Home baking How to Make a Perfect Japanese Milk Bread with Stand Mixer and Bread Maker

How to Make a Perfect Japanese Milk Bread with Stand Mixer and Bread Maker

November 14, 2017

What is the optimum volume rate of the Japanese milk bread? What are windowpane and finger dent test? This post covers lots of tips and visuals to help you make the perfect milk bread using a stand mixer and a bread maker!

Back in the Azuchi-Momoyama period (1568-1600), bread was introduced by a Portuguese missionary in Japan. But it wasn’t widely popular until Meiji era when Japan was under the wave of westernization. Although rice has been always a staple food for centuries in Japan, the consumption of bread has increased in recent years. In 2011, according to the government’s survey, the purchase of bread per household has surpassed rice for the first time.

After learning how to make the whole wheat milk bread, I got obsessed with Japanese bread making and especially love to make this plain white bread (食パン). My older son couldn’t get enough of it! This staple food can be found in Asian bakeries. The bread comes in either square or mountain shape. Unlike American sandwiches, most Japanese bakeries would remove the crust to make either savory or confectionery sandwiches, such as fresh fruit sandwiches with whipped cream filling.

Although the Japanese bread is very similar to pain de mie, its unique shaping methods and fluffy texture make it different from other white bread. There’re many little details and techniques to be paid attention to when making the bread. I am not a professional bread baker, but love to learn and perfect every little technique every time I bake bread. Here’re a few important things that I’d like to share with you guys after making many loaves of bread and trying many different milk bread recipes.

A Perfect Japanese Milk Bread

  • The texture is soft, fluffy, lightly sweet and chewy on the inside and crusty on the outside.
  • Use a bread knife to cut a slice. the bottom shouldn’t be too dense. The bread has thin layers when you tear it apart.
  • The top corners should be rounded with lighter colors. This is a good indicator of properly risen bread.

A good indicator of properly risen bread.

Volume Rate

To make the bread light and fluffy, the weight of the dough for the right size of pan MATTERS! The common volume rate for Japanese white bread is between 3.8 and 4.2, meaning that the average ratio of the dough-to-pan volume is 1 to 3.8~4.2.

There’s an easy method to figure out. Use a measuring cup filled with water and pour into the loaf pan. The total milliliter of the pan equals how many grams of water it can hold. If the bread pan can hold 2200 grams of water, and the dough-to-pan ration is 4, the dough should weigh 800 grams.

After you figure out the weight of the dough, use baker’s percentage to calculate each ingredient based on the percentage provided in the recipe below. For your convenience, I’ve calculated the ingredients in grams for both sizes of the Pullman loaf pans.

Bread Pans

Bread pans come in different sizes. I’ve used the regular bread pan to make the milk bread and didn’t like the thick crust. But I’ve rarely come across a Japanese recipe that uses this type of pan. So I never used it again.

The nonstick Pullman bread pan is my favorite so far. I only greased the pan a couple times and never have to do it again. It comes in two sizes. In the recipe below, I’ve included the measurement of ingredients for both sizes.

Regular loaf pan & Pullman loaf pans (9″ x 4″ and 13″ x 4″)

Windowpane Test

When kneading the dough, it’s very important to do several windowpane tests to check if the dough is elastic and the gluten is fully developed. You’ll also notice the dough’s surface is much smoother when it’s almost done. The elastic dough makes the bread soft, fluffy, and slightly chewy which is what we are looking for. What you need to do is taking a small piece of the dough and gently stretch it out. If the dough is translucent and doesn’t break apart easily, that means the dough is ready for bulk fermentation.

Windowpane test

Desired Dough Temperature

The desired dough temperature for Japanese white bread specifically is between 79 – 82 F / 26-28 C. The only ways you can control the temperature of the dough are by adjusting the temperature of the room and the liquid temperature. If you don’t have heat or air conditioning to control room temperature, make sure to use cold water in hot weather, warm water in cold weather, and try to knead the dough and fully develop gluten as quickly as you can because the longer you knead the dough, the higher temperature it gets. That’s why we add butter later in the process and increase the mixing speed once all the ingredients are well-incorporated.

Bulk Fermentation and Proofing

Fermentation and proofing are sometimes used interchangeably. But it’s important to know that proofing refers to final rise after going through bulk fermentation and shaping. Usually, the temperature for final proofing is higher than bulk fermentation.

At first, I thought they were the same thing. My oven has a proofing function so I thought that it could be used for the first bulk fermentation. The bread turned out crumbly and dry. The temperature of the proofing function was 122 F / 50 C! Way too high for first fermentation.

If you’re serious about bread making, I highly recommend getting a proofer that allows you to adjust temperature for fermentation and final proofing. It’ll give you consistent and desired results every time. I just recently bought this Brod and Taylor proofer and absolutely LOVE it and am very happy with the results! It has the ability to accurately control the temperature and I use it for making yeast breads, yogurt, and cultured butter. It can be switched to slow cook too. It comes with a tray to increase humidity (between 60-80%).

Brod and Taylor proofer

Boiling water for adding extra humidity and a humidity gauge to monitor temperature and humidity level

Humidity Level

Humidity keeps the dough pliable so it can expand as the yeast releases carbon dioxide causing the dough to rise. Therefore, the water content in the dough, temperatures and relative humidity levels affect how it ferments. The relative humidity level should be at least 75 percent for most dough. At home, we often cover the dough with a damp cloth or plastic wrap that helps keep the dough moist, but it doesn’t change the humidity level. So to do this at home, I often put a bowl of boiling water in the proofer or oven with the dough uncovered. It’s not perfect, but a good alternative.

Finger Dent Test

While the recipes generally provide a specific time for fermentation, it’s important to do a quick finger dent test to see if the dough has fermented enough to develop flavors. If the dough is over fermented, it would start to collapse and lose optimum volume.

To do the test, press a finger into the dough. If the dent springs back slowly and partially, the dough is perfectly fermented and ready for shaping. If it completely springs back, it’s not fully fermented and needs more time. If the hole stays unchanged, it’s over-proofed.

Shaping Methods

Japanese plain white bread is known for its unique shaping methods. In the US and other western countries, the standard way is to shape the dough into a big spiral and placed into the pan. In Japan and other Asian countries, the following three methods are commonly used to create a fine and orderly structure and beautiful thin layers.

Multiple Spirals

This is the most popular and common method. It’s great for both square and mountaintop shapes. If you are a beginner, I recommend using this method before trying the other two. I’ve made a video for whole wheat milk bread before using this shaping method if you want to learn more.

U Shape

This shaping method is ideal for sandwiches. The gluten is organized in one direction. So the sliced bread becomes more elastic than the spiral shaping method when it’s used for sandwiches. It can hold the food very well without breaking through easily. In the video, I demonstrated this shaping method.

U shape

Round Shape

This is the quickest, yet more advanced method compared to the spiral and U shape because you don’t use a rolling pin to squeeze out the air and shape the dough. It’s commonly shaped for mountaintop bread.

Layered interior of a marbled matcha milk bread

Failed Examples

If you make bread long enough, there’re just so many factors that could affect the outcome. The three key factors are time, temperature and weight. I’ve mentioned some of these above. Here’re a few of examples of the bread that I made in the past. I hope this gives you some ideas to troubleshoot your bread.

The shrinkage is caused by insufficient cooking time.

The dough didn’t rise properly during the first bulk fermentation due to poor temperature and humidity control, as you can see the bottom of the interior is much denser than the top.

Not enough humidity during first fermentation and final proofing that didn’t allow the dough to rise properly. The crust is thick due to longer baking time. The inside became crumbly after one day.

The temperature of first bulk fermentation was too high that caused the interior to be rough and crumbly. I was using the proofing function of my oven. It was way higher than normal proofing temperature.

Bread Maker and Stand Mixer

I use both the Panasonic bread maker and the KitchenAid stand mixer for making this milk bread interchangeably. So far I couldn’t tell the differences between them in terms of texture and flavor. I use the bread maker if I want to do other things while kneading the dough. I DO NOT recommend using the bread maker to make this milk bread from start to finish for two reasons:

  1. You have to divide and shape the dough to create orderly structure.
  2. The crust would be too thick after baking the bread in a bread maker.

Making bread takes time and patience but it’s so rewarding! I hope you find these tips helpful! Make sure to share your creation on social media using #iceorrice. We’d love to see them!

Print
Japanese Milk Bread
Prep Time
3 hrs
Cook Time
30 mins
Total Time
3 hrs 30 mins
 

U shaping method. For the spiral method, please look at the whole wheat milk bread recipe. Measurement included for 13" x 4" (9" x 4") Pullman loaf pans.

Course: Side Dish
Cuisine: Japanese
Servings: 1 loaf
Ingredients
  • 440 g bread flour (100%)
  • 290 g milk (66%)
  • 26 g sugar (6%)
  • 9 g salt (2%)
  • 53 g soft butter (12%)
  • 13 g sweetened condensed milk (3%)
  • 4 g yeast (1%)
Instructions
Using a Stand Mixer
  1. Add milk, yeast, sugar, condensed milk, and flour to the bowl of a stand mixer. Use the mixer hook to incorporate the ingredients quickly. Low speed for 2 minutes. Add salt, and switch to medium speed for 6 minutes. Add butter. Medium speed for 5-6 minutes. The final dough's temperature is 79-82 F / 26-28 C. (See notes below)

  2. Bulk fermentation for about 60 minutes at 86 F / 30 C (85% humidity). Use the finger dent test to check if the dough is fermented enough. See my video for the visual explanation.

  3. Divide the dough into 3 parts evenly. Fold and round each piece. Covered with a damp cloth or paper towel. Bench rest for 20 minutes.

  4. Take one piece and use a rolling pin to flatten the dough into a 4 in x 6 in (10 cm x 15 cm) sheet. Pinch one end and fold the other end lengthwise. With the fold opening downwards, form it into a U shape and place it into one end of the bread pan. 

  5. Repeat the same process for the second piece and place it on the other end. Do the last one and place in the middle. Make sure all the ends of the dough hit the bread pan without large gaps.

  6. Final proofing at 90 F / 32 C (85% humidity) until the dough rises to 80% of the pan for square shaped toast (about one hour)Preheat the oven ahead of time to 395 F / 200 C.

  7. Cover the pan with a lid and bake for 30 minutes.

  8. Shake the pan 1-2 times and transfer the bread to a cooling rack. Wait till it completely cools down before slicing.

Using a Bread Maker
  1. Add milk, salt, sugar, soft butter, condensed milk, and flour to the bread maker and yeat to the automatic dispenser. If your bread maker doesn't have an automatic dispenser, add yeast 3 minutes after mixing starts.

  2. Select "pizza dough" to make the dough only. My bread maker takes 45 minutes.

  3. After the cycle is finished, take the dough out and divide it into 3 parts evenly. Covered with a damped cloth or paper towel. Bench rest for 30 minutes.

  4. Take one piece and use a rolling pin to flatten the dough into a 4 in x 6 in (10 cm x 15 cm) sheet. Pinch one end and fold the other end lengthwise. With the fold opening downwards, form it into a U shape and place it into one end of the bread pan.

  5. Repeat the same process for the second piece and place it on the other end. Do the last one and place in the middle. Make sure all the ends of the dough hit the bread pan without large gaps.

  6. Final proofing at  82F / 28 C (80% humidity) until the dough rises to 80% of the pan for square shaped toast.

  7. Preheat the oven ahead of time to 395 F / 200 C. Cover the pan with a lid and bake for 30 minutes. 

  8. Shake the pan 1-2 times and transfer the bread to a cooling rack. Wait till it completely cools down before slicing.

Recipe Notes
  • The time for mixing the dough is only for reference. The duration depends on your room temperature and dough's condition.
  • Whole milk or skim milk works fine.

 

For the small Pullman loaf pan (2200 ml), here're the measurements:

  • 318g bread flour 
  • 210g milk
  • 19g sugar
  • 6g salt
  • 38g soft butter
  • 10g sweetened condensed milk
  • 3g yeast

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