Introduction to tangzhong: an intriguing technique for softer yeast bread and rolls

How can you elevate your favorite dinner rolls to new levels of pillow-y softness — in one simple step? Ditto your old-fashioned sandwich bread, tender cinnamon rolls, and gooey sticky buns. The answer: tangzhong, the Asian yeast bread technique that’s gradually making its way into American kitchens.

These days, with “artisan” the byword for many yeast bakers, we aspire to breads that are ever more crusty/chewy: pizza crust, baguettes, bagels.

Introduction to tangzhong via @kingarthurflour

But let’s not lose sight of a whole world of classic soft yeast breads: the sliced white bread of our youthful sandwiches, the Sunday morning platter of tender sticky buns.

Sadly, all too often our quest for super-soft rolls falls far short of our dreams. The brioche buns are oddly dry and chewy; the cinnamon rolls, downright tough. What’s a frustrated baker to do?

Tangzhong: the quick and easy path to softer, more tender dinner rolls, sandwich loaves, and cinnamon buns. Click To Tweet

Try tangzhong

This Japanese technique cooks a small percentage of the flour and liquid (water or milk) in a yeast recipe very briefly before combining the resulting thick slurry with the remaining ingredients.

How does this technique affect yeast dough? It pre-gelatinizes the starches in the flour, meaning they can absorb more water. In fact, flour will absorb twice as much hot water or milk as it does the cool/lukewarm water or milk you’d usually use in yeast dough.

Not only does the starch in the flour absorb more liquid; since heating the starch with water creates structure, it’s able to hold onto that extra liquid throughout the kneading, baking, and cooling processes. Which in turn means:

• Since there’s less free (unabsorbed) water in the dough, it’s less sticky and easier to knead;

• The bread or rolls may rise higher, due to more water creating more internal steam (which makes bread rise in the oven — along with the carbon dioxide given off by the yeast);

• Having retained more water during baking, bread and rolls will be moister, and will stay soft and fresh longer. 

We currently have just a few recipes using tangzhong on our website; as we become more familiar with the method, we hope to add more.

Introduction to tangzhong via @kingarthurflour

One of our current recipes using tangzhong is Soft Cinnamon Rolls. An enthusiastic reader review recently caught our eye:

“This is the best cinnamon roll recipe ever! I have been making cinnamon rolls for 55 years and have never found a recipe quite like this. These rolls stay soft a long time — up to a week… I mail cinnamon rolls to childhood friends who live a great distance from me. Even if it takes the postal service a week to deliver the rolls, they are still soft!” — Retired editor from Upper Sandusky, OH

That’s tangzhong in a nutshell: soft rolls (or bread) that stay soft for an extended period, making them perfect for shipping, or simply for making one day, then enjoying the next. And the next, and the next…

While nothing beats a freshly baked, oven-warm roll, tangzhong delivers results that are a very close second — without the pressure of having to bake right before serving.

Putting tangzhong to the test

Let’s see how this works with our recipe for Easy Hot Cross Buns.

As directed in a tip at the bottom of the recipe, I measure out the total amount of flour and milk I’ll be using in the recipe.

Introduction to tangzhong via @kingarthurflour

Now I take 3 tablespoons of the measured flour and 1/2 cup of the measured milk and put them in a saucepan set over medium-high heat (left, above). I cook the mixture, whisking constantly; it quickly starts to thicken (right, above).

Introduction to tangzhong via @kingarthurflour

Within a minute or so the mixture becomes a thick slurry.

I transfer the cooked mixture to a bowl, let it cool to lukewarm, then combine it with the remaining flour, milk, and other dough ingredients.

Introduction to tangzhong via @kingarthurflour

I proceed with the recipe as directed: kneading the dough (above); letting it rise; shaping the buns; letting them rise, and baking.

Introduction to tangzhong via @kingarthurflour

Icing atop the cooled buns is the final touch.Introduction to tangzhong via @kingarthurflour

Tangzhong yields soft, moist, tender buns

It’s impossible to photograph soft, tender texture and extended shelf life. But here’s a bun I broke open after a couple of days on the counter (well wrapped, of course). It’s moist, soft, and delicious.

Four days post-baking, the buns were just starting to dry out a bit. But contrast that to the typical sweet roll, which often seems to toughen up within hours of its emergence from the oven.

As a long-time devoted fan of soft bread and rolls, I’m sold on tangzhong. We’ve gradually been adding recipes to our site that use this technique, such as Japanese Milk Bread Rolls and Soft Cinnamon Rolls.

Introduction to tangzhong via @kingarthurflour

We’ve also retrofitted existing recipes to incorporate tangzhong: Easy Hot Cross Buns, Classic Sandwich Bread, and Golden Pull-Apart Butter Buns (above) include tangzhong directions via a tip at the end of each.

Give any of these a try; if you’re a soft bread aficionado, I think you’ll enjoy the results.

I’ve also started experimenting with converting existing recipes to the tangzhong technique. Does it work with every soft yeast bread recipe? The answer is a qualified “yes,” but not without some tweaks based on dough hydration — plus a bit of math. Stay tuned for a future tangzhong post detailing my results!

Do you have your own special trick for keeping soft rolls and yeast loaves fresher longer? Please share in “comments,” below. 

For more on tangzhong:
How to convert a bread recipe to tangzhong: a surefire path to softer bread and rolls

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

comments

  1. Diane

    Soy lecithin powder is also said to make baked goods moist and fresher longer. Do you think the tangzong method and soy lecithin both in,say a cinnamon bun is too much?

    Reply
  2. Lynne Attaway

    I’d like to save some time in this process. Is it possible to add the rest of the liquid to the slurry to get it more quickly to 105 degrees? Of does the slurry need time to cool down slowly, without adding additional liquid?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi, Lynne! We wouldn’t suggest adding the remaining liquid to the slurry to cool it faster — our concern is that the slurry will cool too fast and not allow for the starches to gel, which wouldn’t be beneficial to improving the shelf life of the bread. If you’d like to cool the slurry more quickly, we recommend spreading it out in a 9″ x 13″ pan and laying a piece of plastic wrap on the surface so a skin doesn’t form. Having a larger surface area will help the slurry cool faster. Happy baking! Morgan@KAF

  3. Serban

    How old is this technique, though?

    I remember that my mother was scalding the flour with hot milk when starting her “cozonac” recipe (“cozonac” is a traditional Romanian enriched loaf, similar to the Italian panettone).

    That was more than 25 years ago. Ever since, my recipe ditched that step and adjusted the hydration, but I’m wondering if I’m losing something by not following the old advice… This Christmas I’ll be incorporating it again, based on the guidelines in your other post.

    Thank you and happy dough rising!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Serban, tangzhong was popularized in the ’90s, but the technique existed before then. No doubt there are regional variations that have popped up in other places as well! The history of baking is one of many overlapping techniques and discoveries coming into existence all over the world. It’s one of the things that makes the world of baking such a rich one. Your mother’s cozonac sounds lovely! Kat@KAF

  4. Barrie Brown

    Many years ago, I read that bakeries in England were using what they called “super-hydration” of the flour – I never did get any response on how they did that so I just gave up. Now I think I may have the answer; thanks so much! Another technique I recently discovered is to include some instant mashed potato flakes to the flour.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      SAF Gold Yeast is a fantastic choice when you’re making bread dough that has at least a 10% sugar content (when using baker’s percentage). That equates to roughly 1 tablespoon of sugar per cup of flour. If you’re making sweet dough, use this yeast for best results. Otherwise, you can use a regular instant yeast (even if you’re using the tangzhong method) and you should see a nice rise and decent structure in your bread. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Diane, we’re glad you asked! We just shared this answer with a fellow baker, and we’ll put the information here too: You’re welcome to use the tangzhong method when making bread in your bread machine. You’ll need to make the slurry using the correct amount of water and flour beforehand, but once it’s cooled slightly you can go ahead and add the ingredients (along with the rest of the dough ingredients) to the bucket of your bread machine and bake. We think you’ll find the final results to be soft, tender, and have better keeping qualities. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  5. alan

    Your recipes deal with slurry using milk. Have you tried this with water or non-dairy ingredients? I make many of my breads “pareve” (kosher for non-dairy and non-meat) and would love to try this technique for my challah or sandwich loaves.

    Thanks

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      No problem, Alan! You can either use water instead or substitute milk for the water in your recipe to give a more tender texture. Either will work. Annabelle@KAF

Post a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *