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Japanese Milk Bread

Japanese Milk Bread

Japanese Milk Bread, (Shokupan) is possibly the best version of soft white bread. Known for its milky-sweet taste and pillowy softness, i\u2019s enjoyed daily in Japas breakfast toast and sandwich bread.

Ready in: 3 hours 35 minutes

Serves: 10

Complexity: medium

kcal: 164

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1 Rectangular Shokupan Loaf:--
250 g warm water
20 g sugar
3 g salt
10 g raw bush honey
7 g instant yeast (1 pkt)
350 g bread flour
20 g skim milk powder or nonfat dry milk powder
25 g butter
For Greasing:--
½ tsp rice bran oil
10 g butter
1 Square Shokupan Loaf:--
167 g warm water
14 g sugar
2½ g salt
7 g raw bush honey
4.7 g instant yeast
235 g bread flour
14 g skim milk powder or nonfat dry milk powder
17 g butter


Before You Start
Shokupan Loaf Pans: The rectangular loaf pan is 12 cm x 20 cm x 13 cm and can hold 3100 ml. The square loaf pan is 12 cm × 13.5 cm × 13 cm and can hold 2070 ml. I have written an extensive post about Japanese loaf pans and how to order them from Japan. If you're not particular about the size and shape, you can use this 500 g loaf pan on Amazon and follow the recipe for the rectangular loaf.
Stand Mixer: Please note that my instructions below are for a KitchenAid 5-QT Artisan Series stand mixer. (325 watts) If you're using a KitchenAid Classic Series mixer, do not double the recipe as the 275-watt motor is not strong enough. If you're using a KitchenAid Professional Series mixer with a spiral hook, you must double the rectangular loaf recipe to succeed, as there won't be enough dough to engage the hook otherwise. With twice the dough, you must knead 1½ times longer at each step. (as noted in the instructions) If you have a different brand of stand mixer, follow my steps the best you can to achieve a dough with the correct texture that passes the windowpane test.
Oven Rack: Set the oven rack to a lower position where the top edge of your loaf pan is 15-18 cm away from the top heating element. This will allow enough space for the bread to rise during baking, especially if you plan to make a round-topped milk bread. Don’t get closer than 15 cm or the top may brown too fast.
To Create a Warm Environment for Bulk Fermentation: If your oven has a Proof setting, turn it to 38ºC. Tip: If your oven doesn't have a Proof setting, place small baking dishes of boiling water at the four corners on the lower-middle rack. Then, place your dough in a bowl in the centre of the rack and close the door. The steam and heat from the boiling water will create a warm environment for bulk fermentation. There is plenty of online information on different ways to proof bread dough, such as using an Instant Pot. (use the Yogurt function on LOW or use the temperature setting) During the summer and humidity is high, you may not need to do this.
To Make the Dough
Cut the butter into small cubes. Precise measurement is extremely important for this recipe; therefore, please weigh your ingredients with a digital kitchen scale. I strongly discourage measuring by volume.
In a large bowl, combine the warm water, sugar, salt, honey, and mix together. Then, add the yeast and whisk it all together and set aside in a warm place for 10 minutes. You want to see bubbly foam on the surface. If you don’t see any, maybe your yeast is old or the environment is not warm enough; wait another 5 minutes to see if any bubbles develop.
Meanwhile, combine the bread flour and skim or nonfat dry milk powder in a stand mixer bowl. Mix it together and make a well in the middle of the flour mixture.
Once you confirm the foamy surface on the yeast mixture, pour it into the well of the flour mixture, scraping every bit of the liquid with a silicone spatula or dough scraper. Then, mix it until combined. Keep this yeast mixture bowl, as you’ll be putting the dough ball in it later.
To Knead the Dough in the Stand Mixer
Warning: KitchenAid does not recommend kneading dough at settings higher than Speed 2. However, we can’t achieve a perfect texture without kneading aggressively. Hold your stand mixer down with your hand(s) when you’re kneading at Speed 6, and keep an eye on it at all times. Do not walk away. Don’t take this warning lightly, as my instructor’s mixer fell off the countertop onto the kitchen floor twice when she stepped away for just a few seconds. Please use it at your own discretion.
Set up the stand mixer with a dough hook attachment. Knead the dough on Speed 2 for 2 minutes. (or 3 minutes if making double the rectangular loaf recipe using the Artisan or Professional series mixer) This is just to get started. The ingredients should be well combined after this step.
Next, increase the speed and knead the dough on Speed 4 for 4 minutes. (6 minutes for double) After 4 (or 6-8) minutes, stop the mixer. The dough will be smoother than before, yet it should still look a bit rough and bumpy.
Add the butter cubes to the dough. Knead the dough again on Speed 2 for 2 minutes, (3 minutes for double) until you can no longer see any streaks of butter.
Knead the dough on Speed 4 for 4 minutes. (6 minutes for double) While spinning, the dough will stretch and elongate.
Stop the mixer and check the texture of the dough. It should be a lot smoother, shinier, softer, and thinner when it’s stretched. At this stage, the dough is still attached to the bottom of the mixer bowl.
Knead the dough on Speed 6 for 3 minutes. (4½ minutes for double) From here, you MUST hold down your stand mixer with your hand(s) since the machine will shake and move, and it could possibly fall off the countertop onto the floor.
At this stage, the dough will start pulling away from the bottom of the bowl and eventually become a solid ball shape. The mixer will shake and wobble as the dough bangs around the sides of the bowl. Again, hold your stand mixer to keep it from falling and monitor it at all times.
Japanese milk bread requires aggressive kneading to get that soft, tender texture. The goal here is to develop the gluten (elasticity) by lengthening and stretching the gluten strands in the dough.
After kneading on Speed 6, stop the mixer. The dough should look really shiny, silky, soft, and smooth. (not sticky) When you lift the dough hook, it should pick up all the dough in one piece, separating easily from the bottom of the bowl. Tip: If the dough becomes slack and gooey, you've kneaded for too long.
The Windowpane Test
Now, it’s time for the windowpane test. Either pull on a part of the dough or tear off a small piece. Hold the dough in both hands and gently pull it into a square with your fingers. It should be very elastic, smooth, and shiny. If it's strong enough to stretch to a super-thin membrane without tearing and light can pass through the centre, your dough passes the test. If it doesn’t stretch or it tears too easily, knead it again on Speed 6 for 2-3 minutes and test again.
If you are checking the temperature of the dough, insert an instant-read thermometer into the centre of the dough. The dough temperature should be 26-28ºC at this stage and not lower or higher than this temperature. The yeast will be most active at 28-35ºC during the bulk fermentation. If your dough temperature is higher than 28ºC, let the dough slowly rise for the First Rise, (Bulk Fermentation) instead of putting it in a Proof setting 38ºC or placing it in a warm place. You do not want to overproof the dough.
To Slam and Fold
Once your dough passed the windowpane test, lightly dust the work surface and your hands with flour to prevent sticking. Scrape the dough from the bowl with the silicone spatula or dough scraper and place it on the work surface. From this point, make sure to keep one smooth surface on your dough ball at all times. My nice smooth surface is currently on the bottom of the dough.
Now, pick up the dough ball, keeping the smooth side up. Then, slam the smooth side onto the work surface. Bang!!
Then, hold one edge of the dough with your fingers in the 12 o’clock position and fold it over to the other side at the 6 o’clock position, revealing the smooth surface. Now, pick up the dough with the smooth side up.
Once again, slam the smooth surface of the dough onto the work surface. Bang!! Now, pick up the edge of the dough at the 9 o’clock position and fold it over to the opposite side at the 3 o’clock position, revealing the smooth surface. Again, pick up the dough with the smooth side up.
Repeat this "slam and fold" process 5 times in total. After you slam the dough for the final time, leave the dough on the work surface temporarily, and don’t fold it over yet.
Take the bowl that you mixed the yeast in and thinly coat it with rice bran oil. Wipe off any excess oil from the bowl and your oily fingers with a paper towel. We do not want a pool of oil in the bowl.
Finally, go back to the dough and fold it over one last time. Pick it up and pull the edges of the dough from all sides to create a smooth, taut skin. Tuck and pinch the edges underneath to hide them at the bottom. Put the dough ball in the bowl and cover it with plastic.
The First Rise (Bulk Fermentation)
Let the dough rise for 40 minutes. The dough will become 3 times bigger in size. If you live in a cooler climate, it may take longer. (1-1½ hours) I use the Proof setting on my oven at 38ºC. Please see the "Before You Start" section of the recipe for my proofing tips.
Use the Finger Test
Once the dough has tripled in size, dust some flour on top and use your index finger to poke the middle of the dough. If the hole does not close up, it’s ready. If the dough closes up immediately, proof the dough a little longer.
Deflate the Dough
Uncover and invert the dough bowl to release the dough onto your work surface. Using your fingers, gently press down and deflate the dough. Remember to keep one smooth surface on your dough at all times. My smooth surface is currently on the bottom of the dough.
Collect and press all the edges into the middle, flip the dough, and form a round shape, tucking any loose edges underneath.
Divide the Dough
Using a kitchen scale, weigh the dough. Then, divide it into 3 equal pieces with the dough scraper. For a square shokupan loaf, divide it into 2 equal pieces.
If you have a piece that's bigger than the others, tear off some dough from the edge, keeping its smooth surface intact. Attach the torn dough to the edge of a piece that's smaller than the others.
Form each piece into a ball with a smooth, taut skin: Hold the dough with the smooth surface on top. Gently pull and tighten the dough down from all sides to create tension on the outside. We want all three dough balls to rise equally, so limit the pulling action to roughly the same for each ball, about 3-4 times total. Tuck and pinch the loose dough at the bottom. Place the dough on the work surface and repeat this process for the rest of pieces.
Alternatively, you can place the dough on a non-floured surface. Place both of your hands behind the dough and drag the dough ball along the surface toward your body. The bottom of the dough sticks to the dry surface, creating tension and tightening the ball. Keep the dough ball upright and don't allow the top of the dough to roll over as you pull. Rotate the ball a quarter turn and perform another gentle drag toward your body. Continue rotating and dragging a few more times until the dough is sufficiently taut and uniformly round.
The Bench Rest
Cover the dough balls with a damp towel and rest the dough for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, using a pastry brush, grease the pan (and the lid, if you're making flat-topped shokupan) with butter. (or cooking oil spray) It should be a thin coating.
Shape the Dough
After 15 minutes, take out one dough ball, keeping the rest under the damp towel. Gently handle the dough without stressing it. Dust just enough flour so your dough does not stick to the work surface and rolling pin, but not so much that your dough slides around. As you practice, you will know how much flour is just enough. Next, place the rolling pin in the middle of the dough and press it down.
First, roll out the dough away from you, rolling all the way through the top edge. Rolling releases gas in the dough. Next, roll out the dough toward you, rolling through the edge closest to you. If the dough slides around, you dusted too much flour. Next time, reduce the flour.
Pick up the dough and flip it over, and then rotate it 90 degrees. It's now laid out in front of you in a horizontal oval shape.
Press the four corners of the dough to shape the oval into a rectangle. Place the rolling pin in the middle.
Roll out the dough away from you and then toward you, rolling through all the edges.
Next, roll out the upper two corners, so they are squared rather than rounded.
Then, roll out the lower two corners. The dough now should look like a vertical rectangle.
Make sure the dough is an even thickness from the centre to the edges. If the edges are slightly thick or see any air bubbles, use the heel of your hand to press down or pop any bubbles on the edges of the rolled-out dough. The rectangle should be roughly 21 cm x 26 cm. Tip: I noticed from my own experience that if I don’t roll out the dough evenly at this stage, it affects the shape when I roll up the dough later.
Fold the dough in thirds, starting with the right third. Bring the dough to the left one-third line, lightly and gently pressing the edge down so it stays in place. Next, fold the left third of the dough, overlapping the edge of the right third by two-thirds. The edge of the left third should be slightly past the center line. Tip: If the dough sticks to the work surface, gently detach; do not pull, or else the surface of the dough will not become smooth. Always gently handle your dough with care and do not stress the dough.
Press down and seal this edge with your fingers, from top to bottom. At this stage, the folded dough should have an even thickness. Both the right and left horizontal edges are thicker, (puffed up) but the overlapped edges along the center line even out the thickness of the dough.
Fold down the two upper corners toward the centre line, so the top now looks like a triangle tip. Then, tuck the tip down toward you, making sure it is right in the middle.
Start rolling the dough slowly toward you, gently pulling the dough downward as you roll to create a smooth, taut skin, but don't roll too tightly. Tip: Use the same amount of tension when making all of your dough rolls. This helps them rise at the same rate during the final proof and results in an ideal round-topped shokupan shape.
Keep rolling all the way to the end, making sure the shape of the roll is even. Now, pinch the dough at the edge to seal. Keep the rolled-up dough under the damp towel and repeat this process with the rest of the dough balls. Remember which piece of dough you rolled last.
Now, place the dough rolls in the shokupan mold, starting with the first two pieces you rolled. Place the first dough roll, seam side down, on one side of the mold. Make sure that 1) the seam is on the bottom, 2) the direction of the swirl goes toward (and not away from) the middle of the pan, and 3) the rolled edge touches the pan's side.
Now, place the second dough roll on the opposite end of the mold, seam side down. Again, the direction of the swirl should go toward the loaf's centre.
Finally, place the last piece of dough you rolled between the first two, seam side down. The direction of the swirl can go either way. Gently press down on the tops of the rolled dough to make them the same height.
If you are using the square shokupan loaf pan, two rolls should go in just like the rectangular loaf pan. (without the middle rolled dough)
The Final Rise (Proofing) and Oven Preheat
Cover the mold with plastic and place in a warm environment for 1 hour until the dough has risen to 80-90% of the height of the mold. (see the next step) Tip: For the first 30 minutes, I use the Proof mode of my oven. I then take out the mold and place it in a warm area in the house to finish proofing.
When you have 30 minutes of proofing time left, preheat the oven to 220ºC. For a convection oven, reduce the baking temperature by 15ºC. Tip: My oven usually preheats in 15 minutes; however, it is very important that the oven is thoroughly preheated, so I plan 30 minutes of preheating time.
To make a flat-topped shokupan, let the dough rise to 75-80% of the height of the mold. Then, remove the plastic and close the lid. If your proof was a bit too long and you exceed 80%, change to a round-topped shokupan. Tip: Don't force the lid closed on the dough. Even if the lid closes, the dough will continue to rise in the oven and the lid will get stuck.
To make a round-topped shokupan, let the dough rise to 85-90% of the height of the mold. When the highest point of the dough touches the plastic wrap, it’s ready to bake. Now, remove the plastic and spritz the surface of the dough with water. Note: The volume for each shokupan mold is very different. My 90% may not be the same as yours if we use a different mold.
Bake the Bread
For the flat-topped shokupan, bake at 210ºC for 25-30 minutes. For the round-topped shokupan, bake at 195ºC for 30 minutes. Note that I lower the oven temperature. (from the preheating temperature) For a convection oven, reduce the baking temperature by 15ºC. For a square loaf, the baking temperature and time should be the same or slightly less.
If you are baking two loaves at the same time, bake 1-2 minutes longer and make sure to have plenty of space between the pans so heat can circulate. Tip: If the loaf has come out lighter in color, you may also want to increase the oven temperature by 2-3ºC next time. To bake both the flat-topped and the round-topped shokupan together, bake at 200ºC.
When it’s done baking, drop the mold 1-2 times on the work surface (I use a grate on the stovetop) to prevent the shokupan from shrinking. This will let the water vapor in the bread escape. Tip: If water vapor remains in the bread, it will weaken the bread's structure and make it easier to deflate. The sides of the loaf will wilt and bend as well.
For the flat-topped shokupan, open the lid carefully. If you struggle to remove the lid, close it and drop the shokupan mold one more time. If you still can’t open it, note that you need to stop the second proof earlier next time. Maybe instead of 80%, try 75%.
Give a few thrusts and let the shokupan slide out of the mold onto a wire rack. After baking, do not wash your Japanese shokupan loaf pan. Simply wipe it off with a paper towel and store it completely dry to prevent rust.
To Serve
Let the shokupan cool completely on the wire rack; it may take 2-3 hours. Do not cut or open the loaf while it’s hot; the steam will escape and the bread will lose moisture. Slice the bread and toast it to enjoy with butter and jam/honey or use untoasted slices for Japanese-style sandwiches.
To Store
If you plan to eat the shokupan within 1 to 2 days, put the whole loaf, completely cooled, in a bag (I use these clear plastic bags) and slice as needed. If you don't consume the shokupan within 2 days, slice and freeze the rest for a month to preserve its quality. If you don't plan to eat the shokupan within the next 2 days, slice and freeze it.