Kitchn Love Letters

A Perfect, Pillowy Milk Bread That Even My Picky Parents Would Approve Of

published Sep 11, 2022
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Sliced open milk bread.
Credit: Photo: Chris Testani; Food Stylist: Jessie YuChen

This recipe is part of Kitchn 100 — the hundred recipes you need right now. Check out all of the amazing dishes, from Kitchn and beyond, here.

Each time I flip through Kristina Cho’s Mooncakes and Milk Bread cookbook, I’m sucked in by the recipes that remind me of going to the Chinese bakeries in Oakland’s Chinatown when I was a kid. We’d load up on breakfast and snacks, watching our treats get packed efficiently into powder-pink boxes that were tied up with shiny twine that would be impossible to untie later. Our standard canon of Chinese baked goods usually consisted of BBQ pork buns, cocktail buns, plain sesame-topped buns, and pineapple buns. (A few egg tarts usually snuck in there, too). The common delicious denominator in all these buns? They all started with milk bread. One of my favorite milk bread recipes is in Cho’s book — it’s a really great base recipe for all sorts of bun making.

What Is Milk Bread?

Milk bread is an enriched Asian bread that’s most notably different from other similar breads like challah and brioche because it uses a technique called tangzhong. To make tangzhong, some of the flour and liquid is cooked together like a roux until thick and fluffy so that the starches gelatinize and trap in moisture. It makes doughs softer and fluffier, and keeps the finished bread from drying out as quickly. Cho’s milk bread uses a tangzhong, and I used the milk bread dough to make her Pork Floss and Seaweed Pull-Apart Rolls to much thunderous appreciation from my family. Her clear directions made a dough that was dreamy to work with.

How to Make Kristina Cho’s Milk Bread

To make the milk bread, start by making the tangzhong: Cook a small amount of the flour and milk together on the stove until a paste forms. While the paste cools, get the yeast started by dissolving it in warm milk and some sugar and letting it get nice and foamy. Throw the tangzhong and milk/yeast into a stand mixer and mix with sugar, flour, salt, and egg until combined, then keep beating while gradually adding pieces of butter until the dough is tacky.

Proof the dough for about two hours or, my personal preference, in the refrigerator overnight. The dough rises impressively into a baby-soft ball that’s super satisfying to punch down. It’s also easy to roll out and work with — even straight from the refrigerator. From this point on, shape the dough and bake in a loaf pan, or use to make buns or rolls.

Credit: Photo: Chris Testani; Food Stylist: Jessie YuChen

If You’re Making Kristina Cho’s Milk Bread, a Few Tips

  • You can knead by hand. If you don’t have a mixer, the book contains instructions for kneading by hand, advising that it is possible (but messier) to do so. You may have to knead in up to 1/4 cup of bread flour if the dough is really sticky.
  • Use the weight measurements if you can. Baking is all about the right ratio of ingredients, and you’ll get the most accurate measurements by using the provided weights.
  • Watch your temps. Make sure the tangzhong cools for a few minutes before you use it, and make sure your milk is warm enough but not too hot (about 110ºF) when you activate the yeast.