the dough is slightly tacky. For milk bread, a little sticky is good. If your dough is somewhat firm, you've added too much flour, which will result in dense, dry rolls.

Weigh for Accuracy

When baking milk bread rolls weighing the dough balls is the best way to create consistent portions for even baking. If you don’t own a kitchen scale, gently pat the dough into a rectangle, then cut into equal pieces.

milk bread dough shaping with hands

Kelsey Hansen

Shape Smart

Pinch and pull the dough tight to make a smooth surface. Turn over and round the dough with your hand, continuing to pinch on the bottom to lighten.

Finish with an Egg Wash

Brushing the milk bread with an egg wash (egg beaten with water or milk) before baking gives the top a golden sheen. If you're making rolls, it also acts as the "glue" so the oats will stick to the tops.

Ready to tackle more homemade bread? Join the sourdough club by learning to make your own starter, then use it to make beautifully-decorated loaves.

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