Tangzhong Milk Bread Five-Spice Cinnamon Buns

published Aug 25, 2022
Kat Lieu's Tangzhong Milk Bread Five-Spice Cinnamon Buns

These irresistibly pillowy and flavorful buns from Kat Lieu's cookbook, Modern Asian Baking, remain soft and tender for days.

Makes9 buns

Prep15 minutes

Cook30 minutes

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Cinnamon Buns from Kat Lieu, of Subtle Asian Baking, from her cookbook, Modern Asian Baking at Home.
Credit: Nicole Soper Photography

Japanese milk bread is prized for its soft, fluffy texture and rich flavor. The secret to this pillowy bread? Tangzhong, a roux made from cooking water (or milk) and flour. Like a sponge, tangzhong helps the bread retain more water during and after baking, creating that irresistible texture. Here, a milk bread dough is used to make cinnamon buns that are bumped up with a filling made with cinnamon, five-spice powder, and miso. The buns, which are adapted from a recipe from Shirley Chu found on Subtle Asian Baking, stay soft and tender for days, but we suspect they won’t last that long.

Kat Lieu's Tangzhong Milk Bread Five-Spice Cinnamon Buns

These irresistibly pillowy and flavorful buns from Kat Lieu's cookbook, Modern Asian Baking, remain soft and tender for days.

Prep time 15 minutes

Cook time 30 minutes

Makes 9 buns

Nutritional Info


For the tangzhong:

  • 1/4 cup

    all-purpose flour

  • 1/2 cup


For the dough:

  • 2 1/4

    teaspoons (1 packet) active dry yeast

  • 1/2 cup

    warm milk (about 110°F)

  • 2 1/3 cups

    bread flour

  • 1/4 cup

    plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar

  • 1/2 teaspoon


  • 1


  • 2 tablespoons

    butter, melted

For the egg wash (optional):

  • 1

    egg, beaten

For the filling:

  • 1/2 cup

    packed brown sugar

  • 1 tablespoon

    ground cinnamon, adjust to taste

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    five-spice powder, adjust to taste

  • 1/4 cup

    (1/2 stick) butter, softened

  • 1 teaspoon


For the frosting:

  • 3 ounces

    cream cheese, softened

  • 1/4 cup

    (1/2 stick) butter, softened

  • 1 teaspoon

    vanilla extract

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    miso or salt

  • A pinch of nutmeg or allspice (optional)

  • 1 cup

    plus 1 tablespoons confectioners' sugar, adjust to taste


Make the tangzhong:

  1. In a saucepan over low heat, add the flour and milk and whisk until no lumps remain. Once thickened like smooth mashed potatoes, remove from heat, cover, and cool.

Make the dough:

  1. Add the yeast and a dash of sugar to the warm milk. Let the mixture foam and bubble for a few minutes. In a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, add the milk mixture, tangzhong, bread flour, sugar, salt, egg, and melted butter. Mix on low speed for a few minutes, until a smooth and elastic dough forms.

  2. Flour your hands and shape the dough into a ball. Transfer to a lightly greased bowl. Cover and proof for 60 minutes, until roughly doubled in size.

Make the filling:

  1. Combine all the filling ingredients and mix until incorporated. Set aside.

Prepare the rolls:

  1. Line a 9x13-inch baking pan with parchment paper.

  2. Deflate the dough. Transfer to a floured work surface. Use a floured rolling pin to roll the dough into a rectangle about 15x9 inches, while maintaining an even thickness.

  3. Spread the filling evenly over the entire dough.

  4. Roll into a jelly roll. With the seam-side down, slice into nine even 1-inch portions with a sharp knife.

  5. Place all the buns, cut-side up, on the prepared pan in a three-by-three array. Cover and let rise for about 60 minutes, until puffy.

  6. About 30 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 350°F with a rack in the center.

  7. Brush the optional egg wash evenly over the buns. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until golden brown. Cool for a few minutes on the pan and then cool completely on a wire rack.

  8. Make the frosting. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat all the frosting ingredients (except the sugar) on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Sift in the sugar, in increments, and beat until smooth. Spread the frosting over the buns and enjoy! For an added kick and texture, try topping the buns with minced candied ginger.

Recipe Notes

© 2022 Quarto Publishing Group USA Inc.

Text © 2022 Kathleen Lieu

Photography: Nicole Soper Photography