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Tang Zhong Milk Bread
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 flavor. 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:
1. 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.
2. Bread will rise higher.
Tang zhong bread usually will rise higher because more liquid equals more steam during the baking process.
3. 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:
- sausage bread
- cream cheese & berries jam bread
- matcha braided loaf
- pizza bread
- or try this Indonesian favorite bread, chocolate, cheese, and banana bread
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.
Interesting! I had never heard of Tang Zhong before. Sounds like it makes for a very nice, moist bread!
Heidy L. McCallum says:
This Milk Bread looks so wonderful! I bet my best friend would love this recipe too. Not only am I passing it on to her but I think maybe I will also make this recipe this coming week. It looks so good!
Danielle Wolter says:
I can't wait to try this! There is a place close to where I live that makes this and I love it. I'd love to be able to make it at home.
What a great looking bread! You make it look so easy but I am sure you have a knack for that. I can see it working on so many occasions. I love that it is a quick, fast cook also. Thanks!
Angela Allison says:
This is one of my favorite breads! So soft and flavorful, I love this recipe. Thanks so much for sharing!
I absolutely love fluffy, sweeter breads and this one really hit the spot! My kids loved it too!
I made a modified version of this to try the method with seeded bread. I used whole milk, seeded bread flour and reduced the sugar by half. I made the roux with plain bread flour. The end result was superb! I don't think I will use any other method from now on for sandwich bread.
WOW! Your recipe is a treasure these days when people cannot find yeast in grocery stores. I love your no yeast starter to make the bread. Will definitely try to make it :)
Irina, only the tang zhong starter has no yeast. The bread itself still needs 1 tablespoon of instant yeast though. 😅
Emily Liao says:
I've always wanted to make milk bread - and this recipe is so easy to follow! Mine came out perfectly light and fluffy.
This zhong milk bread looks amazing and I cannot wait to make it. I bet my husband would love this recipe.
Kelly Anthony says:
I love all kinds of bread especially when it looks this good. Oh what I wouldn't give to have a bite of this fluffy hot bread right now!
The crust on this bread is gorgeous. I haven't baked bread in a while. This looks like a recipe I want to try.
Tried your recipe yesterday and it was perfect especially eaten warm straight out of the oven. I had inserted a coconut filling in the middle. Thanks for a great recipe.
I can't wait to try this! Thank you for a recipe that uses cups instead of grams! I just have two questions
1) unfortunately I do not have access to instant yeast and I have active dry yeast. Would you happen to have a substitute for the amount?
2) I don't own a mixer. Would I be able to just knead by hand on the counter top?
Hi Peter, let me try answering your questions.
(1) You can use active dry yeast instead of instant yeast. Unlike instant yeast, active dry yeast needs to be activated first by mixing it with warm liquid, so you will want to first mix 1 tablespoon active dry yeast with 1/2 cup warm milk (if you have a thermometer, it's about 38 Celsius or 100 Fahrenheit), then wait about 5 minutes or until the mixture becomes frothy. Once this happens, proceed with step #2.
(2) You can knead with hands, sometimes I knead with hands too since I find it therapeutic to knead bread dough. It should be totally doable.
This was such a great easy recipe! Love to snack on this bread, yum!
I have made a few breads using this method and I love the soft texture. Even when made with wheat flour, the bread is still so soft using this methodology. Thanks for the reminder. I think I will make one this week!
Denay DeGuzman says:
I just made this milk bread, and it turned out beautifully! Thank you so much for another excellent recipe!
HANNAH HEALY says:
I've never heard of this bread before but it looks so fluffy and delicious! I'll have to try this one soon!
Mama Maggie's Kitchen says:
I've never heard of Tang Zhong before but it's good to know that there is a technique we can use to make our milk bread softer, fluffier, and airier bread. I will definitely try making this Tang Zhong milk bread for my family! They will love this.
This bread looks so light and fluffy. The crust looks amazing too.
This bread sounds really delicious, need to give it a go!
Nart | Cooking with Nart says:
Wow such gorgeous color I just wanna take a bite!
nice and moist! I'm not much of a baker but with your clear instructions this is doable. I think I had something like this in Singapore when I was there some years back.
Wow! this bread looks so yummy and moist! I love that you can store it for a few days, thank you for sharing the recipe!
Hi Anita, your recipe/steps look so much easily than another one I came across online and last night have tried it. The crust look a bit different from yours and I was hoping it's much softer than it is. So i am checking with your if the type of tin make any difference. I used the same size but the dark grey type which my friend told me is cake tin. Secondly I overbaked, took out at 34min instead of 25-30min. Will this 2 make the bread less soft? Thanks again ya
Hi Carmen. In general, darker color pan bakes a cake/bread faster than a lighter color pan. All my pans are light color heavy weight aluminum pans, and they are more often than not, will bake a cake/bread much more evenly compared to darker pans.
If your pan is dark, you may want to try reducing the temperature by 25 Fahrenheit and try checking for the bread a bit earlier since it usually needs a reduced baking time too. It differs from recipe to recipe, but in general, try to check 5-10 minutes earlier.
Also, if you bake the bread for 34 minutes, the bread will be over-cooked and become harder. If you give it another try, please reduce the baking time to about 25-30 minutes. :)
Hello! I have wanted to use this method for baking bread and followed instructions from another website. Epic fail. But your instructions are a lot clearer and your photos are very helpful. Here is my question: Can this recipe work for rolls, rather than a loaf? Thank you!
Hi GC, certainly. You can use this basic bread recipe and shape it into individual bread rolls, pull-apart bread rolls, cinnamon rolls shape, or even braids.
Just baked mine this afternoon in paper cups , following exactly your recipe. Taste good however come out slight on the dry ( only bake for 12mins at 180C)
Hi Poh, did you mean you shape the bread into separate individual buns and place each of them in a separate paper cup? If that was the case, I can see why yours only took 12 minutes to bake. This recipe takes 25-30 minutes of baking time only if it's shaped into a loaf and bake in a loaf pan. :)
a ni ta says:
My name Anita
I want to ask if not milk power can I use fresh milk instead
Instant yeast and Active dry yeast is it same
If you don't have milk powder, you can skip or even substitute with coffee creamer if you have that.
If you are using active dry yeast instead of instant yeast, you will need to dissolve it before using. Stir 1 tablespoon of active dry yeast with 1/2 cup of warm milk (about 100 Fahrenheit) and wait for 5-10 minutes until it begins to foam vigorously. Then, use this in step 2 to make the bread dough.
So your step 2 becomes "Place all-purpose/bread flour, sugar, milk powder, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Make a well, then add in the egg, active dry yeast + milk solution, and cooled tang zhong. Stir into a shaggy mass, then knead until smooth."
Hi thank you for the recipe! I tried it today with only all purpose flour and omitted milk powder and used 3 tbsp of butter instead of 4 as I did not have enough - the bread came out fluffy but it had a very yeasty smell and slight bitter taste. I also proofed the bread for the full 1 hour in the bowl and then 45 minutes in the loaf pan as it had already doubled in size really quickly. What could the bitter taste and yeasty smell be from? Would really appreciate help troubleshooting! Thank you :)
Hi Sarah, there are two possibilities that I can think of. First possibility, we are using different brands of yeast and yours may need slightly less (perhaps 2 teaspoons instead of 1 tablespoon). For reference, I am using Saf-Instant Yeast Gold.
The second possibility, too long a rising time can also cause a yeasty taste. It is always best to finish the proofing once the volume of the dough doubles rather than going by a specific time. My proofing time varies depends on the season and my room temperature, it takes longer in winter and faster in summer.
Also, it could be caused by omission of milk powder and the butter as you reported. :)
I made this before and it’s a great recipe which yields soft, fluffy, and delicious bread for days! I’d like to make a loaf for a friend. Can the Tang Zhong be made ahead and refrigerated a day earlier? Or can the dough be refrigerated/ only made the same day? Thanks! Xx
Hi Serena, after kneading the dough, you can let it rise in the fridge (1st rise) overnight. Be sure to wrap the mixing bowl with double layer of saran wrap while in the fridge. Due to the cold temperature, the dough will rise very slowly, and believe it or not, the final bread is usually more flavorful when you let the dough rise slowly like this. The next day when the dough has doubled in volume, remove it from the fridge, and continue with the steps 5 onward.
Hartini Mt Rasid says:
Thank you so much for d recipe....made it for d 1st time n it was superb....will try other recipes too...salam kasih sayang dari Malaysia
Na Dang says:
Thank you for the receipt. I see that your receipt and explaination is very clear for begginers like me. There are two questions I would ask is: 1)If I increase the amount of ingredient, should I increase the starter or I can keep the amount for whatever amount of ingredients? 2) what is the ratio of the instant yeast with? Thank you very much.
Hi Na Dang,
1. If you increase the ingredients, say you want to make a double batch, then you will need to double the amount of starter as well.
2. Sorry, I'm not sure I understand your question. The amount of instant yeast works for this recipe. And if you want to double the recipe, you will also need to double the instant yeast.
Hi, can I skip the egg or how do I make the recipe eggless?Thanks.
Hi Nithya, you can try using 1/4 cup (60 gram) apple sauce, mashed ripe banana, or yogurt to replace 1 egg.
Hi, I follow the measurement in the recipe however my dough turn out to be shaggy can't form into a smooth dough. Please advice what's went wrong, will be my tangzhong. After making the tangzhong, the tangzhong weighted around 80grams.
Hi Jos, kneading a tang zhong bread dough should use the same bread kneading technique as any other bread dough. If this is your first time baking a bread, perhaps a video demonstration on how to knead bread dough will help. I find this guide from King Arthur site very helpful.
Hi. If I make this into rolls, how long should I bake them and in what temperature?
Hi Eeli, if you shape it into 8 equal pieces of bread rolls, it should take about 20-25 minutes at 180 Celsius (350 Fahrenheit).
Hi Anita. Wondering, can substitute rice flour instead of all purpose flour for this recipe?
Hi Jenny, you can't use rice flour to replace all-purpose flour. You can, however, use bread flour if you have it. This bread recipe needs the gluten from either all-purpose or bread flour, so we can't use gluten-free flour like rice flour.
Hi. If I will rest it in the fridge and make it the next day, do I have to rest it in room temperature for a few minutes after i remove it from the fridge? Or can I proceed in rolling and for second proof? Thank you so much
Hi Grace, I would let the dough finish its first rise, then roll, shape, and place in the loaf pan. Then I would cover the pan and chill in the fridge overnight. The dough should rise very slowly in the fridge. The next day when you are ready to bake, remove the loaf pan and the risen dough from the fridge. Then start preheating the oven, and although the dough hasn't completely return to room temperature, it should be okay to bake, though it may take several minutes longer to bake.
Gluten Free Heroes says:
Can I replace the all purpose flour with gluten free flour? Will the recipe work the same?
Hi, I haven't tried with gluten-free flour so I can't say it will work. From what I've read, most gluten-free bread recipes need some special ingredient to act as the missing gluten, such as xanthan gum or psyllium husk. If you do decide to experiment, let us know how it goes.
Made this the other day. Am on day 3 and it's still soft! it smells soooo buttery. and the dough was so easy to work with by hand. This will be my go-to recipe for sandwich bread now! Want to make this into a chocolate swirl or matcha swirl, or coconut! The possibilities are endless! Thanks for this!
Celine Chan says:
Hi Anita If I were to incorporate mashed potatoes or pumpkin, how much would I need in your recipe?
Hi Celine, I haven't tried for this particular recipe, though personally I would start with about 1/2 cup of mashed potato/pumpkin. In case the mashed potatoes make the dough stickier to handle, you can try adding flour (I think it shouldn't be more than 1/4 cup of flour).
If you want a recipe that will definitely work, I have a recipe for brown butter honey sweet potato bread that has been fully tested.
Pam Hayes says:
Can you make one loaf or does it have to be the 4 small obes?
Hi Pam, you can make 1 loaf if you want to. :)
The first time I made this, it was awesome (I followed the instructions). The 2nd time I made it, I was lazy, tried to cut corners so the bread was meh. It was ok, but got crumbly. The tang zhong (2nd go around) was liquidy and instead of cooking it for another 30 seconds, I figured whatever, it was fine. 2nd lazy move, instead of dividing the dough and rolling it out and shaping it into "mini loafs", I plopped the whole thing into the bread pan , let it rise and cooked it like that. I'm not sure if both lazy moves matter or just one but I'm cured. Following directions from now on. 3rd loaf made today and it was exactly like the first loaf. Absolutely awesome recipe and very easy. Deserves a 20 rating.
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