Japanese milk bread is the best sliced bread. The loaves have a golden crust and a phenomenal soft, airy crumb. Each slice is rich in milk and buttery flavor, which makes it absolutely irresistible. If you have a scale, use the weighted measurements in the recipe because that is what I used when testing recipes. Dry measurements are often inconsistent. I updated the dry measurements on 7/5/2020 to reflect the spoon and sweep method specified note 1. You can make the dough overnight. Simply shape the dough into a ball, place into a greased bowl and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Then, refrigerate.
9x5-inch nonstick bread pan (preferably metal)(see note 4)
Make the Tangzhong
Whisk the flour and water inside a saucepan until the flour dissolves.
Place the saucepan over medium heat and stir the mixture frequently. In about a minute, the flour will start to thicken. Don’t walk away during this process as you can quickly burn the tangzhong! Once the flour develops into a light paste, turn off the heat.
Transfer the tangzhong to a bowl to cool. It will thicken as it cools.
Prepare the Dough
Lightly grease a large mixing bowl with oil. Set it aside.
In a microwave-safe bowl, heat the milk for about 30 to 40 seconds. Add the sugar to the milk. Use a thermometer to check the temperature of the milk. It should be somewhere around 110ºF to 120ºF.
Add the yeast and stir to hydrate the yeast. Let it sit for 5 to 8 minutes while you prepare the other ingredients. After 5 to 8 minutes, the milk/yeast mixture will foam up.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the all-purpose flour and salt. Fit the mixer with the dough hook.
Add the condensed milk, egg, melted butter, tangzhong, and foamy milk/yeast mixture.
Mix the dough on low until you don’t see any loose flour on the sides of the bowl. Then, increase the speed to medium-low and work the dough for 8 minutes.
Scrape the dough out of the bowl onto a lightly floured surface and knead a few times. If the dough is feeling tacky, lightly dust your hands with flour.
Shape the dough into a ball and place inside the greased mixing bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic and let it rise in a warm area for about 1 hour, until the dough doubles in size.
Shape the Dough (Use Photos in Blog Post for Reference)
Once doubled, punch down the dough to release excess air. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Divide the dough into 4 equal portions (they should be about 177 to 180 grams per piece).
Take one piece and knead it a few times. Shape it into an oval. Lightly dust the top of the dough with flour. Roll the dough into a larger oval.
Make an envelope fold. Take the bottom third of the dough and fold it up towards the center. Then, take the top third and fold it down towards the center. The dough should now look somewhat like a rectangle.
Rotate the rectangle 90 degrees so that a short side is facing you. Roll out the rectangle until it is about 9 x 4 inches (doesn’t need to be exact). Starting from one end, roll up the rectangle into a spiraled log. Place the rolled up dough into the loaf pan, seam side down.
Repeat with the remaining 3 pieces of dough.
Cover the loaf pan with plastic and let it rise in a warm spot until it triples in size. The center loaves should rise just over an inch above the top lip of the pan. (See photos in post for reference.) Depending on the time of the year, and the temperature in your kitchen, this can be anywhere between 1.5 to just over 2 hours. See note 5 for instructions on how to speed up the second rise.
Bake the Bread
When the loaves look like it is just about done proofing, preheat the oven to 350ºF. Position an oven rack to the center position.
Prepare the egg wash. In a small bowl, beat an egg. Add the milk. This helps to thin out the egg so that the egg wash brushes over the bread in a nice thin layer.
Carefully brush the egg wash over the tops of the loaves.
Transfer the loaf pan to the oven and bake the bread for 28 to 30 minutes, until the loaf is a deep golden color. It takes only 28 minutes in my oven.
Take the bread out of the oven. The top of the loaf will feel very firm right now, but it softens as it cools.
After 3 to 5 minutes, turn the loaf pan over to remove the bread from the pan. The bread should slide out easily. Do not cool the loaf inside the pan as moisture will build up inside the pan, causing the bread to turn soggy. Let the loaf cool on a wire rack. You can start eating the bread while it’s still slightly warm or wait for it to cool completely.
Slice the bread and serve with jam, butter, or condensed milk. Store the bread in a container for several days.
I recommend using a scale for this recipe. If you do not have one, make sure to use a fork to fluff up the flour in the bag or container. Then, use a spoon to scoop flour into the measuring cup, until it is overflowing with flour. DO NOT tap the measuring cup on the counter to try to get more flour into the measuring cup. Sweep the top of the measuring cup with a knife to level the flour.
I used condensed milk so that the bread has richer flavor. You can substitute it entirely with sugar or half instant milk powder and half sugar.
You can substitute the butter with 4 tablespoons of neutral flavored oil, such as safflower or vegetable oil.
Loaf pans come in all different sizes. Ones that are “1-pound loaf pans” should be about 9x5 inches in diameter. For this recipe, it’s better to use a pan that is 5 inches wide. Try to use metal pans for this recipe as the heat transfer is better in metal pans.
If you don’t have the time to wait 2.5 hours for the second rise (and I don’t blame you), you can do the second rise in a warm oven. I preheat my oven to the lowest heat setting possible, which is 170ºF. Right when the oven reaches that temperature, I immediately turn off the oven and turn the oven light on. Then, I transfer the bread pan into the oven, uncovered. In about 55 minutes to an hour, the bread will rise to the desired level.