In January, I tested King Arthur Baking’s 2021 Recipe of the Year, Perfectly Pillowy Cinnamon Rolls, and fell in love with them. The recipe delivered on the promise of tender rolls that stay soft longer, thanks to a Japanese baking technique called tangzhong.
Tangzhong involves cooking a mixture of flour and water to create a slurry that is added to the bread dough. Cooking alters the chemical structure of flour, breaking down the starches and causing them to swell and absorb more water than without heat. It’s called gelatinization. When this roux is cooled to room temperature and combined in the dough, the tangzhong absorbs more water. The result is a softer, fluffier, springier bread that is more resistant to going stale.
I’ve since tried more bread recipes using this phenomenal process. And I got some inspiration and more tips about the technique from one of Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street Radio podcasts. His test kitchen featured a recipe for white bread simply called Japanese Milk Bread.
The test kitchen chef warned, “Don’t be tempted to add more flour to the dough as it is kneaded. The dough will be sticky and gluey, but after rising, it will be workable. When shaping the dough, use minimal flour so the dough remains as moist as possible.”
When I made the bread, it was indeed sticky. But as my stand mixer, fitted with the bread hook, kneaded the mixture, it gradually gathered all the sticky stuff off the sides of the bowl. The gluten in the dough became very strong. It was hard to get the dough out of the bowl for the next step, which was kneading it a few turns before putting it into a buttered bowl for the first rise.
The dough rose to fill the large mixing bowl and easily turned out of the bowl to shape for the second rise in loaf pans. This was when I learned something else new.
The recipe directs cutting the ball of dough into four equal balls. Each ball is flattened out to a small rectangle. The short sides of the rectangle are folded to the middle and overlapped like a letter. Two of the folded rectangles are placed in one loaf pan, perpendicular to the length, and the other two rectangles go in the second pan.
When baked, they look like four giant dinner rolls. And they taste similar to dinner rolls, with a fine, soft texture that is slightly sweet. They stay moister and softer longer than standard sandwich bread.
This recipe is now another in my weekly bread-making rotation. Next up, I want to make hamburger buns using this outstanding technique.
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