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. MarkS

    If only some of the tangzhong counts towards total hydration, then we should correct the recipe by that amount. So the question is, what %of tangzhong is “free” water?
    Converting each recipe to 75% is just wrong. For example, a recipe that is already 75% would need no water added, yet you would end up with a much lower hydration since no all of the slurry is water.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      That’s a great question, Mark! Interestingly enough, we’ve found that 75% hydration seems to be the magic number for this method. Increasing the hydration further to account for a high-hydration dough doesn’t seem to have a terribly significant impact as far as texture goes. This method creates the most dramatic differences in sandwich breads and sweet rolls where the starting hydration is typically lower to begin with. Happy baking! Kat@KAF

    2. Elke

      I regularly bake a challah for which I’d calculated ~58% hydration. But I found when adding the tangzhong, I don’t really need to add any additional liquid (in fact, when I first did add more water, the dough was way too sticky). The most noticeable result for me is that my challah stays soft /much/ longer than it would otherwise – I can keep loaves for a couple weeks and the texture is still fresh!

  2. chet lopez

    weigh total water and flour 1st then take out paste amount no further weighing needed have a ready made table of exact water weight in 1` egg in 1oz butter in 1cup milk etc any pro would have table made up with graduated amounts as in 2 3 4 eggs 2 3 4oz of butter 1 1/2 2 2 1/2 3 etccups of milk figuring equivalents every time you bake is tedious and not necessary if you are a pro make a graduated equivalency expressing weight not the %of water too much figuring leads to mistakes

    Reply
  3. Flora

    Very interesting & well written. I plan to try tangzhong with a bread that contains quite a lot of sugar (granulated). Should I take that into consideration when I’ m calculating the liquids & if yes, how??
    Thanks in advance, love from Greece!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Flora! When making a tangzhong, we don’t consider the sugar to be a liquid. If you do some experimentation and figure out how much sugar it takes to make a difference, please let us know! Annabelle@KAF

  4. Josey

    Would you tangzhong a Pain the Mie for burger buns? I made the most flavourful Pain de Mie burger buns but my husband thinks they aren’t soft enough. I was hoping tangzhong-ing them would make the outside softer?!

    (tangzhong is a verb now right?)

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Josey! We think you should give it a go with your recipe! This technique does help to make bread and rolls softer, so we think you’ll probably like the results in your buns. Happy baking! Morgan@KAF

      (p.s. It is in our dictionary!)

  5. Sharon

    You’d think this wouldn’t work in chewy bagels, but I recently tried Stella Parks’ recipe (from Serious Eats) and the technique works so well there in keeping bagels fresh a bit longer. They aren’t the chewiest bagels I’ve ever had, but I love them–easy, and without feeling like we have to throw food out if we don’t eat them all immediately.

    Reply
  6. Celine

    Hello, I’m French so I’m sorry if I misspoke. In my family it is a tradition to make brioche rolls called “coquille du nord” for Christmas but the bread always dries very quickly. I have already tested tanghzong and I wanted to adapt my great-grandfather’s recipe to make it with this method and thanks to you I will be able to test it without making any mistakes! I’ll come back and tell you the result I got

    Translated with http://www.DeepL.com/Translator

    Reply
  7. Billie Vanderburg

    PJ, I was reading through the older comments and on July 18, 2018, a post from “Vivian” asked to see the original recipe and converted recipe side by side. You explained this was not possible, but gave them to her, one under the other. I’m confused about the hydration in the converted recipe. In the original post, you stated the hydration worked out to be 63% in the original recipe. In the converted recipe, I see no increase in the amount of liquid, still a total of 1 cup. How does this make it up to 75% hydration since no change was made to the amount of liquids added? I am looking at your comparison recipes posted directly under her question, dated July 31, 2018. Thank you for all you do. I really love reading your posts.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Billie, you’re right — the tangzhong conversion should read 1/2 cup + 3 tablespoons (156g) milk in the dough. I must have been having a senior moment! So sorry to be confusing. I’ve gone into the original reply and changed it. Thanks so much for alerting me to this. 🙂 PJH@KAF

Post a comment

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