It was some years back… I was running a kitchen for a brewery on Chicago's Northside, where crafting savory dishes was my forte. Baking bread? Not my usual gig.
Fresh bread graced our menu each day, a constant for toasted sandwiches and a canvas for creamy salted cod brandade. While I hadn't quite embraced the realm of baking back then, there was a nightly phenomenon as we all wound down and headed out. A baker, a true night owl, would enter from the night to craft loaves of art while the world slept. On one night I found myself in his kitchen, covered in flour, discovering the intricacies of the Tangzhong technique.
Tangzhong is kitchen magic, turning basic flour and liquid into dreamy, soft bread. I wasn't aiming to be a bread guy, but as I dove into the dough a newfound passion presented itself.
From bread skeptic to enthusiast, I'm going to walk you through my discovery. Let's delve into Tangzhong's charm. Join me on this unexpected journey of discovering a love for a technique I never thought I would adore so deeply.
The Tangzhong method is a distinctive approach to bread making that is sometimes referred to as "water roux" in the Western world. This technique involves cooking a mixture of flour and water until it thickens and becomes like a paste. This paste, or roux, is then added to the bread dough. The purpose of using Tangzhong is to enhance the bread's texture and moisture retention. By cooking the flour and water together, we can really expand the length of our gluten strands, allowing more water into the dough without a sticky mess! More hydration equals a softer, fluffier bread.
But did I mention... it not only adds oven spring to your favorite dough, it also extends shelf life of bread! That’s right, your favorite sandwich loaf or cinnamon roll will actually stay fresh and soft for up to two days longer!
It's a method that introduces a different twist to traditional breadmaking, and if you're up for experimenting in the kitchen, giving Tangzhong a try could be an interesting adventure!
The beauty of the Tangzhong method lies in its versatility. By incorporating up to an additional 8-10% of the original flour's weight along with five times that amount of water, you unlock a world of enhanced texture and longevity. This technique isn't bound by specific types of bread. Artisanal loaves, rustic rolls, or even experimenting with whole wheat creations is a great application for this method.
Here we will apply it to a basic dinner roll recipe that I use often!
Scroll down for a printable version of this recipe
Yields: 9 rolls
Prep time: 50 minutes
Inactive time: 90 minutes
Bake time: 18 minutes
350 g bread flour, divided (2 1/2 cups)
20 g sugar (2 Tablespoons)
6 g instant yeast (1/2 Tablespoon) (see note*)
2 g Kosher salt (1/2 teaspoon)
115 g milk (1/2 cup)
58 g water (1/4 cup)
28 g unsalted butter (2 Tablespoons)
*I love using instant yeast (sometimes called bread machine yeast). The yeast does not need to be bloomed with water and sugar, only mixed directly into your dry mix. The same flavor and reaction are achieved without the fuss. If using dry active yeast, add your sugar to ther warm milk mixture and then add the yeast. Let this mixture become foamy for 3-4 minutes. This will then be added to your initial flour and salt. — see rest of recipe.
But before we delve into the method of this simple recipe, we need to consider one more ingredient — the Tangzhong!
For the Tangzhong
30 g bread flour (3 Tablespoons)
150 g water (2/3 cup)
First, make the Tangzhong. In a small saucepot, combine the 30g of flour and 150g water. Mix and heat on low until the mixture forms a thick paste, similar to icing. Set aside and allow to cool to room temperature.
Moving onto the dough...
In a bowl, combine 1 cup flour with the sugar, instant yeast, and salt. Stir until mixed.
In a separate bowl combine milk, butter, and water. Heat until butter is melted and allow to cool until the mixture is 115°F (This can be done in the microwave or in a sauce pot on the stove).
Gradually add the hot milk mixture to the dry ingredients until a slightly lumpy batter is formed. Once mixed, add Tangzhong and mix until homogenous.
Add the additional flour until a shaggy dough is formed. Transfer to a floured work surface and knead by hand until a smooth and soft dough is accomplished (about 10-15 minutes).
This can also be done in a standing mixer with a dough hook. The process should take only half the time.
When the dough is soft and smooth, place in a lightly greased bowl, covered and allow to double in size (45-60 minutes).
After the dough has risen, divide into 9 equal pieces (or your desired number of rolls) and place into a lightly buttered 9x9 baking pan. Again, cover and allow to double in size.
Bake the rolls in a 375°F oven for 15-18 minutes or until thoroughly golden brown on top. Brush generously with melted butter as they leave the oven and allow to cool slightly before serving.
The Tangzhong method is your key to crafting bread that's softer and more delightful than you've ever imagined. Here's the exciting part – this technique isn't limited to just dinner rolls. Imagine infusing the same enchantment into any yeasted bread recipe your heart desires.
Here's the secret formula: Simply take an extra 8-10% of the original flour weight from your chosen recipe. Combine it with five times that amount of water, and give it a gentle cook. This transforms these humble ingredients into a delight, ready to elevate your bread to new heights of fluffiness.
Embark on a journey that promises to reshape your baking experience – the Tangzhong method is your gateway to bread that's luxuriously soft and utterly irresistible. Embrace this secret ingredient, dive into the art of creating tender and delicious bread, and watch your kitchen transform into a realm where technique and passion intertwine to conjure pure baking magic.
The Chopping Block can also help you become a better bread baker. Don't miss our Hands-On Artisanal Breads Boot Camp on Saturday, September 9 at 10am at Lincoln Square. You'll master all of this in a day:
- Herbed Sourdough Focaccia with Honey Ricotta Spread
- Sourdough Cheddar Scallion Twist
- Japanese Milk Bread (Shokupan)
- Honey Apple Challah Tea Ring
- Chocolate Hazelnut Morning Buns
- Soft Hawaiian Rolls