Make Japanese style milk bread rolls with this easy milk bread roll recipe! These dinner rolls are soft, fluffy, moist, and just a touch sweet. They are perfect for your holiday dinner parties but also simple enough to make for an everyday meal.
Christmas is just around the corner and we're all busy planning if not already starting our holiday cooking. Kyong and I know that a meal isn't complete without beautiful dinner rolls to soak up all the flavorful gravy and sauces you made. So, we wanted to share this easy milk bread roll recipe that requires minimal ingredients but delivers maximum satisfaction, so that every last drop of your hard work can be savored!
If you liked this milk bread dinner roll recipe, you'll also love to try our cheesy garlic pull-apart bread (Christmas edition), Korean sausage bread, and Korean cream cheese garlic bread. They're all crowd pleasers and perfect for holiday gatherings or simple snacking.
What is milk bread?
Milk bread, like the average white bread is made of wheat flour. However, what makes the two difference is the addition of milk, fat (butter), and tangzhong. These three additions give milk bread a milkier, richer flavor and that springy, pillowy, soft texture we love in Asian breads.
Tangzhong: milk bread's secret ingredient
So, what makes milk bread so pillowy soft but still springy? The secret lies in tangzhong, a thick paste made by cooking a liquid with flour until gelatinized, about 65°C or 149°F. In the case of milk breads, milk and flour are cooked. Adding tangzhong to bread doughs allow the doughs to be high in hydration, without being a wet, sticky mess, which is what's needed if you want light, airy bread.
If your milk bread is dense, mostly likely, the dough is under-kneaded. The dough needs to develop enough gluten to expand and become soft and fluffy. A sure way to ensure that the dough is kneaded enough is using the window pane test.
The window pane test
When making any kinds of bread, it is very important to knead the dough until it reaches the "window pane" stage before proofing. This ensures that the dough has enough gluten development to trap the carbon dioxide produced when the dough is proofing. Without adequate gluten formation, the dough will not be able to expand properly, resulting in a dense dough.
To check for the window pane stage, pinch off a small knob of dough, about a Tablespoon. Gently stretch the dough between your fore fingers and thumb until you're able to see silhouettes through the stretched dough. If the dough tears before you can see silhouettes through it, knead the dough in 2 to 4 minute increments and checking in between until the "window pane" consistency has been achieved.
Alternative almost no-knead milk bread
If you prefer making breads without a stand mixer or simply have the time, you'll love this alternative almost no knead method!
- Place the flour, sugar, and salt into a mixing bowl. Give it a mix, then add the cooled tangzhong and milk with dissolved yeast. Mix the dough until no more dry flour is visible and the dough is cohesive. Cover and let the dough rest for 30 minutes in a warm area.
- After 30 minutes, knead the dough by pulling the edges toward the center to form a ball. Cover and let it rest for another 30 minutes in a warm area.
- Once the 30 minutes are up, add the softened butter and work the butter into the dough. After all the butter has been absorbed, round up the dough and cover it. Let the dough proof in a warm area until doubled, about 45 minutes or 1 hour.
- Punch the dough down and divide into 9 or 16 pieces, depending on if you want small or large rolls. Follow the recipe for the shaping and baking.
How to shape these milk bread rolls
1.After proofing the dough, deflate the dough and divide it 16 equal pieces for small rolls or 9 equal pieces for large rolls. Lightly grease a 9x9 square pan with butter or oil.
2. Working with one piece of dough at a time, knead the dough onto itself by pulling the edges of the dough toward the center. This will pop all the air bubbles in the dough and prevent uneven holes in the rolls.
3. Pinch and pull the piece of dough until it smooths out and forms into a round ball.
4. Arrange the milk bread roll in the square pan and repeat with remaining dough.
Holidays and dinner plans are already enough work. The great news is that both the tangzhong and these milk bread rolls are perfect for making ahead of time! The tangzhong can be made up to 3 days ahead of time. Just let it cool it completely then cover and store in the fridge until you need it.
For the milk bread, let them slow proof in the fridge overnight after shaping them. Make sure to cover the rolls well so that the dough doesn't dry out. The rolls should be doubled or closed to doubled the next day. Just let them come to temperature on your countertop while you preheat the oven before applying egg wash and baking.
How to store these milk bread rolls
Not gonna to lie, these milk bread dinner rolls taste the best the day of. But the great thing about milk breads is that it has a longer shelf life than other homemade breads. So as long it is tightly wrapped and stored in an airtight container, it'll stay good at room temperature for up to 1 week. Otherwise, you can refrigerate it up to 2 weeks or freeze up to 1 month.
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Easy Milk Bread Rolls
For the tangzhong:
- 20 gram bread flour (about 2½ TBSP)
- 90 gram milk (about 6TBSP)
For the dough:
For the tangzhong:
- Whisk together the milk and bread flour in a small saucepan until no lumps remain.
- Place the saucepan over medium high heat and continue to whisk until the mixture starts to thicken. Reduce the heat to medium low and continue to cook and whisk until the entire mixture is like a thick paste with no loose liquid remaining.
- Remove from heat and transfer the tangzhong to a small heatproof container. Cover and let it cool completely, or at least until the center is warm to the touch before using.*Refer to the post for a photo reference of how tangzhong looks.*
To make the dough:
- Sprinkle the active dry yeast over the warm milk. Give it a little stir and set it aside to allow the yeast to dissolve and activate, about 3 to 5 minutes.
- In the stand mixer bowl, combine the flour, sugar, and salt. Give it a mix and add the cooled tangzhong, softened butter, and milk with dissolved yeast.
- With the dough hook attachment, mix on low until the dough comes together. Then, increase the speed to medium high and knead until the dough is smooth, supple and passes the window pane test.*Refer to the post for the alternative knead-by-hand method and more details on the window pane test*
- Shape the dough into a ball and transfer to clean mixing bowl. Cover with a damp towel or plastic wrap and let the dough proof in a warm area until doubled, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.
To shape the milk bread rolls:
- Once the dough has doubled, deflate the dough and transfer it to a clean work surface. Portion the dough into 16 equal pieces for small rolls or 9 equal pieces for large rolls.
- Working with one piece of dough at a time, knead the edge of the dough into the center to release air bubbles, then pull and tuck the dough to round it out into a ball. Place the dough ball into a lightly grease square pan (9x9) and repeat with remaining dough.
- Cover the pan and let the rolls proof for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until almost doubled.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Brush the tops of each roll with egg wash and garnish each roll with a pinch of coarse salt.
- Bake the rolls for 20 to 23 minutes or until they are golden brown on top and the interior temperature registers 190°F.
- Let the rolls cool for a few minutes then remove them from the pan to cool completely on a wire rack.
- Enjoy while warm or at room temperature with butter, jam, or as dinner rolls!
- Tangzhong can be made up to 3 days before use. Just refrigerate it and keep it covered to prevent dry out.
- These milk bread rolls are best eaten the day of. However, they will still taste great and have great texture, if stored in an airtight container, up to 3 days at room temperature, up to 2 weeks in the fridge, and up to 1 month in the freezer. Just microwave it until warmed so that they are soft and fluffy and again.
- Do refer to the post above for tips, FAQs, and photo references for making these Japanese milk bread rolls!