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. Ben F

    I came across a recipe that used the tangzhong method last year, but didn’t try incorporating it into my regular recipes until I found this series of blog posts last November. What I wanted to mention is that first recipe I found (from a well-known publication/NPR/PBS cooking program) has you make the tangzhong in the microwave! It’s really fast, there is no risk of burning the flour, and there’s one less thing to clean up later. Plus it uses less energy than turning on the stove! Just put the mixture in for 20 seconds at a time, stirring between, and you get a perfect tangzhong every time.

    By the way, I’ve converted all my sandwich bread recipes to use tangzhong with your help. It’s my go-to now, so thanks!

    Reply
  2. David Bewers

    Stumbled on this Tangzhond Method last week while surfing the net. It was just one step more than regular bread, so I gave it a shot. Okay I’m sold, wow, that bread was sooo good. My regular baking method always turned out dense, heavy, and would never toast like store bought bread. This bread turned out soft, fluffy, light, toasts perfect and just plain tastes really good. Now I’m in a baking frenzy, my wife has to buy more flour. Just FYI, I made this with bread flour and all purpose flour and didn’t notice any difference in texture or taste. Try this method, you’ll be hooked too!

    Reply
  3. Claudia

    Just discovered your site. I bake twice a week an organic Spelt sourdough bread.Can I use this Tangzhong method (keeping in mind the flour and liquid to be substacted from the equation) in it and do you have recipes ? Thanks. A new fan from the Netherlands

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi there, Claudia! We’ve actually found that sourdough breads don’t benefit much from the Tangzhong method, you can read more about what we discovered in our blog article, Tangzhong in sourdough bread. If you’d like to do some experimenting with your recipe, you can check out our Tangzhong beyond white bread article, for steps on how to integrate this method into whole grain recipes. Happy baking! Morgan@KAF

  4. Maribel

    I have a question. I just found out about the TANGZHONG method but can I bake all pastries using this amazing method?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Maribel! We’ve done a few blog article about baking with tangzhong, but it’s only been with yeasted or sourdough breads. We haven’t used it in other pastries. However, experimentation is half the fun of baking! Always feel encouraged to give it a go if you’re curious about the outcome. Worst case scenario, it won’t make a difference, but you’ll still have a tasty baked good. Annabelle@KAF

  5. des nos

    I add a measure of rolled oats, that I’ve soaked in boiling water until the water turns milky, to my dough mix. This introduces warmth to the dough to help with rising. I also start my yeasted loaf by mixing half the recipe flour with most of the water and half the yeast, leaving for a couple of hours, till bubbly. I then add the reminder of the flour and proceed as normal. I don’t add any more yeast. This method makes quite moist bread. I also store my bread in a clean tea towel, inside a plastic bag. This too seems to keep the bread moist.

    Reply
  6. Suzanne Fulcher

    I’m new to bread baking. I want
    to bake with whole wheat flour for dietary reasons. Can the tangzhong method be used with whole wheat flour?

    Reply
  7. Delbert “Skip” Davis

    I have made both recipes for Japanese Milk Bread Rolls AND Soft Cinnamon Rolls. AMAZING results and they were not only pillowy soft, they also remained fresh for several days. Thanks to KAF for introducing me to this method of baking. I have been using your flours and products for several years now and am totally satisfied with both !!

    Reply
  8. Heather Z

    I made a Daisy Coffee Cake with leftover mashed potatoes in the dough and it was soft and moist, so I wonder if it’s the same as gelling the flour.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Heather, while it’s a a different process, using mashed potatoes (or potato flour) in your dough is another way to get a lovely soft texture in your breads. Happy baking! Kat@KAF

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