japanese milk bread rolls

Japanese milk bread rolls are soft, plush and airy, like the world’s best pillow. Often referred to as Hokkaido milk bread, the texture is attributed to a simple technique involving a roux “starter,” known as tangzhong. The roux is mixed into the final dough, producing tender bread, without fail.

Which one do you like better? This one

Speaking of fail. Two Christmases ago I attempted to make milk rolls. I put so much time and effort into kneading the dough and assumed letting it rise in the warm laundry room would do the trick. Two hours later, the dough was still dense. Needless to say, I still rolled it into balls for the second proof. After some time waiting, still nothing. I ended up throwing them away and buying rolls from the store. Christmas fail.

Or this one. I could not decide.

Since then, I have learned a thing or two about proofing yeast based doughs and wanted to share my secrets with you. These tricks have given me the best risen doughs. If I miss a step, I fail every time.

Yeast Tips

  1. Yeast likes warmth, but not scolding hotness. I use SAF Red instant yeast (buy here). No matter what they say, I still proof the dry yeast in warm liquid to ensure it is is alive and active. Make sure the water/milk feels like bath water. Stir in yeast and 1 tsp sugar (yeast food). Let foam for 10 minutes before incorporating in any recipe.
  2. Yeast likes warmth, again. Heat your oven to 100 degrees then turn it off. When the dough is ready to proof, place it in a metal bowl in the warmed oven for set amount of time.
  3. Yeast likes moisture. Place a damp dish towel over the metal bowl with dough inside before placing in the warmed oven.
  4. If you use yeast often, your dough is likely to proof and cook successfully. There is a difference between sanitized kitchens that do not use yeast and active kitchens that use it often. It’s alive.

Milk bread dough. My husband came into the kitchen and I was ticked. The dough was sticking to every inch of my hands and I could not reach the bench scrapper. Once he handed it to me, the dough acted as a glue and now the bench scrapper was stuck to me. The dough together, but remained wet and sticky. I did my best to scrap it up off the counter and slap it back down. Over and over. I finally left well enough alone and put it in the metal bowl for proofing, with lots of oil so it would not stick.

These babies raised to the fluffy high heavens in just an hour. I scooped them out and rolled them into plush balls, they were not as sticky this time. They raised again, so high that I could barely see the separation of rolls. I actually re-rolled them a third time and was able to get a third proof, with less puff.

I could not believe how tender and succulent the baked bread was. They are the perfect rolls for fresh sandwiches, pot roast dinner or just sweet butter and honey. We chose the latter.


tangzhong (starter)

  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 3 tablespoons whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour (this is what I use)


  • 2 3/4 cups King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar + 1 tsp for yeast proof
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon active yeast
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) melted unsalted butter


  1. To make the tangzhong: Combine all of the ingredients in a small saucepan, and whisk until no lumps remain. Place the saucepan over low heat, and cook the mixture, whisking constantly, until thick and the whisk leaves lines on the bottom of the pan, about 3 to 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.
  2. To make the dough: Warm milk to bath-like temperature in the microwave. Stir in yeast and 1 tsp sugar. Let foam for 10 minutes.
  3. Combine the cooled tangzhong, yeasted milk and other remaining dough ingredients, then mix and knead — by hand or stand mixer. The dough will be very sticky and wet, work it the best you can for 5 minutes.
  4. Shape the dough into a ball, and let it rest in a lightly greased bowl, in a warm area, covered with a damp dish towel, for 60 to 90 minutes, until puffy but not necessarily doubled in bulk. (read my “yeast tips” by scrolling up in this post)
  5. Gently deflate the dough, divide it into 8 equal pieces, and shape each piece into a ball.
  6. Place the rolls into a lightly greased round pan. Cover the pan, and let the rolls rest for 40 to 50 minutes, until puffy.
  7. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Brush the rolls with milk and bake for 28 to 35 minutes, until golden brown on top.
  8. Remove the rolls from the oven. Allow them to cool. Enjoy!