A lucky strike with tangzhong 湯種 – Petits pains au lait à la japonaise

[Japanese-style milk buns]

It was a night of early winter, I think. It was possibly raining. And dark.

I can’t remember for sure, but it seems right.

I weighed flour and water in a pan. And turned this mixture to a thick paste over slow heat. Until a thermometre read 65°C.
It was then placed in the fridge. And forgotten.

And now, six or seven month after, I’ve done the same.
Except, this time, I haven’t forgotten. And I have no intentions to.

In fact, over the past few weeks, I’ve made petits pains [little buns] filled with vanilla pastry cream; just like I used to see in the boulanger windows of my childhood. Oh and a bread with so much bacon and emmental that it was eaten in a few hours.

I have also some banana and caramel cinnamon rolls in mind. So trust me when I say that tangzhong is becoming part of me.

Petits pains au lait à la japonaise
Adapted from Ivonne Chen, via Christine’s recipes.

You should know by now that I’m the kind of girl who kneads by hand. With my favourite technique – which I promise to do a video of, one day. In the meantime, the closest I’ve found can be seen here. It’s fool-proof, and damn fun. Not to mention quite liberating.

In the recipe below, I’ve introduced something some of you might not be familiar with. The windowpane test. it’s quite useful when it comes to yeasted doughs, to tell whether the gluten is developed enough or not.
Basically, you start by pinching off a walnut-sized piece of dough and try to stretch it into a thin membrane.
If it tears, then you should keep on kneading.
If it doesn’t tear but the membrane is opaque, then you should keep on kneading.
If you can stretch it to a paper-thin membrane, then you can pour yourself a glass of wine.

You should make sure gluten is fully developed before adding the butter, which tends to break the protein net. Also in that aim, work fast once you have the butter in and don’t knead for too long. Just until your dough is smooth again.

Petits pains au lait à la japonaise

makes 6 buns

for the tangzhong
50g strong flour
250g water

for the dough
350g strong flour
55g caster sugar
1tsp salt
one egg
125g milk
120g tangzhong
one tsp instant yeast
30g butter
, at room temperature

for the eggwash
one egg, beaten

Make the tangzhong. Place flour and water into a small pan and whisk well until there are no lumps. Cook over slow heat, whisking as you go until it thickens and reahes 65°C.
Transfer to a clean bowl or plastic container. Cover with a clingfilm to the touch and allow to cool. At this stage, you can keep the tangzhong in the fridge for 24h or use it as soon as it’s cold.

Make the dough. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, salt and yeast. In a separate bowl, mix the milk, tangzhing, and the egg; then add to the dry ingredients.
Work the liquid in, until you have a sticky dough with no lumps.
Transfer to a clean work plan and knead for 10 minutes, or until smooth. You should be able to stretch a little piece of dough into a paper-thin membrane.
Using the palm of your hand, work in the butter. The dough will split then come back together.

Transfer to a lightly floured bowl, cover with a torchon [cloth] and proof for 40 to 60 minutes, until doubled in size.

Scrape the dough to a floured work plan and punch to deflate. Divide into six equal portions and knead into balls. Place on a baking tray lined with baking paper. And proof for around 40 minutes.

In the meantime, preheat your oven to 180C.
Brush the buns with eggwash and bake for 20 to 30 minutes, or until golden-brown. Transfer to a rack.


  1. Thanks so much for the video link! You’re right, it’s very liberating, I feel like I can make a whole lot of different doughs without fear now! I have a brioche in mind…


  2. ! currently in taiwan and eating tons of delicious taiwanese bread. which is basically the same as japanese bread. but i’ll note this recipe for the day that i’m far away from asian bakeries. hope all is well in london!

  3. That last photo is making me crave for soft Hokkaido bread now!! Aside from French bread and viennoiseries, this is another personal fav. of mine. I’ve been a fan of Hokkaido bread or the tangzhong method for a while now but so far, I haven’t found a satisfactory explanation on the science behind the tangzhong paste. Would appreciate if you (or anyone out there) can shed more light on this.

  4. I’m the kind of girl that kneads by hand too. You know, what’s the point in kneading if you don’t knead? What’s the point in whipping if you don’t whip? I’m that kind of girl. Happy that you are too.

  5. I just found your blog through August Break and oh my word- find of the day! Your photography and heart are so beautiful! And I’m beside myself that you’ve posted the Japanese bread recipe. I used to live in Japan and I’m so excited at the idea of recreating such a memory! Thank you.

  6. Hi, I tried this recipe today, but the dough was very wet and sticky even after 1 hour of first proofing. May I know what went wrong ? I just continue the next step and divide into small portion in tray and it’s just so sticky. The second proofing doesn’t do any good too. Thanks

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