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

You love your grandma’s homemade sandwich bread recipe, but wish it was just a bit more tender and less crumbly. You’ve found a recipe online for cinnamon rolls but are bummed at how quickly they harden up and become dry once they’re out of the oven. Want to make your favorite yeast bread and rolls reliably soft and tender? Tangzhong is the solution.

Tangzhong, an Asian technique for making soft, fluffy yeast bread, involves cooking a portion of the flour and liquid in the recipe into a thick slurry prior to adding the remaining ingredients.

This pre-cooking accomplishes two positive things: it makes bread or rolls softer and more tender, and extends their shelf life. For the science behind this, read our Introduction to tangzhong.

Tangzhong: the best thing to happen to soft bread and rolls since... well, since sliced bread. Click To Tweet

How to convert a bread recipe to tangzhong via @kingarthurflour

If you’ve tried our Japanese Milk Bread Rolls or Soft Cinnamon Rolls, you know how deliciously tender they are. And you’ve probably thought about trying tangzhong with some of your own favorite yeast recipes. Softer, moister dinner rolls? Nothing wrong with that.

How to build tangzhong into your favorite recipes

So how, exactly, do you convert a standard yeast bread recipe to use tangzhong?

Thoughtfully.

Start by managing your expectations. Do you really want to pair tangzhong (soft, tender bread) with crusty baguettes or chewy bagels? That would be like making potato chips in a steamer: it goes against the nature of the beast.

It’s important to choose an appropriate recipe: a yeast bread that’s inherently soft, tender, and light. Be it a white sandwich loaf or buttery dinner rolls, tangzhong will enhance bread’s texture, and keep it fresher longer.

How to convert a bread recipe to tangzhong via @kingarthurflour

It all starts with hydration

Once you’ve chosen a recipe, you need to determine its hydration: the percentage of water (or other liquid) compared to flour, by weight. A dough’s hydration determines how stiff or soft it’ll be, and also influences how vigorously it rises. Finished loaves with low hydration are usually dense and dry; those with higher hydration, soft and moist.

To take a simple example, a recipe that includes 75g of water and 100g of flour has a hydration of 75%. Or here’s an example in American weights: a recipe using 1 cup water (8 ounces) and 3 cups flour (12 3/4 ounces) has a hydration of 63% (8 divided by 12 3/4).

Don’t have a scale? I highly recommend you acquire one, because trying the tangzhong technique without a scale requires quite a lot of extra effort converting volume to weight.

And by the way, if you’re following an older recipe that most likely doesn’t include ingredient weights, see our handy ingredients weight chart.

How to convert a bread recipe to tangzhong via @kingarthurflour

The typical sandwich bread or dinner roll recipe (like these Golden Pull-Apart Butter Buns) has a hydration level of around 60% to 65%.

But when you’re using the tangzhong method, you want your recipe’s hydration to be about 75%.

Why? Because when using tangzhong, some of the liquid in the dough is “trapped” by the pre-cooked slurry (the tangzhong), and thus plays no part in the dough’s texture; as far as hydration is concerned, it’s as if that liquid isn’t even there.

Let’s say your original recipe’s hydration is 60%. When you transfer some of its liquid to the tangzhong, the resulting dough will behave as if its hydration is much lower.

How to convert a bread recipe to tangzhong via @kingarthurflour

The dough will be stiff and dry, which can inhibit its rise and lead to dense, heavy bread.

So in order to wind up with dough that’s as soft and smooth as the original, you need to add more liquid initially.

How to convert a bread recipe to tangzhong via @kingarthurflour

Test case: Our Favorite Sandwich Bread

Let’s convert this popular recipe to use tangzhong and see how it goes.

1 cup (227g) milk
2 tablespoons (28g) butter
2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 tablespoons (25g) sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
3 cups (361g) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour

What’s this dough’s hydration? 227g (weight of milk) divided by 361g (weight of flour) = 63% hydration.

But remember, in order to use tangzhong you want your hydration to be 75%: the liquid should equal 75% of the weight of the flour.

Do your arithmetic: 361g x .75 = 271g. So you want the amount of milk in the recipe to be 271g, not 227g. Result? You’ll add 44g additional milk to your recipe.

Making the dough

Let’s see how this works. I’ll make the recipe three ways:

(A), as written, with a hydration of 63%;
(B), using tangzhong without increasing the recipe’s hydration to 75%;
(C), using tangzhong after increasing the recipe’s hydration to 75% by adding 44g milk.

First I make the tangzhong slurry, the cooked mixture of flour and liquid. A standard slurry uses between 5% and 10% of the flour in the recipe and is composed of one part flour to five parts liquid (by weight).

How to convert a bread recipe to tangzhong via @kingarthurflour

This slurry was made in a saucepan, but it’s quickly and easily done in a microwave as well.

I’ve now made this standard slurry often enough that this is what I use for any yeast recipe calling for between 3 and 4 cups of flour: 3 tablespoons (23g) of the flour in the recipe + 1/2 cup (113g) of the liquid.

Remember, you’re using flour and liquid from the recipe, not adding extra flour and liquid! Take that into account when you’re measuring out the remaining flour and liquid for the dough.

For each of the test loaves using the slurry (B and C), I combine 23g of the recipe’s flour with 115g of the recipe’s milk. I cook the mixture over medium heat until it thickens, and put it into the mixing bowl to cool down a bit while I assemble the other ingredients.

How to convert a bread recipe to tangzhong via @kingarthurflour

Next, I mix and knead the three doughs. (A), the control, is soft and smooth; (B), with the slurry but without any added milk, stiff and gnarly; and (C), with the slurry and added milk, very similar to (A), perhaps a bit softer.

How to convert a bread recipe to tangzhong via @kingarthurflour

Rising and baking

I let the doughs rise, then shape them into loaves and place each in an unlidded 9″ pain de mie pan (my loaf pan of choice). I let the loaves rise, then bake them.

How to convert a bread recipe to tangzhong via @kingarthurflour

Look at the difference! (A), the original recipe, and (C), the added milk/slurry recipe, (C), rise beautifully. (B), the recipe using the slurry but without any added milk, rises much less.

It’s impossible to photograph texture and moistness, but right out of the oven (C) is slightly moister and more tender than the original loaf (A). After a few days, (C), the loaf with the slurry, is still nice and fresh; while the original loaf is definitely showing signs of staleness.

How to convert a bread recipe to tangzhong via @kingarthurflour

Conclusion: 75% hydration + tangzhong is a winner

Bottom line: By bringing your favorite sandwich bread or dinner roll recipe to 75% hydration and then using tangzhong in the dough, you’ll make bread that’s softer, lighter, more tender, and with longer shelf life than the original.

Extra credit: determining water content

Once you feel comfortable with the basics of tangzhong, you can try fine-tuning your hydration math. While water is obviously 100% water, there may be other ingredients in your dough that are adding to its hydration: for instance, eggs or honey.

This fine-tuning is potentially only necessary in recipes that use a lot of butter and/or eggs, like brioche; or recipes with a significant amount of liquid sweetener.

Truthfully, most of my colleagues here at King Arthur consider simply the main liquid and flour when assessing a recipe’s hydration. Because almost all of the time, that level of simplicity is fine: If your recipe includes just 2 tablespoons of butter, its minuscule water content isn’t going to make or break your bread. Still, once you’ve got the calculator out, it’s fun to take this extra step towards accuracy.

How to convert a bread recipe to tangzhong via @kingarthurflourHow to convert a bread recipe to tangzhong via @kingarthurflour

If you want to drill down with hydration, here’s a list of common yeast bread ingredients and their percentage of water:

Milk: 87% water
Large eggs: 74% water (1 large shelled egg weighs 50g)
Liquid sweeteners (e.g., honey): 17% water
American-style butter: 16% water
Vegetable oil: 0% water (100% fat)

Use the information above to calculate how many grams of water are in any of these “rogue” ingredients in your recipe. Then add them to the total grams of the main liquid before calculating hydration.

How to convert a bread recipe to tangzhong via @kingarthurflourHow to convert a bread recipe to tangzhong via @kingarthurflour

A final note on hydration

A great variety of factors come into play when you’re baking yeast bread, and some of these affect hydration. Keep the following in mind as you experiment with tangzhong:

Mashed potatoes or other mashed fruits/vegetables (pumpkin, squash) can affect dough’s hydration. There’s no way to judge their effect ahead of time; it’s best to add them, then adjust dough’s consistency with additional flour if necessary.

Hot/humid weather increases flour’s moisture content; cold, dry weather makes flour drier. You’ll typically use a bit less liquid in yeast recipes in summer, a bit more in winter; see our blog post, Winter to summer yeast baking.

Sourdough starter can be thick and viscous, quite thin, or anything in between. As with mashed vegetables, adjust the mixed dough’s consistency as needed.

Have you tried baking yeast bread or rolls using the tangzhong technique yet? If so, how did you like the results? Please add your thoughts in comments, below.

For more on tangzhong:
Introduction to tangzhong: an intriguing technique for softer yeast 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. Walter

    I use this method all the time on my hardier rye sourdough breads using old bread recipies from Germany and Eastern Europe. The Germans name for scalded flour is „Kochstück“ or also “Aromastück“ which literally translates into cooked / aroma portion. The bread comes out super moist with a chewy texture and stays counterfresh for four to five days.

    Using a wooden frame as a form I make large loaves weighing in at about 7.3lbs each. The proportations for that are
    ….. 800 gr sourdough sponge (80% hydration)
    ….. 300 gr Scalded flour (I prepare it in advance as a water roux which adds more flavor and color by hydrating the flour for several hours in 140F water)
    ….. the maindough is made from
    ………… 1180 gr mixed rye and wheat flour
    ………… 760 gr water = 64% hydration
    Plus salt and spices

    On a combined sponge and maindough basis (excluding the scalded flour portion) I end up with 1154 gr water and 1667 gr flour for a 69% hydrated dough.

    Reply
  2. Jessica

    So I’m trying to adapt a pumpkin dinner roll recipe to this method and am having issues accounting for the hydration with the pumpkin. After converting to grams the ingredients that correspond to hydration only are

    630g flour (5.25 cups)
    59g Water (0.25 cups)
    245g Milk (1 cup)
    225g canned pumpkin (1 cup)

    So then the total water if just using milk and water should be (0.87x245g) + 59g = 272g water which corresponds to a 43% level hydration.

    I’ve read that canned pumpkin is about 90% water which would change the amount of water in this recipe to 475g water or about 75% hydration.

    How should I go about using the Tangzhong method for this or can I even? The dough is already very sticky using the current method. I’m also curious about the effects of the sugar in this recipe on the hydration. The recipe calls for 3/4 cup sugar (150g). Being a huge fan of your soft cinnamon rolls I am interested if the sugar also effects the hydration of the rolls. They are often kind of dry and tough the next day.

    The other ingredients not mentioned are yeast, a small amount of vegetable oil (about 2.5 tbsp), salt and butter for brushing the rolls.

    Thank you!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Jessica, you’re right that pumpkin does contribute quite a bit of moisture to the dough, so it should be considered in your hydration calculations. The research we did also indicated that pumpkin was about 90% water, but pumpkin puree is cooked down slightly so it has a lower moisture content of around 70-80%. If you use a 75% moisture content for the pumpkin to calculate the dough hydration, you end up with 70% overall hydration (272g from milk and water + 169g from pumpkin = 441g divided by the flour weight 630g = 0.7, 70% hydration). You’ll need to boost the hydration by 5% to ensure the dough is wet enough to be made into a proper tangzhong. Add 31g of additional water to the dough to make it a 75% hydration. To make the slurry use about 6% of the flour weight (39 grams) and cook it with 195 grams of the milk. (Save the water for the dough). Once the slurry is cool, you can proceed with the recipe as it’s written. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

    2. Walter

      I use this method all the time on my hardier rye sourdough breads using old bread recipies from Germany and Eastern Europe. The Germans name for scalded flour is „Kochstück“ which literally translates into cooked portion. The bread comes out super moist with a chewy texture and stays counterfresh for four to five days.

      Using a wooden frame as a form I make large loaves weighing in at about 7.5 lbs each. The proportations for that are
      ….. 800 gr sourdough sponge (80% hydration)
      ….. 300 gr Scalded flour (I prepare it in advance as a water roux which adds more flavor and color by hydrating the flour for several hours in

  3. Carl Watts

    On the KAF site, there is a recipe for BEAUTIFUL BURGER BUNS. Using your formula, it shows a 54% hydration. Would this benefit from the tangzhong method?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      It sure would, Carl. You’ll want to increase the hydration to 75% as shown in the examples here, and you’ll be rewarded with delicious and tender (and beautiful) burger buns. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  4. Niki Baker

    I’m very intrigued by this technique. You mention that the slurry can be cooked in the microwave also. Realizing that microwaves vary greatly, do you have a suggestion on a cook time to start out with?

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Niki, I really don’t. As you say, microwaves are all over the place. What you want to do is heat the slurry until it’s very hot, with bubbles forming around the edge of the milk. Remove it from the microwave and stir; you’ll probably find some thickening towards the bottom. Stir until thoroughly combined, then continue heating in 20- to 30-second increments, stirring in between, until the slurry is fully thickened. What you want to avoid is cooking it too much initially, as that will REALLY solidify it towards the bottom, making it harder to get out any lumps. Good luck — PJH@KAF

  5. Bakers Fancy

    I made a delicious, light and fluffy whole wheat loaf of the Sandwich Bread using the adaptations you recommended. Thanks for the information!

    Reply
  6. Maggie

    I’m curious how you think this method would work with whole grain breads or rolls? A soft, tender dinner roll with something like 50% whole wheat that stayed moist a day or two would be amazing!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Maggie, I suspect it would work just as it does with non-whole grain recipes — and I’ll find out in the next month or so, since tangzhong with whole grains and gluten-free flour is my next project to tackle! So stay tuned; but in the meantime, go ahead and try it with a 50/50 recipe. I’m betting it’ll be a hit. PJH@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Sour cream would be considered as only a fat, Sarah, so no need to include that in your calculations. Happy baking! Annabelle@KAF

  7. The Roadside Pie King

    Hello, friends.

    It had been just about one year ago that I embarked on making a lighter 100% whole grain rye bread. My research led me to the Tang zhong method. Follow the link to see my amateur, yet successful implementation of this ancient bead making technique. Once there have a look around, I have more than a few bread baking posts. My latest posting is Rustic Bread from Jeffrey Hamelman’s Bread: A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes. This was a fun bake and a great success! Don’t forget to subscribe to the blog. My next posting will be a conversion of, Rose, Levy, Beranbaum’s N.Y.C. deli Rye to Tang zhong .
    https://goodcookingfortheheartandsoul.blogspot.com/2017/08/100-whiole-grain-rye-tang-zhong-method.html

    Reply
  8. William Mouser

    In your discussion, you are dealing with recipes where the hydration level is below 75 percent. You add liquid to raise the hydration level to 75 percent.

    I am interested in working with the recipe for Peasant Bread (https://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/peasant-bread-recipe). Its ingredients list flour as 482 grams and its water at 454 grams. This produces a hydration level is 94 percent, way above the 75 percent you’ve discussed.

    So, here are my questions:

    1. Is this recipe NOT a candidate for the tangzhong method?

    2. If tangzhong might be tried, what should occur with the water that is used to make the slurry? If it is NOT replaced, the hydration level would decrease from 94 percent down to 44 percent (using 10 percent of the flour for the slurry – 48 gms, and five times that much water from the recipe – 240 gms).

    Again, should the 240 gms of water used for the slurry be replaced?

    I have made the Peasant Bread recipe about four times now and it seems always to come out dense. I’m minded to try tangzhong just to see how it affects the rising and also the resultant loaf after baking.

    But, before I do, I though I’d hazard a question about tangzhonging a recipe where the hydration level is far higher than 75 percent to begin with.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Excellent questions, William. Your bread might be baking up dense because of its high hydration; sometimes, especially in summer, the dough is so wet that it simply can’t support itself. And even when it’s supported in a pot, as this one is, it can only rise so far before it falls in on itself. I think tangzhong might actually help by making the dough a bit less sticky. How about this: make a slurry from 30g of the flour, about 6% of the flour in the recipe; and 150g of the water. This reduces the hydration, setting aside the slurry, to 67% — which is a good middle of the road number for most breads. I’m betting you’ll like the results. Let us all know how it comes out, OK? Good luck — PJH@KAF

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