The recipe for these pillowy, pull-apart buns comes from one of my favorite new books, Mooncakes & Milk Bread: Sweet & Savory Recipes Inspired by Chinese Bakeries (Harper Horizon, 2021) by Kristina Cho. The buns are made from an enriched dough, made with eggs, butter and milk, and they have a slightly sweet flavor and cotton candy texture. According to Kristina, “Milk bread is similar to Hokkaido milk bread or shokupan, which was popularized by Japanese bakeries. What sets these Asian enriched breads apart from other enriched breads is the use of tangzhong, a roux made of milk and flour…When you add tangzhong to the dough, the dough is able to retain a higher moisture content, and the result is a fluffy bread with a delicate crumb and ethereal softness that lasts for days – if it lasts that long at all.” Any way you slice it, these buns are excellent served either on their own with butter or as the base of a ham, fresh turkey or just about any kind of sandwich.
Makes 9 buns
- ¼ cup plus 3 tablespoons (100 grams) milk
- 2 tablespoons (20 grams) bread flour
- ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon (125 grams) warm (110˚F) milk
- 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
- ¼ cup (50 grams) granulated sugar, plus a pinch more
- 2 2/3 cups (335 grams) bread flour, plus more for dusting work surface
- ½ teaspoon coarse salt
- 1 large (50 grams) egg
- 4 tablespoons (55 grams) unsalted butter, cut into pieces and softened
- 1 teaspoon canola or other neutral-flavored oil, for coating bowl
- 1 large (50 grams) egg
- 1 tablespoon (14.5 grams) heavy cream
- Flaky sea salt
Make the Tangzhong
- In a small saucepan over low heat, combine the flour and milk and cook, whisking constantly, until thickened to a paste, 2 to 3 minutes. Immediately transfer the paste into a small bowl, scraping the sides of the saucepan with a flexible spatula; let cool until warm, 5 to 10 minutes. Texture should resemble mashed potatoes.
Make the milk bread
- In a clean or new small saucepan, scald the milk over medium heat, bringing the milk to a gentle simmer (watch carefully as milk tends to boil over). Pour the milk into a small bowl and cool until warm to the touch (about 110˚F). Stir in the yeast and a pinch of sugar, and set aside until the surface of the mixture is foamy, 5 to 10 minutes.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine the sugar, flour, salt and egg. Add the tangzhong and milk and mix on low until shaggy. Add the softened butter one piece at a time, mixing until fully incorporated before adding the next. Increase the speed to medium-high and continue to knead the dough until it is tacky and slightly sticky, 8 to 9 minutes. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface. Wet your hands to prevent the dough from sticking, pinch and pull the ends of the dough to form a smooth ball.
- Coat a large mixing bowl with the 1 teaspoon of oil. Add the dough to the bowl, gently turning it to cover with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set in a warm spot to proof until doubled in size, about 2 hours (or place in the refrigerator to proof for at least 8 hours or overnight).
- Transfer the proofed dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Punch down the dough to deflate it. Pinch and pull the ends of the dough to form a smooth ball.
Shape and bake the buns
- Line the bottom and sides of a 9-inch square baking pan with parchment paper. Divide the dough into 9 equal portions with a bench scraper (for accuracy, weigh with a digital scale, if you have one). Form each piece into a smooth ball. Arrange the dough balls in the pan and cover loosely with a damp, clean kitchen towel or plastic wrap. Allow the buns to proof until doubled in size, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
- Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350˚F. To make the eggwash, whisk together the egg and heavy cream in a small bowl. Brush the tops of the buns with eggwash and sprinkle with flaky sea salt, or other toppings, if you wish. Bake until the tops are lightly golden brown, 22 to 25 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and allow the buns to cool completely.