Shokupan (Japanese Milk Bread) Recipe

Why It Works

  • Incorporating a scalded flour combination often called a tangzhong retains the loaf comfortable. 
  • Making the tangzhong with candy rice flour (which is larger in amylopectin, a molecule that makes starches sticky) as a substitute of wheat flour retains the loaf from going stale.
  • Not like wheat-based tangzhongs that have to be cooked over a range, a tangzhong made with glutinous rice flour comes collectively by merely whisking boiled milk with the flour.

Japanese milk bread, or shokupan, is among the world’s true marvel breads. An ultra-soft, squishy, and impossibly mild loaf, shokupan has a gentle however distinct sweetness, with a fantastic, pillowy crumb the Japanese name “fuwa fuwa,” or “fluffy fluffy.” The bread is baked in deep rectangular Pullman pans, giving the loaf a tall profile. 

There are two important kinds of shokupan, every decided by whether or not the loaf is baked with the lid on or off the pan. ”Kaka” means “sq.,” and refers to loaves which were baked with a lid on. This technique yields completely right-angled loaves, making them ideally suited for sandwiches (“sandos,” in Japanese). “Yama,” or “mountain,” means the loaf is baked with no lid on; as a result of the rolls of dough are positioned side-by-side into the pan, they type a lofty ridge of hills as they rise and bake.

Critical Eats / Debbie Wee

Regardless of the model, shokupan normally consists of three or 4 items of dough that bakers press into lengthy, skinny strips, then roll into tight spirals, giving the loaf’s inside crumb its feathery, layered, and peel-apart texture. The rolls are normally set into the pan crosswise, making the swirls seen alongside the lengthy facet of the loaf after baking. Bakers usually brush the highest of shokupan with melted butter as quickly because it emerges from the oven or a wash of egg earlier than baking to provide the baked bread a mirror-like end. (Such washes are solely utilized to the domed tops of shokupan baked with no lid.) 

The origins of shokupan are one thing of a muddle. Some food writers, together with Elyse Inamine for Bon Appétit, attribute the creation of milk bread to British baker Robert Clarke, who opened Yokohama Bakery in 1862. Whereas ads in Japanese newspapers from that period do inform us {that a} Robert Clarke owned Yokohama Bakery, it’s troublesome to show that he was the inventor of the well-known loaf. In the present day, shokupan is commonly the bread of selection for sandos in Japan, the place they’re offered in konbinis and maintain collectively fillings like egg salad, katsu (breaded pork or hen), or fruit and whipped cream.

Critical Eats / Debbie Wee

The Secret to Milk Bread’s Texture: A Flour Scald

Many shokupan recipes make use of a yudane—a Japanese strategy of whisking flour and boiling water collectively and cooking on the range till thickened—which helps the bread retain its comfortable texture. This technique is extra generally often called a tangzhong, its Chinese language equal. Bakers collectively refer to those kinds of methods as “flour scalds.” 

Although yudane and tangzhong are very comparable and have a virtually equivalent impact on the breads they’re utilized in, they name for barely completely different ratios of wet-to-dry elements. Shokupan recipes haven’t all the time integrated a yudane, however it’s such an efficient manner of manufacturing tender loaves that almost all fashionable recipes make the most of one. 

Critical Eats / Debbie Wee

To clarify why scalds are so good at protecting loaves comfortable, we first want to speak about starch gelation. When starch and water mix, the starches hydrate, absorbing among the water and softening barely. When that combination is heated above a sure temperature (this varies from starch to starch, however is all the time someplace between 120˚ and 165˚F (49º and 74ºC), the starch granules take up much more water. They swell and finally burst, releasing amylose and amylopectin, the 2 molecules that make up starch, which hyperlink up right into a free community with the water trapped inside it. In the event you’ve integrated a roux right into a gravy or used a cornstarch slurry in a stir-fry, you then’ve seen starch gelation in motion. As you incorporate the starch into the sauce and warmth it up, it slowly thickens and finally turns into viscous sufficient to coat a spoon.

A flour scald in bread takes benefit of this phenomenon in two methods. One, as a result of a gelled combination of flour and water is drier in texture than an equivalent ungelled one, it permits you to make a dough with extra water in it than it might in any other case include—with out it turning to soup. I name this “stealth” hydration: The additional water is there, however you possibly can’t see or really feel it within the dough.

Critical Eats / Debbie Wee

Secondly, the presence of a scald makes a bread way more immune to staling than dough made with out one. Extra precisely often called starch retrogradation, staling is the reversal of gelation, the place the water within the starches will get pulled out of them, inflicting the starches to crystallize and harden. The extra water in a bread, the longer it takes for the starches to retrograde. (Stale bread appears dry, however it isn’t essentially, not less than not initially. The starches have crystallizes in a stale bread, however the water should be hanging round close by; that is the rationale that toasting stale bread can restore a few of its authentic tenderness.)

Candy, Candy Rice Flour

Which brings me to candy rice flour. As I discussed above, starch is made up of two forms of molecules: amylose and amylopectin. Amylose molecules are lengthy chains of glucose linked collectively, with just a few branches hanging off the central chain right here and there. Crystals type most readily when the molecules in query can stack collectively neatly. As a result of amylose molecules are principally straight chains, they’re particularly vulnerable to crystallizing as meals cools. (Because of this long-grain rice, which accommodates round 20% amylose, turns into particularly exhausting and brittle when refrigerated.) In the meantime, amylopectin molecules are extremely branched, making them unable to stack collectively and crystallize as effectively. 

The starches in wheat flour are 28% amylose and 72% amylopectin, which makes it a less-than-perfect selection for a flour scald—one of many large advantages of utilizing a flour scald is it slows staling, however wheat flour has a wholesome dose of staling-prone amylose. Candy rice flour, then again, is sort of 100% amylopectin, making it ideally suited for utilizing in a scald—particularly if you would like the bread to remain comfortable for so long as attainable.

The Pour-Over Methodology

One other benefit to utilizing candy rice flour as a substitute of wheat flour in a scald: It’s a lot simpler to make. The usual tangzhong technique has bakers mix flour and chilly water (normally in a 1:4 ratio) till it’s uniform. Bakers then prepare dinner the combination on the stovetop till it gels. Whereas that is an efficient method, it’s—merely put—a ache within the ass, because it’s difficult to get the sticky paste out of the pan and into the dough utterly. 

The yudane technique, then again, requires stirring collectively a 1:1 combination of flour and boiling water. Whereas this works too, two potential issues come up with this system:

  1. Wheat flour and boiling water don’t all the time play properly with each other. As an alternative of changing into a clean, uniform gel, the combination typically leads to lumps of dry flour which are troublesome to remove even with vigorous whisking. 
  2. With such a low ratio of flour to boiling water, the ultimate combination can find yourself beneath the optimum gelation temperature (120º to 165ºF or 49º to 74ºC). This implies the starches in it gained’t be utterly gelled, defeating the whole objective of a scald within the first place.

There’s no query that between the 2 methods, the yudane pour-over technique is  simpler and less complicated to drag off. I exploit a way just like the yudane technique, the place I pour boiling milk  over glutinous rice flour and sugar and whisk the combination till it thickens to a pudding-like consistency. Not like the normal yudane technique, although, I exploit way more flour than is typical—20% of the full weight in comparison with the 5 to 10% most shokupan recipes include—and as a substitute of bread flour, I exploit candy rice flour for all the explanations talked about above. I additionally use a special ratio of 1 half flour to three elements liquid. This method produces a clean, thick gel simply and shortly, with no lumps in sight.

The Key Strategies to Making Shokupan

After spending years tinkering with my very own milk bread recipe—testing varied forms of flour and strategies for making the scald, and slowly rising the full quantity of liquid within the dough—I believe I’ve lastly landed on the fuwa fuwa bread of my desires. It’s straightforward to make and produces a beautiful, tender loaf that stays that manner for not less than a couple of days—far longer than most enriched breads with no tangzhong, and an additional day or so from most different tangzhong-containing shokupan.

Critical Eats / Debbie Wee

Like many different shokupan recipes, my method accommodates flour, milk, butter, eggs (on this case, simply the yolks, for his or her shade and tenderizing fat), sugar, salt, and yeast, with a flour scald for all the explanations talked about above. I’ve, nonetheless, integrated one final trick of my very own to make it as comfortable and fluffy as attainable: extra milk.

Hydration Is Key

The extra liquid you have got in a dough, the softer its crumb could also be—which is why I make my shokupan with as a lot milk as attainable, as its fats and protein lends the loaf further shade and tenderness. There’s a restrict to how a lot liquid you possibly can add, although—past a sure level, the dough turns into too sticky to deal with simply. That is particularly problematic with loaves that require loads of shaping and dealing with, like shokupan. 

To get round this downside, I borrow a way utilized in many different enriched bread recipes, together with brioche: refrigerating the proofed dough till it companies up (because the butterfat solidifies when chilly), not less than two hours. This makes it straightforward to deal with throughout shaping regardless of its larger ratio of liquid. This additionally makes the recipe slightly extra versatile, for the reason that dough might be refrigerated for as much as 24 hours earlier than proofing and baking.

Shaping and Proofing

Moreover all that, my shokupan technique is rather like others. After kneading the dough in a stand mixer, it will get a brief proof at room temperature to jump-start fermentation, then it goes into the fridge to agency up. As soon as it’s straightforward sufficient to deal with, I divide it into items and form every portion right into a spherical. When the rounds have relaxed slightly, I roll, fold, and stretch each bit into lengthy, flat strips, after which roll them up like carpets to type spirals. I set these rolls of dough side-by-side within the pan, then allow them to proof collectively for a couple of hours right into a single, uniform mass of dough.

Critical Eats / Debbie Wee

I just like the yama (mountain) model of shokupan as a lot because the kaka (sq.) one, and make them each regularly; the recipe beneath is for the yama model, however within the notes beneath I clarify the best way to convert it to the kaka model. One factor to know about baking breads in a lined pullman pan is that the lid compresses the dough because it bakes. To be able to hold the inner crumb as open as a loaf baked with no lid, you want to use barely much less dough when baking with a lid on. Quite than work up two separate formulation for every model, I simply use much less dough within the loaf pan after I’m making a lidded model, and use the leftover dough to make a single spherical bun. It’s a baker’s deal with, all for me. I normally eat it heat from the oven—and I believe you’ll wish to, too.

Critical Eats / Debbie Wee

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