Today there is a sturdy and reliable sandwich loaf: milky, buttery, sturdy. I love the softer crumb from tangzhong, a flour roux gelatinised over heat like a gentle gluten custard. It ensures that each slice holds and maintains a cottony richness from the moment of first bake to over the span of a few days without drying out into stiff sponge, or uninspired staleness; but of course this is all hypothetical conjecture based on the loaf not disappearing on the day itself. It is slightly sweet when you inhale; rich enough to eat plain, downy and milky bounce like tongue-melt wool. I love tearing off the golden crust which crispens obediently when toasted, but softens into browned goodness with the wholemealy flavour of being fried at the direct heat of the metal tin.
These few loaves are slightly more colourful than the staple recipe this post is meant to convey; that’s because I was experimenting with zebra patterned bread/ゼブラ柄パン, using a laminating method that I’ve formulated myself and that you can reference here in my Instagram highlights. It involves four turns of a log of dough that, once spliced, reveals striated and tapered streaks of colour inside; hopefully sufficiently accordioned such as to express, once braided over each other, the exact point on a zebra’s side where its belly folds into a hamstring, two tautly patterned muscles swirled intimately together, soft. The purple one is slightly more billowy as it holds more hydration due to grated purple carrot; I freestyled the liquid part for that, but the basic recipe ratios remain!
My favourite will always be poolishes, just for the sheer bulk of water weight they are able to grant a dough, turning out loaves that wibble and wobble like balloons; but these are a good staple that are kind to beginners looking to try the wonders of a milk bread using the repertoire of Asian-baker derived skills & methodry. I’ve updated this and the previous killer loaf recipe with some notes on hydration, temperatures and proofing based on collating questions and general good-to-know advice I’ve picked up myself with experience; I hope it’s helpful. I’m currently working one based on colouring and flavouring doughs, so do email or dm me if there are any specifics that I may be able to help with.
These can be sliced thin and wobbly without breaking, folding over each other like a gymnast doing backbends. My slices are always untidy and uneven, sloping circumferences, but it still tastes the same when smeared with nut butter, or enveloping sweet adzuki beans.
It has been a terse and trying time. I hope feeding yourself and others brings some comfort.
Basic Vegan Tangzhong Loaf
TANGZHONG: 30g bread flour + 160 ml soy milk (choose as ‘whole’ a version as possible, like Bonsoy; none of the watery brands like Silk or Alpro)
400g bread flour
6g instant yeast (or about 1 and 1/4 tsp)
25g granulated sugar
2.5tbs coconut cream powder or soy milk powder (I’ve put this in tbsp measurements as it often doesn’t register on the scale)
140ml soy milk (choose as ‘whole’ a version as possible, like Bonsoy; none of the watery brands like Silk or Alpro)
40g vegan butter OR melted coconut oil
FOR THE TANGZHONG: whisk together ingredients until fully combined in a medium saucepan. On medium low heat, keep whisking continuously until the mixture thickens; start taking note once it starts holding shape in ribbons. Remove from heat when it reaches a loose custard/pudding texture; it should be the consistency of custard/a thick baby food, and will set further as it cools. Scrape into a bowl and cover with clingwrap over the surface to prevent a skin from forming, before letting it come down to room temperature completely. You can do this up to two days before and store in the fridge before using.
FOR THE DOUGH: combine all ingredients alongside the tangzhong EXCEPT for the butter/oil in the bowl of your stand mixer, taking especial care to keep the salt and yeast from coming into contact. Knead on medium speed until it comes together into a dough; knead for 2-3 more minutes before covering with a damp teatowel and letting it rest for about 5 minutes. Start the machine again and knead until a very rough windowpane is achieved.
At this point, you can add the softened butter/melted coconut oil. Let the machine run slowly until it absorbs everything and comes together into a smooth, sleek ball; don’t be deterred if it looks awful to begin with. Stop to scrape down/turn the dough with a spatula once or twice, to help it to incorporate the fat. Once it becomes a cohesive dough, let the machine run for about 3 minutes before stopping again and covering with a damp teatowel; let it rest for 5 minutes. This isn’t mandatory, but will help the dough achieve windowpane much quicker and prevent your machine from overheating.
Start the machine and knead until windowpane is achieved. Form it into a smooth ball with your hands and place in a greased bowl, covering with clingwrap. Let this rise either overnight (8 hours minimum, 13 hours maximum) in the fridge or at room temperature until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
Turn your dough out onto a lightly floured surface, lightly knocking out the air, and divide into 2 equal portions. If handling fridged dough, it will be helpful to watch this segment of this video for reference (3:06 to 3:58; there are English subtitles)!
For each portion, shape into a ball. Flatten it with a rolling pin and roll into a cylinder shape by pinching the long ends together, sealing to form a swiss roll. Turn this swiss roll 90 degrees to face you, roll flat out again into a long oval, and roll this up into a log. Place these side by side into a greased 400g loaf pan, cover with a damp towel or clingwrap and let rise until doubled, about an hour (I put mine in a closed, cold oven with a dish of hot water).
Preheat your oven to 190 degrees Celsius. Brush your dough lightly with additional soymilk if desired (not necessary if you use a lid). Turn down the heat to 180 degrees Celsius and bake for 25-30 minutes depending on the size of your tin; cover with foil no earlier than 10 minutes in if they start browning too quickly. It took me about 30 minutes for my standard 400g loaf tin with the lid on throughout.
BASIC DOUGH ADVICE
Protein contents in different flour brands will differ, and hence your kneading time will also vary – not to mention the various strengths of stand mixers, elbow grease etc. My number one tip is rest – at each stage, letting your machine stop and your dough work on itself covered with a damp teatowel for 3-4 minutes will allow you to achieve a windowpane faster and better without overheating your machine. I like to use this time to wash up as I go along too, and suddenly breadmaking is that much more simpler and efficient.
HYDRATION & LIQUIDITY
My liquid proportions are given exact to what works for my climate and brand of flour: I recommend always holding back about 10-20ml of liquid when you try, to adjust as you go along. Your dough pre-butter should come together cohesively but not be too dry; nor should it be a porridgey, muffin batter. What works for me for a basic loaf texture is a slight tackiness: think of the skin of a freshly steamed dumpling/gyoza; it should stick a little and be moist and tacky, but still cleave away upon touch as an autonomous, self-contained membrane without smearing. Liquid must be adjusted before adding fat, as it’s impossible to add flour after that stage of kneading without compromising the texture of your dough in marked ways.
As you go along in your breadmaking, you will be able to vary the liquid quotients with strategies like mashed starches/fruit purées, poolishes, tangzhong etc that allow for more hydrated doughs without additional bulking with flour to compensate. The more hydrated the dough is, the softer it will be as a general rule. This will make it harder to hold strict patterns and/or shapes as the aqueous dough melds & warps upon proofs, but it will be incredibly cottony.
PROOFING & LIQUID TEMPERATURES
Working in Singapore, I use fridge-cold wet ingredients unless otherwise specified (this is excluding the butter of course, which must be softened at room temp). If you’re working in a cold climate, it might be advisable to bring them to at least room temperature, if not blood heat. Proofing times will vary according to humidities and temperatures.
I always proof my bread dough overnight and work with it cold from the fridge; this video is a good general guide to how I handle my dough. However, if you’re proofing your dough at room temperature, here are some indication guides:
FIRST PROOF TO DOUBLING: with a floured finger, you should be able to poke an indentation in the dough that springs back slightly whilst maintaining its shape; it should feel gaseous but elastic.
SECOND PROOF TO DOUBLING/90% TIN: with a floured finger, gently touch the buns/top of proved dough without poking. It should yield gently, hold the indent, and slowly fill back to its original shape with a small dent. If it bounces back immediately, it needs more time.