Halloween is quickly approaching (anyone else think 2020 has been the fastest, yet slowest, year ever?) and my Instagram feed has been filled with all kinds of spooky loaves. People are getting creative with their Halloween breads and, as someone who loves to make bread, I wanted in.
I considered making sourdough or some form of crunchy bread, but I decided to make my personal favorite: Japanese Milk Bread. It’s an incredibly light and fluffy loaf, with just a slight sweetness to it. In Asia, you could find a version of this bread at basically any bakery, and when I lived in Myanmar, I always made sure to buy a loaf (it’s perfect for peanut butter & jelly sandwiches!). And one of the best parts about making milk bread is… you don’t need a starter! Japanese milk bread uses tangzhong, to help create that soft, springy texture.
What is Tangzhong?
The most important part of making milk bread is the tangzhong method. It is a warm flour and milk roux that was traditionally used in China to make buns. The warming activates the gluten in the flour, which helps to create the soft texture. It can also help to preserve your bread too!
The addition of milk is also a vital part (I mean… it’s in the name) to the texture and flavor of this bread. Whole milk is actually used in both the tangzhong and the actual dough. You can probably sub this for non-dairy milk, like almond or soy milk, if needed.
Using Black Sesame and Ube flavors
I decided to flavor and color my milk bread using black sesame paste and ube extract. The gray and purple swirl is just so fun and very festive for Halloween. If you would like a darker color than the black sesame paste gives (it won’t really make the bread black, just gray), then I would suggest adding charcoal instead.
I was not intending for the flavors to be too strong, as I still wanted to be able to enjoy it as a sandwich or with jam. However, if you want a stronger flavor, you just need to add more extract or paste and decrease the amount of other liquids.
Making a dual flavored bread is tedious work. It is easier to work on them one at a time, especially if you’re using a stand mixer. Your rising times will be off since you will be working on one while the other rises, but don’t worry too much about that. Toward the middle, I found that letting one rise in the fridge while the other rises at a warm temp helps to even it out.
Important tips and tricks:
- This recipe works best if you have a food scale. Since I didn’t want to make too much bread, I halved a normal milk bread recipe to make both doughs. It may be easier to just double the recipe, as the measurements will be easier, especially if you don’t have a food scale.
- It might also be easier if you double the tangzhong recipe. You can use it for two loaves or simply dump the leftover. It is quite hard to make it in small amounts, although, I found it still worked.
- After kneading in the stand mixer, I like to also knead by hand for a couple of minutes before rising. This helps me to assess whether the dough needs more flour, especially since I’m baking in such a humid climate.
This bread recipe is also great for making rolls! You can experiment with shaping the dough into twists, braids, rolls, etc. The process is basically the same. Feel free to omit the flavorings or change them to something else. Again, just make sure you’re compensating for adding any more flavor by decreasing the amount of milk.
Store in an airtight container and keep in the fridge to extend its shelf life.
Black Sesame & Ube Milk Bread
For the tangzhong:
- 22.5 grams bread flour (about 1/6 cup)
- 60 milliliters whole milk (about 1/4 cup)
- 60 milliliters water (about 1/4 cup)
For the dough:
- 325 grams bread flour (2 1/2 cups)
- 60 grams sugar (1/4 cup)
- 7 grams active dry yeast (1 packet or 2 tsps)
- 4 grams salt (1 tsp)
- 1 egg
- 80 mil warm whole milk (about 1/3 cup)
- 20 mil black sesame paste
- 20 mil ube extract
- 60 grams unsalted butter, cut into pieces and softened to room temp (4 tbsps)
Make the tangzhong:
- In a small pot, whisk bread flour, milk, and water together until smooth. Place over medium-low heat and cook. Stirring often, bring to a simmer.
- Cook tangzhong until thickened, about 10 minutes. The spoon should be able to leave tracks on the bottom of the pot. Pour into a measuring cup and cover with plastic wrap (not too tightly).
- Set aside to cool to room temperature. You can leave it in the fridge until needed.
Make the doughs:
- Halve all your ingredients (except for the black sesame paste and ube extract). For the egg: one egg should be about 50 g. Crack one egg into a bowl, scramble with a fork, and then measure out half into a different bowl. If you don't have a scale, you can just use two (smaller) eggs. If you are not making a swirled loaf, skip this step and continue making one dough.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer with the dough hook attachment, combine half of flour, sugar, yeast, and salt. Combine the rest of the flour, sugar, yeast, and salt in a different bowl and set aside.
- In two small bowls, combine half of your whole milk with the ube extract. Do the same for the black sesame paste. Warm both in the microwave. You don't want it too be too hot, or else you'll kill your yeast.
- Add half the egg, ube milk, and 1/4 cup of your tangzhong to the stand mixer. Turn the mixer on low speed and knead for 5 minutes. Feel free to do this step to your black sesame dough and knead by hand at the same time, however, it'll take longer to knead by hand. I worked on each dough separately.
- Add half of your softened butter and knead another 10 to 12 minutes (it'll take some time for the butter to be incorporated, just keep at it!). The dough should be soft and springy.
- Lightly butter the inside of a bowl. Use your hands to lift dough out of mixer bowl, and place on a floured surface. If the dough is too sticky, add a little more flour and knead by hand for a couple of minutes. Place in the prepared bowl.
- Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place, around 60 minutes or until doubled in size.
- Rinse the stand mixer bowl out and repeat for your black sesame dough (mix the flour mixture, add the milk and starter, knead, and let rise). Your rise times will be off, but that's okay, we'll make up for it later.
- Once the ube dough is done rising, punch the dough down and place it on a lightly floured surface. Cut dough in half using a very sharp knife. Form each into a ball, put back in the bowl, and cover. Place in refrigerator to prevent the dough from over proofing (since you need to wait for your black sesame dough).
- Do the same to your black sesame dough, once doubled in size. Let rise in a warm place for 15 minutes. Toward the end of the rise time, take the ube dough out of the fridge and let it return to room temperature.
- Preheat your oven to 350° F. Grease a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan.
- On a lightly floured surface, roll out one ube dough ball into an oval (about 12 x 6 inch). Do the same to one of your black sesame dough balls. Place the ube oval on top of your black sesame oval.
- Fold the top 3 inches of the oval down, then fold the bottom 3 inches of the oval up. Keep in mind which color you want to be on the outside. Roll out again into another oval. Repeat the process, folding the top down and bottom up.
- Lightly roll and form into a log and smooth it out with your hands. Place the log in the pan, seam side down, at one end.
- Repeat with the remaining dough and place it at the other end of the pan.
- Cover and let rest for another 30 to 40 minutes. The dough should be peeking over the edge of the pan.
- Brush the tops with milk and bake on the bottom shelf of your oven for 35-40 minutes, or until golden brown.
- Let cool in the pan, then move to a wire rack. Let your loaf cool for at least an hour to let your crust soften and air bubbles intact.