Milk Bread Buns

published Jan 10, 2023
Milk Bread Buns Recipe

A pillowy loaf of bread is hard to resist, but when turned into cute little individual buns, milk bread can be used to give you the perfect mini sandwiches.

Makes15 (about 3-inch) buns

Prep35 minutes

Cook25 minutes

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Milk bread buns on baking sheet
Credit: Photo: Linda Xiao, Food Stylist: Jessie YuChen

I grew up eating Chinese bakery buns for breakfast and as a snack, so I have a special fondness for milk bread — the type of bread that’s the base for many of those buns. The buns were always pillowy soft, mildly sweet, and adaptable to all kinds of toppings and fillings. While you can make milk bread as a loaf, I love turning the same dough into cute little buns and using them on a Chinese bao board where you can mix and match to create your own perfect little sandwiches.

What Is Milk Bread?

Milk bread is a milk- and yeast-based dough that employs a technique called tangzhong, where some of the flour is precooked into a paste that locks in moisture and keeps the baked goods soft and fresh for days. I use this same dough to make Chinese pineapple buns, but also love making them into these dinner roll-sized cuties.

How to Make Milk Bread Buns

  1. Make the tangzhong. Cook some of the bread flour and milk together into a mashed-potato like paste first, then let it cool slightly.
  2. Proof the yeast. Proof the yeast in warm milk and water.
  3. Start mixing. Mix the tangzhong, proofed yeast, more bread flour, an egg, sugar, and salt together in a stand mixer until a sticky dough forms. Then mix in softened butter a tablespoon at a time.
  4. Keep mixing. Take the speed up and mix to really develop the gluten until you have a smooth, tacky, and shiny dough.
  5. Do the first rise. Let the dough do its first rise in a warm place.
  6. Shape the rolls and rise again. Divide the dough and shape into rolls. Let the rolls rise again while you heat the oven.
  7. Brush with egg wash and bake. Brush the buns with an egg wash and bake until dark golden-brown.
Credit: Photo: Linda Xiao; Food Stylist: Jessie YuChen

If You’re Going to Make Milk Bread Buns, a Few Tips

  • Use bread flour for the buns, not all-purpose. You want the extra protein in bread flour so that there’s plenty of gluten.
  • Don’t undermix. This dough really does need to be beaten for the full amount of time to develop the gluten so that it bakes up fluffy, not dense.
  • Rise in a warm place. A nice warm spot helps the dough rise. You can create a makeshift proofer by proofing the dough in a microwave with a mug of very hot water to mimic a warm, humid place.

How to Serve Milk Bread Buns

Place these buns on a fun Chinese bao board (see the picture above), or use them for sliders or as dinner rolls. Stuff them with a fried egg for a wonderful breakfast sandwich. You can also make sweet rolls by spreading on sweetened red bean paste, melting chocolate in the middle, or using peanut butter and sweetened condensed milk (my favorite combination).

Milk Bread Buns Recipe

A pillowy loaf of bread is hard to resist, but when turned into cute little individual buns, milk bread can be used to give you the perfect mini sandwiches.

Prep time 35 minutes

Cook time 25 minutes

Makes 15 (about 3-inch) buns

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

For the tangzhong:

  • 1/2 cup

    whole or 2% milk

  • 1/4 cup

    bread flour

For the dough:

  • 4 tablespoons

    (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

  • 2/3 cup

    whole or 2% milk, divided

  • 1 (1/4-ounce) packet

    active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)

  • 2 2/3 cups

    bread flour, plus more as needed

  • 1/4 cup

    granulated sugar

  • 3/4 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 2

    large eggs, divided

  • Cooking spray

  • 1

    large egg yolk

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    water

  • 1 teaspoon

    white or black sesame seeds, or a combination (optional)

Instructions

  1. Cut 4 tablespoons unsalted butter into 4 pieces and let sit at room temperature until softened.

Make the tangzhong:

  1. Place 1/2 cup whole or 2% milk and 1/4 cup bread flour in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens to the consistency of mashed potatoes and is steaming, 2 to 3 minutes.

  2. Scrape the mixture into a small heatproof bowl and let cool until lukewarm, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, proof the yeast for the dough and measure out the dry ingredients.

Make the dough:

  1. Place 2/3 cup whole or 2% milk in a small microwave-safe bowl or measuring cup. Microwave until warm to the touch (105ºF to 110ºF), 30 to 40 seconds. (Alternatively, warm on the stovetop and pour into a small bowl.) Sprinkle with 1 (1/4-ounce) packet active dry yeast, stir to combine, and let sit until foamy, 5 to 10 minutes. Place 2 2/3 cups bread flour, 1/4 cup granulated sugar, and 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and whisk to combine.

  2. Add the tangzhong, yeast mixture, and 1 of the large eggs to the flour mixture. Mix with the dough hook on the lowest speed until a shaggy dough forms, about 1 1/2 minutes. Increase the speed to medium and add the butter 1 piece at a time, waiting until each piece is completely incorporated before adding the next, about 5 minutes total.

  3. Increase the speed to medium-high and mix for 5 minutes more. At this point, the dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick a little to the bottom, and will be smooth, tacky, and shiny.

  4. Lightly coat a large bowl with cooking spray. Scrape the dough into the bowl and flip to coat. Cover with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel. Let rise in a warm place until roughly doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours, or refrigerate for at least 8 or up to 24 hours.

  5. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or silicone baking mat. Divide the dough into 15 pieces (about 50 grams each). Form each piece into a round ball by pushing down with the heel of your hand (lightly flour your hand but not the work surface if the dough is sticky) while moving your hand in a circular motion, then cupping the ball toward the end (here are step-by-step photos). Place on the baking sheet, spacing them evenly apart.

  6. Lightly cover with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place until puffed and about 2 1/2-inches wide, about 1 hour.

  7. About 30 minutes before the buns are ready, arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 375ºF. Place the remaining 1 large egg and 1/2 teaspoon water in a small bowl and whisk with a fork until broken up.

  8. Uncover the buns and brush with a thin, even layer of the egg. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon white or black sesame seeds (or a combination) if desired.

  9. Bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Let cool for at least 5 minutes before serving, or let cool to room temperature.

Recipe Notes

Pull-apart rolls: For pull-apart rolls, place the dough balls in a 9x13-inch baking dish, 5 across and 3 down. Let rise and bake according to directions.

Storage: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 4 days or frozen for up to 2 months. Reheat in a 325ºF oven for 5 minutes or microwave for 15 seconds. If frozen, reheat from frozen in a 325ºF oven until warmed through, 12 to 15 minutes.