Home baking A Complete Guide to Making Japanese Hokkaido Whole Wheat Milk Bread

A Complete Guide to Making Japanese Hokkaido Whole Wheat Milk Bread

September 17, 2017

I LOVE all kinds of bread: baguette, croissant, Chinese steamed buns, and this Hokkaido milk bread. This Japanese sweet bread is a staple in Asian bakeries. You might find it made in different shapes (square, mountain shape, rolls, etc), but it’s all derived from one recipe.

The bread is super soft and melt-in-your-mouth on the inside. The crust is flaky and crispy when it’s toasted. For this recipe, I use 23% whole wheat flour because it’s healthier and much more aromatic than plain milk bread. You’ll be so surprised that it’s still very soft just like the regular one. My entire family really loves it, even though Andy is not a fan of whole wheat bread.

If you prefer a plain white bread, I have another video for this classic Japanese milk bread.

About Tangzhong (湯種 and 燙種) Methods

If you google “tangzhong” in English, you’ll find the most commonly used method that you mix 1 part flour to 5 parts water, then stir and cook until the mixture thickens.

For those who wonder why the tangzhong method of this recipe is different from the one above (most known), there’re two tangzhong methods and they are written differently in Chinese but have the same spelling. The one that I am using is written as “燙種” that you just mix the flour with hot water. I learned this method from a professional Japanese baker. The other method is written as “湯種”.

I personally tested using it immediately vs. refrigerating the starter overnight, and found that the latter method produces fuller taste.  It’s also been tested by America’s Test Kitchen.

Inside of Japanese milk bread

Soft and moist on the inside that lasts for a few days and it doesn’t dry out easily.

Bread making is a skill. I thought I couldn’t master it so I bought a bread machine. The bread machine makes fresh bread and it does taste better than the pre-packaged ones, but the crust is so thick and often burnt. Once I used this recipe to make bread, I couldn’t stop making more! With a little bit of patience and guidance, you can also make really delicious bread on your FIRST attempt!

Final bread proofing – 85% filled (left) to make square-shaped bread and 95% (right) to make mountain-shaped bread

If you look at the written recipe, it might be overwhelming for beginners. So make sure to watch the video and follow the steps & tips to avoid some of the common mistakes and it’ll boost your confidence in making bread!

A few notes:

  • If you didn’t have time to wait a full day to make the tangzhong, it’s still ok to use it. Letting it rest overnight in the refrigerator will not only soften the whole wheat flour but also allow the starter to develop a fuller and unique flavor. If you plan to make 2-3 loaves within two weeks, make a batch so you can use it anytime.
  • I don’t recommend using liquid oil (including melted butter) to replace soft butter.
  • If you don’t want to use sugar, the finished product won’t have the same flavor and texture. The sugar feeds the yeast. It keeps the bread moist and stays fresh longer. Bread without sugar can be dried out quickly and doesn’t rise as high.
  • The use of honey is to help soften the whole wheat flour.
  • Using a good oven thermometer is HIGHLY recommended. Here’s the explanation from Cook’s Illustrated:

An oven’s internal thermometer only gauges the temperature of the location where it’s installed, which isnecessarily in an out-of-the-way spot in the back, front, or side of the oven box. But these areas can be subject to hot spots or drafts that make their temperatures differ from the center of the oven.

5 from 1 vote
Japanese Hokkaido Whole Wheat Milk Bread
Prep Time
3 hrs
Cook Time
30 mins
Total Time
3 hrs 30 mins

The recipe is for 11 x 4 x 4 inch (28 x 10 x 10 cm) loaf pan. 

Course: Breakfast
Cuisine: Japanese
Whole wheat tangzhong
  • 125 g whole wheat flour
  • 100 g boiling water
Main dough
  • 280 g milk
  • 5 g yeast
  • 15 g honey
  • 20 g sugar
  • 410 g bread flour
  • 8 g sweetened condensed milk
  • 10 g salt
  • 40 g butter
Preparing the whole wheat tangzhong ONE DAY ahead
  1. Bring the water to a boil and transfer to a mixing bowl. Add whole wheat flour. Use a spatula to mix well. Once it's cooled down, gently knead the dough until flour is incorporated. Wrap the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Making the main dough
  1. In a bowl of a stand mixer, add milk, yeast, honey, sugar, bread flour, sweetened condensed milk, and whole wheat starter (tangzhong). Knead on low speed (2) using a dough hook. Scrape off the dough that sticks to the bowl as needed.

  2. After about 3 minutes, everything is incorporated and the dough becomes slightly elastic (see my video for more explanations), add salt. Knead on medium speed (3 or 4) for another 5 minutes or so.

  3. Switch off and check on the dough. Take a small piece of the dough and gently stretch it out.

    - If it can be easily torn off, that means the gluten is not fully developed yet and needs more mixing.

    - If it becomes stretchy and has some holes, it's 80% to completion. Now it's time to add butter (room temp), set the mixer on medium speed and mix for 2-3 minutes.

  4. After kneading 2-3 minutes, switch off and check on the dough again. If it can be stretched thinly and looks translucent, the dough is ready! At this time, the surface of the dough should look smooth.

1st bulk fermentation
  1. Transfer the dough to a large bowl. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and ferment the dough for 1 hour at 82F / 28C. Depending on the temperature of the room, every 2F / 1C increase/decrease, decrease/increase 10 minutes of fermentation. For example, if your room is 75F / 23C, then the fermentation takes about 1 hour and 50 minutes.

    OR If your oven has a bread proof function (like mine), add boiling water to a baking pan on the bottom rack, and put the dough on the middle rack without the plastic wrap for 1 hour. If not, preheat the oven and switch off at about 82F / 28C (use a thermometer to measure the inside temperature) for 1 hour or so.

    OR you can put the covered dough in the refrigerator for at least 14 hours so you can make the dough the next day. The temperature of the refrigerator should be 39F / 4C so that it keeps the dough fermenting slowly.

2nd bulk fermentation
  1. After first bulk fermentation, take the dough to a working surface. Fold the dough and roll it into a big ball. Be very careful not to push too hard on the dough.

  2. Transfer back to the bowl and ferment another 30 minutes at 82F / 28C.

Pre-shaping the dough and final shape
  1. Cut the dough into 5 pieces evenly. Gently stretch each piece and fold it down, and roll it into a ball. Let it rest for another 15-20 minutes.

  2. Take one piece and use a rolling pin to shape it into a rectangle. Fold the long sides towards the center. Use a rolling pin to flatten and lengthen the dough. Pinch on end and gently roll it up. Repeat the same steps with the other pieces.

Final proof
  1. Spray the pan with baking spray. Place the dough into the pan. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rise at room temperature OR use the oven for bread proofing.

  2. To make square shaped bread, once the dough has risen to fill 85% of the pan, cover with a lid and it's ready for baking.

    To make mountain shaped bread, wait till the dough has risen to fill 95% of the pan.

  3. Preheat the oven to 390F / 200C. Place it in the oven and bake for 30 minutes. After it's done, take the bread out immediately from the pan and rest it on a rack.

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Linda September 19, 2017 at 10:39 am

Thank you so much for this recipe. I had great success with it. I’ve baked Japanese style bread many times with varied results. This was super simple and came out perfect. I love how it fits my 11 x14 pan too. Love your site. Keep it up. Next time 2 loaves at a time!

jessie September 19, 2017 at 4:04 pm

YAY!!! Thank you for telling me! I make 2 loaves at a time too because they’ll be gone in 3 days. My family is crazy about bread 🙂

Linda September 20, 2017 at 11:10 am

Oh one question for you. If I do make 2 loaves at once do you do 2 batches separately or can your kitchen aid handle a double batch?

jessie September 26, 2017 at 12:52 pm

No, I had to do it separately. I put the first dough in the refrigerator to slow down fermentation and then start making the second one.

kay November 7, 2017 at 8:58 am

How would I make this in a bread maker? Can I just dump everything together and turn it on?

jessie November 7, 2017 at 10:56 am

We’ll be posting another recipe for plain white bread using the bread machine. Please stay tuned! I don’t recommend using it to bake the bread but just knead the dough as the crust would be too thick after baking in the machine.

Richard Foo November 29, 2017 at 10:51 am

I baked the bread in Pullman loaf pan for 30 minutes and it is still very light in color. Can I baked it longer?

jessie November 29, 2017 at 11:27 am

Hi Richard, here’s a helpful guide to help you troubleshoot your bread: http://www.progressivebaker.com/downloads/Bread.pdf

Make sure the dough has risen properly. To check that, cut a slice and see if it’s dense. Sometimes if the bread is not proofed properly, it could affect the volume that results in light color.

All the ovens are different. The actual temperature inside the oven (especially for older ones) could be much lower than you set. You can use an oven thermometer to check the temperature. This happened to me too before when I used my upper oven. you can bake longer, but the crust would be thicker though.

Jackson December 4, 2017 at 12:41 am

Hi Jesse, thanks for the excellent recipe. I actually follow your white bread recipe and it turns out great! I’d like to give this whole wheat version a try but your recipe is for 11×4 and I have at 13×4 Pullman. Can you use this recipe?

jessie December 4, 2017 at 11:24 pm

Hi Jackson, thanks for trying the white bread recipe! Go ahead and use this recipe. I am going to update the recipe soon since I want to add baker’s percentage and reduce the amount of the ingredients for my 11×4 loaf pan to make it fluffier. So the current recipe will be great for your loaf pan. Enjoy!

Jackson December 5, 2017 at 12:03 am

Thanks Jesse. One more question, what if I want to bake the bread first thing in the morning. How should I get the dough ready? After 1st fermentation, rest, roll the dough and put it in the pans to get ready for 2nd fermentation. But fermented in the refrigerator over night and then bake it the next morning? Would that work. Thanks for your great recipe again.

jessie December 11, 2017 at 4:47 pm

Sorry for the delay response. I think that would work. Just make sure to let the dough rise to 80% of the pan before baking. Good luck!


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