Japanese Milk Bread

See you later brioche! It's time for me to change allegiance and say a sweet new hello to Japanese milk bread, also known as 'Hokkaido' milk bread. I recently discovered this lighter than light, fluffier than fluffy, softer than soft, delicious bread, not in Hokkaido (one of Japan's northernmost main islands) but on a recent visit much closer to home! The newly opened Comins Tea House on Monmouth Street in Bath had this on their daily menu. A couple of toasted slices, which we coated in the most scrumptious cinnamon butter, arrived to our table. It was quite simply that moment when you think, "oh my goodness, where has this been hiding all my life?!" Since then, it is all I have been craving at breakfast time (lunch time, tea time, midnight munchies time...!), alongside a cup of green tea. So, I figured it was time to do something about it. After a little researching online, I came across a number of different food bloggers who all have their own take on the recipe for Hokkaido milk bread. I have taken inspiration from all these sources and come up with my very own version...

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The ingredients you will need are as follows:

400 g strong white bread flour

60 g caster sugar

1 tsp salt

1 egg

2 tbsp milk powder

125 ml of whole milk

1 sachet of instant yeast

For the 'Tangzhong' (flour paste)

50 g strong white bread flour

125 ml of whole milk

125 ml of water

*Please note, this is not the quickest of recipes to follow. It might be one to save for the weekend, when you may have more time on your hands. It's the proving of the bread which takes up the time, the eating of it can be over in a matter of minutes or hours, depending on the number of hungry diners!*

Your first job will be to make the tangzhong. If you have made sourdough before, you will be familiar with making the 'sourdough starter;' an essential part of the bread-making process which helps the dough to rise and lift once cooked. With Japanese milk bread, you apply the same sort of method. Firstly, mix the flour, milk and water together until all lumps have disappeared. Transfer to the hob and cook over a medium to low heat, stirring continuously. As soon as the whisk is becoming difficult to stir smoothly through the mixture, then remove the saucepan from the heat. You want a smooth, glossy, relatively thick consistency, similar to a roux (like the white sauce you would make for a lasagne). Put the tangzhong into a clean bowl, cover with cling film, then set aside to cool.

Place all of the dry ingredients (flour, salt, caster sugar and sachet of instant yeast) into a mixing bowl...

Crack an egg into the centre of the mixed dry ingredients...

Slowly pour in the whole milk...

Retrieve the tangzhong and spoon this into the mixing bowl too...

Mix all of the dry and wet ingredients together until you have formed a dough.

Now it's time to roll up your sleeves and dust your hands in flour. Keep kneading until the dough is no longer sticky, but smooth and elastic to touch. Once ready, form the dough into a large ball shape and place in a greased bowl. Cover with a damp tea towel and leave to prove in a warm place for ~40 minutes, or, until you notice the dough has roughy doubled in size.

Transfer the dough onto a floured surface, knock back and then divide into four equal sized balls. Place these balls into a greased loaf tin (as shown below) and leave to prove once more, until the dough rises to fill the volume of the tin.

Once your dough looks like this below, brush the top of the dough with whisked egg; this will help the loaf have that gorgeously golden, shiny finish when it comes out of the oven. Once ready, pop into a preheated oven (at 180 degrees) for approx 30 minutes, making sure you add a splash of water to the bottom of the oven so the bread can cook in steam. This will help the loaf get that lovely crust we all know and love!

To check whether the loaf is ready, remove from the tin and tap its bottom! If it sounds hollow, it's ready!

How long you leave it to cool down for, is up to you!

I personally can't think of anything more delicious than a couple of slices of freshly baked, just-out-the-oven, Japanese milk bread coated in slabs of rich salty, yellow butter!

That, alongside a cup of Japanese green tea, and I could almost be back where I started in Comins Tea House, enjoying my first taste of what the people of Hokkaido created.