Tang zhong is the secret to Asian bakery milk bread that stays soft, moist, fluffy, and fresh for days! Learn how to make this lovely bread with my recipe.
If you grow up in Asia, you probably prefer bread that has a soft and fluffy texture with a strong milky taste. It really doesn’t matter if you grow up in Indonesia like me, or maybe in Malaysia, Singapore, or even in Japan or Korea, the bread we get from our bakery is pretty much a milk bread. Or more specifically, this tang zhong milk bread, which is soft and fluffy and milky, and can stay like that for days stored in nothing but the plastic bag the bread comes in. I am happy to report that this recipe will give you that bread.
What is tang zhong?
If you have tried your hands with bread baking in the past, you know that as you increase the amount of water to the dough, you should get softer and fluffier bread. But there’s only so much water a typical bread dough can absorb before the dough becomes too wet to handle. Tang zhong method is created to solve this exact problem, to trick the dough to absorb more liquid than it previously can, and thus leads to a softer, fluffier, and airier bread. And how does this technique do that?
The tang zhong technique calls for precooking a small amount of the flour and liquid (water/milk) from any yeast bread recipe to create a thick roux/slurry, and this roux/slurry is called a starter which will then be combined with the rest of the dough ingredients.
The chemistry reaction created by this roux/slurry allows the flour to absorb more liquid and hold onto that extra liquid during kneading and baking and well into the cooling process. Basically, a tang zhong bread will have these beneficial properties:
- The dough will be less sticky and easier to knead. Despite the high water content, I can still knead tang zhong dough with hands. For comparison, a brioche dough also has a high water ratio, but it is such a big mess kneading brioche dough with hands compared to a tang zhong dough that I usually won’t even bother trying to do it with my hands.
- Bread will rise higher. Tang zhong bread usually will rise higher because more liquid equals more steam during the baking process.
- The bread stays soft, moist, and fresh for days. Also, because the roux/slurry can hold onto that extra liquid so much better than regular dough, tang zhong bread usually stays moist, soft, and fresh much longer compared to regular bread.
How to prepare tang zhong starter?
Tang zhong starter calls for cooking a small amount of flour and liquid into a thick roux/slurry. For this particular recipe, our starter is made from:
- 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour, you can also use bread flour if you wish
- 3 tablespoons of water
- 3 tablespoons of milk
Simply whisk together all the ingredients in a small saucepot until smooth, and place the pot over low heat and continue whisking until a thick slurry is formed. This can take anywhere from 3 to 5 minutes. Then we need to remove the slurry to a small bowl to let it cool to room temperature before using it with the rest of our dough ingredients.
Tips: To save time, this is usually the first thing I do when preparing a tang zhong bread. While I let the starter cools to room temperature (you can stick the bowl in the fridge to speed up the process), I measure out the rest of the ingredients. :)
How to incorporate tang zhong starter into bread dough
Once your tang zhong starter is cooled to room temperature, we can start preparing our bread dough.
- Place flour (you can choose from 100% all-purpose flour, 100% bread flour, or 75% all-purpose/bread flour + 25% whole wheat flour), sugar, milk powder, instant yeast, and salt in a mixing bowl.
- Make a well, then add egg, milk, and cooled tang zhong starter into the flour mixture. Stir into a shaggy mass, then knead until smooth.
- Add room temperature unsalted butter, and knead again until the dough is soft and elastic.
- Gather the dough into a ball, place in a mixing bowl, and cover. Let the dough proof until the volume is almost doubled. This should take about 1 hour in a warm kitchen.
To shape the bread, do the following:
- Gently deflate the proofed dough, knead, and divide into 4 equal portions.
- Roll each portion (like a swiss-roll) into a tight log.
- Arrange all four logs in a lightly grease a 9”x5” loaf pan.
- Cover the pan, and proof again until the dough fills the pan. About 1 hour in a warm kitchen.
Egg wash, baking, cooling, and storing a tang zhong bread
If you want to recreate the glossy look of typical Asian milk bread, you definitely need to apply egg wash prior to baking your bread. To prepare an egg wash, mix together one egg with one tablespoon of water/milk. Then brush the dough with this egg solution right before baking.
Every oven is slightly different, but it usually takes about 25 minutes to bake a perfect golden brown tang zhong milk bread in my oven. If you want to be really technical and specific, a digital thermometer inserted into the center of the loaf should register at least 88 Celsius (190 Fahrenheit).
To cool the bread properly, I let the bread cools in the pan for 10 minutes once out from the oven, then gently remove from the pan and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
A tang zhong bread is not fussy, once they are properly cooled, I cut them to slices and store in a Tupperware container on my kitchen counter. My bread never lasts any longer than 5 days from the day they are baked, but they always stay soft and fluffy up to day 5. But let’s be honest, they are softest and fluffiest when they are out from the oven. But compared to any other bread out there, you will swear that a day 3 tang zhong bread is really comparable to day 1 any other bread.
Bake other lovely yeast bread with this tang zhong dough
In this recipe, I show you how to make a standard loaf bread. But you can use the very same dough to bake other more elaborate bread! Use this tang zhong dough for the bread, and use the filling from these recipes:
Tang Zhong Milk Bread
- Tang Zhong (starter)
- 2 tablespoon all-purpose/bread flour
- 3 tablespoon water
- 3 tablespoon milk
- Bread dough
- 300 gram (2.5 cup) all-purpose/bread flour (*)
- 50 gram (1/4 cup) sugar
- 2 tablespoon dry/instant milk powder
- 1 tablespoon instant yeast
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 egg
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1/4 cup (4 tablespoon) unsalted butter, room temperature
- Egg wash (mix the following together)
- 1 egg
- 1 tablespoon water
- Prepare the tang zhong: Whisk together all-purpose/bread flour, water, and milk in a small saucepot. Place the pot over low heat, continue whisking until the mixture is thick. About 5 minutes. Transfer the tang zhong to a small bowl and let it cool to room temperature.
- Prepare the bread dough: Place all-purpose/bread flour, sugar, milk powder, instant yeast, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Make a well, then add in the egg, milk, and cooled tang zhong. Stir into a shaggy mass, then knead until smooth.
- Add unsalted butter to the dough, continue kneading until butter is fully incorporated into the dough and the dough becomes smooth and elastic.
- Shape the dough into a ball, and let it rest in a mixing bowl covered with a damp kitchen towel (or a saran plastic wrap) until puffy and the volume is close to double. This should take about 1 hour in a warm kitchen.
- Shaping the bread: Gently deflate the dough, divide into 4 equal pieces. Roll each piece into an oblong/oval shape, and roll (like a swiss-roll) into a log.
- Arrange the four rolled logs into a lightly greased a a 9"x5" loaf pan. Cover the pan and rest until the dough fills the pan, about 1 hour.
- Baking the bread: Preheat oven to 180 Celsius (350 Fahrenheit). Brush the dough with egg wash, then bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the top is golden brown.
- Remove the bread from the oven. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then gently and carefully remove the bread from the pan and cool completely on a wire rack.
- (*) You can also use a combination of 75 gram whole wheat flour and 225 gram all-purpose/bread flour.