This recipe is America’s Test Kitchen’s version of Japanese milk bread, or shokupan.
Unless you’ve lived in Japan, you may not know that the Japanese, as an overall culture, take food pretty seriously, and I’ve always thought of them as a country of foodies. You also may not know that for a food category—bread—that was introduced to the country by the Portuguese in the 1500s, they’ve elevated the art of baking to an artistic level. This includes making white bread. This is remarkable for what was originally a rice-based culture.
Shokupan—which is simply really really good white bread—was thought to originate in the 1880s, and it gradually increased in popularity to become the most prevalent bread in the country, particularly in the post-war years when rice was somewhat scarce.
Today it is used for most of the crazy-good pre-made sandwiches sold in the ubiquitous Japanese convenience stores, and it’s a staple for the new-style “Japanese breakfast” consisting of thick pieces of toasted shokupan, eggs and ham sold in coffee shops, or kissaten.
So what’s so good about this boring-looking white bread? Everything. A cooked loaf has a robust, fragrant crust, with a soft, springy and somewhat chewy interior. It’s bread heaven.
I looked around a lot online, and found dozens of recipes for shokupan. Alas, not all recipes are created equal, and this one was the most well-written and easy to follow. And having eaten tons of shokupan when in Japan, I can attest to it’s authenticity
What you’ll need:
- 2 cups (11 ounces) plus 3T bread flour
- 0.5 cups water
- 0.5 cups cold whole milk
- 1 large egg
- 1.5t instant yeast—I think 2t would have made it rise a little more
- 2T sugar
- 1.5t salt
- 3T unsalted butter, softened, plus 1T melted
What to do:
Whisk 3T flour and water in small bowl until no lumps remain. Microwave, whisking every 20 seconds, until the mixture thickens into a stiff, smooth, pudding-like consistency that forms a mound when dropped from end of whisk into a bowl—40 to 80 seconds.
Now whisk the milk, egg, and flour paste in the bowl of stand mixer until smooth, then put the bowl into the stand mixer fit with a dough hook. Add the yeast and remaining 2 cups flour, and using the dough hook on low speed, mix until a cohesive dough starts to form and no dry flour remains—about 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl during this process, as needed. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let it rest for 15 minutes.
After 15 minutes, add the sugar and salt to the dough and mix on low speed for about 5 minutes. Then, with the mixer running, very carefully add the softened butter, 1T at a time, and continue mixing until the butter is fully incorporated—about 2 minutes. Now increase the speed to medium-low and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic and it clears the sides of the bowl but sticks to the bottom—about 5 minutes.
Transfer the dough to lightly-floured surface and knead it by hand for about 30 seconds to form a smooth, round ball. Place the dough seam-side down in lightly greased large bowl, cover it tightly with plastic, and let rise until doubled in size—1 to 1.5 hours.
After the dough rises, grease a 8.5 by 4.5-inch loaf pan. Press down on the dough to deflate it. Turn the dough out onto lightly-floured counter—the side of that dough that was against the bottom of the bowl should now be facing up. Gently press and roll the ball of dough into a 24 by 4-inch rectangle, with the short side parallel to counter’s edge (figure 1). Using a pizza cutter or chef’s knife, cut the rectangle lengthwise into 2 equal strips (figure 1).
Roll 1 strip of the dough into snug cylinder, pinch the seam closed, and place it seam-side down in the prepared pan, with the spiral edge against long side of pan. Repeat with the remaining strip of dough, placing it adjacent to other in the pan (figure 2).
Cover the pan loosely with greased plastic and let the dough rise until it is level with the lip of the pan and it springs back minimally when poked gently with a finger—30 minutes to 1 hour.
Adjust the oven rack to its lowest position and heat the oven to 375 degrees. Bake until deep golden brown and the loaf registers 205 to 210 degrees inside—30 to 35 minutes—rotating the pan halfway through baking.
Let the loaf cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then remove it to further cool on a wire rack. Brush the top and sides of the loaf with melted butter. Let it cool completely—about 3 hours—before serving.
It’s going to be one of the best breads you’ve ever had!