Growing up, milk bread was simply bread or ppang in Korean. It was our family’s everyday bread that we ate in all forms: rolls, filled with sweet black beans, vanilla custard, and whipped cream, and loaves sliced for sandwiches. I considered all other store- or bakery-bought breads fancy.
That speaks to the ease of making these milk bread rolls. The ingredients are dumped into a stand mixer, which then does all the hard work. You do have to make tangzhong—the secret to lasting softness—but that’s simply boiling flour and milk into a paste. Don’t be surprised if your family asks for these rolls for every dinner.
What Is Milk Bread?
Milk bread, known as shokupan in Japan, is a super soft and airy everyday bread. It has a milky not-too-sweet flavor and a feathery texture that tears into wispy strands when pulled apart. It’s considered an enriched dough—rich with eggs, butter, and milk. Unlike challah, brioche, and babka, milk bread is enriched with mostly milk and not too many eggs or too much butter. This gives it a delicate crust and a creamy flavor.
What Is Tangzhong?
Think of tangzhong as a dough improver. It’s a Chinese technique where flour and a liquid—I use milk, but water works too—are cooked to create a paste that is added to the dough. It helps the bread stay tender and fresher for longer. It won’t dry out as quickly as most breads, if it lasts at all.
Not all milk bread recipes require tangzhong; this one does. Sometimes a similar method called yudane is used. It’s a Japanese technique that calls for mixing flour with a hot liquid. In both cases, the purpose is the same: the starch in the flour swells and traps in moisture. All this means is that the bread can retain its moisture for longer.
One Important Tip for Making Milk Bread Rolls
You’ll be a pro at making these milk bread rolls after just one try. I sure felt that way! Until then, I recommend bringing out your kitchen scale to measure out the ingredients. It’s a simple recipe, but if you inadvertently add too much flour or too little milk, you’ll end up with dry rolls. After a few bakes, you’ll get an instinct for how the dough should feel and look. And then you can measure by volume—you’ll know when you need a little extra flour or milk.
Can I Use All-Purpose or Gluten-Free Flour?
In a cinch, you could use all-purpose flour. It’ll still be tasty, but denser and not as feathery. My kids still snarfed them down.
I tested the recipe using King Arthur Gluten Free Measure for Measure Flour with little success. The rolls turned out very dense and rubbery. I’d love to hear—comment below!—if you find success using other brands of gluten-free flour.
Go Ahead. Fill Up on Dinner Rolls.
Milk Bread Rolls
Do you ever say, “I’m just not a baker!” and your dinner rolls turn out dense and dry? It’s not you. It’s your measuring cup! Here is a guide on how to accurately measure ingredients for baking. Or even better: invest in a kitchen scale to weigh the ingredients—our favorite one costs about $25.
For the tangzhong
1/4 cup (30g) bread flour
2/3 cup (160g) whole milk
For the dough
1/2 cup (120g) whole milk, cold
1 large egg, cold
3 cups (360g) bread flour
1/4 cup (50g) sugar
2 teaspoons (9g) active dry yeast or instant yeast
1 teaspoon kosher salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter (57g), softened, plus more for bowl and pan
For the egg wash
1 large egg
1 tablespoon water
- Stand mixer with dough hook attachment
Make the tangzhong:
In a small saucepan, add the flour and milk, and whisk until no lumps remain. Set it over medium-low heat and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens and looks like smooth mashed potatoes, about 2 minutes 30 seconds to 3 minutes.
Use a rubber spatula to scrape the tangzhong into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook.
You can make tangzhong up to 1 day ahead. Keep it tightly covered and refrigerated until ready to use—no need to reheat or bring it to room temp.
Add remaining dough ingredients:
To the tangzhong, add the cold milk, egg, flour, sugar, yeast, salt, and butter. The cold milk and egg will cool down the hot tangzhong, so you don’t need to cool it down before adding the ingredients. You don’t need to stir the ingredients together before kneading.
Knead the dough:
Knead the dough on medium speed—that’s a #4 on my KitchenAid—for no less than 10 minutes, until it pulls away from the sides of the bowl and it’s no longer sticky. Resist the temptation to add more flour even if the dough initially looks too wet. It will become stiff, smooth, and wrap itself around the hook after it’s kneaded.
Let the dough rise:
Use your hands to pull the dough off the hook, form it into a ball, and place it back into the bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it rise at room temperature for about 1 1/2 hours, until the dough doubles in size.
Overnight rise option: Right after you knead it, pop the bowl with the dough into the fridge for up to 24 hours. When you’re ready to bake the rolls, proceed with the recipe.
Meanwhile, prepare the cake pan:
Lightly grease a 9-inch square cake pan with butter and line it with one 9x14-inch parchment paper. You’ll use the slings that come up two sides to pull the rolls out of the pan after they bake.
Shape the rolls:
Punch the risen dough with your fist—it will deflate and pull away from the sides of the bowl. Transfer the dough onto a clean kitchen counter and divide it into 9 equal pieces—about 87 grams each. The dough won’t be sticky and will be easy to work with.
To shape each roll: Flatten a piece of dough using the palm of your hands. Pull the outer edges up and over the center, all around. Pinch the pulled-up edges together and flip the dough over so that the smooth side is facing up. Cup your hands around it to shape it into a ball. Transfer it into the prepared cake pan and shape the remaining pieces. Distribute them evenly in the cake pan 3x3 with some room between each roll.
Let the dough rise, again:
Cover the cake pan with plastic wrap and let the dough rise at room temperature for 45 minutes to 1 hour. The rolls will rise to touch each other, but not quite double in size.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350°F:
Place the oven rack in the center.
Make the egg wash:
Whisk the egg and 1 tablespoon water in a small bowl. Use a pastry brush to lightly brush the tops of the rolls with the egg wash.
Bake the rolls:
Bake the rolls until golden brown on top, 20 to 25 minutes. The rolls will dome and rise tall, about an inch past the top of the pan. An instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of a roll in the middle of the pan should read 190°F or higher.
Allow the rolls to cool slightly in the pan. Use the parchment paper sling to pull them out and serve warm.
Store leftovers in a zip top bag or a tightly lidded container for up to 4 days on your kitchen counter—they’ll remain soft and fluffy. It’s not magic, it’s the tangzhong!
Did you love the recipe? Leave us stars below!
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 8g||10%|
|Saturated Fat 4g||21%|
|Total Carbohydrate 39g||14%|
|Dietary Fiber 1g||5%|
|Total Sugars 7g|
|Vitamin C 0mg||0%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|