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. Diane SF

    I have been baking bread for decades, all types and shapes, milk bread, egg enriched, spartan artisan, french bread… and on

    And while I love the complex flavors of a sourdough boule baked in my heavy pre-preheated cast iron pot, I was drawn to trying tangzhong method. I bought two King Arthur size Pullman pans. Andthe fun began

    i’ve been weighing my ingredients, experimenting with hydration, flours, milk/butter, and shaping. I have successfully scored designs on the tops, timing when to remove the lid.

    This informative and comprehensive blog is the best one I have seen on tangzhong!

    Thanks

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Diane, you sound like a seasoned bread baker for sure; a scored pain de mie is something I’ve never heard of, so kudos to you! So the design stays intact despite the crust pushing against the lid — or do you remove the lid before it starts to push? Thanks for sharing — and for your very kind comments. PJH@KAF

    2. Diane

      I sprinkle the top with white flour… carefully, and then score it. Because it’s in the rectangular pan, I am limited to tree designs. It’s all in the timing. When It gets cooler, And I start baking bread several times a week, I will post a photo 🙂

  2. Deb

    I make your Classic White Sandwich bread fairly often. Yesterday, I converted it to use tangzhong. It was so soft, it was a challenge to slice! Day two, it was still soft and delicious. Usually, day three is toast only but not now. Wow! I can’t wait to try it on cinnamon rolls.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Deb, you’ll love tangzhong with your favorite cinnamon roll recipe. Or try our Soft Cinnamon Rolls recipe, which has the slurry already incorporated. Either way – enjoy! PJH@KAF

  3. Michelle

    Is this possible with sweet dough?
    I want to do it with your sweet vanilla yeast dough from the chocolate caramel stuffed monkey bread … I use that dough to make breakfast rolls with chocolate bars inside for breakfast and want them to last a bit longer.

    Reply
  4. Nancy

    I have made the cinnamon roll recipe, using the tangzhong method, from one of your previous blog post and they were fabulous. The texture was light and fluffy but what I loved best is that they stayed soft and like fresh baked for 2-3 days after baking them. I now will begin to think about converting my white bread recipes using this method as well. Thanks for this latest post. As a relatively new baker, I always find your blog post most helpful and informative!

    Reply
  5. Susan

    PJ, Bread baking is a passion of mine so I’ve enjoyed reading your posts on tangzhong. I have used tangzhong for a long time on my whole wheat sandwich bread and rolls and loved the results. I also use it in my whole wheat tortilla recipe. Soft, fluffy, freezable, bendable whole wheat tortillas! But I have discovered recently that I can get pretty much the same results in my whole wheat sandwich bread and rolls by using some potato flour in place of the tangzhong. For example, for the bread, I use 250 grams of whole wheat flour. So I add 2 tablespoons of potato flour as part of that 250 grams. And the results are soft, fluffy, high rising whole wheat bread that stays fresh longer. Same as when using the tangzhong. I’m thinking it has something to do with the starch in the potato flour. Wondering what your thoughts are on this?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Absolutely, Susan! Potato starch does such a beautiful job of holding in moisture, keeping your breads soft, tender, and moist for days. Combine that with a tangzhong and you may have yourself the softest bread on earth! Annabelle@KAF

  6. Elle Lachman

    Best explanation of tangzhong I’ve seen! Will have to try this with a favorite bread recipe. Thanks!

    Reply
  7. Rose

    Thank you so much! I was just saying to a friend yesterday it would be great to be able to convert existing recipes to use the tangzhong method! Would this work w/ pita bread? I make the KAF Golden pita bread, and they turn out great. the hydration level is already at 86%, but wondering if I convert a portion of the liquid and flour to tangzhong, if it will make the pitas even softer. Do I need to replace a portion of the water with milk? What are your thoughts? Thank you so much!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Give it a try, Rose! We haven’t tested it with pita but it’s worth experimenting. We’d recommend using a bit of milk in place of part of the water to make the tangzhong for best results. Happy baking! Annabelle@KAF

  8. Kara

    Could you PLEASE write out the actual numbers, weights for the white bread with the tangzhong? I like the cinnamon rolls with it, but don’t do numbers, percentages well. Thank you.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Kara. PJ writes: “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.” Keep in mind that she increased the liquid in this recipe by an extra 44 grams. So for this recipe, or others using between 3 and 4 cups of flour, expect to need to add between 40 and 50 grams of extra liquid, and follow the suggested tangzhong amounts above. Happy baking! Annabelle@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We don’t see why not, Jenny. Just make up the tangzhong ahead of time and add it in with the other ingredients. Since bread machines usually give a specific order of which ingredients to add first, the tangzhong would go with your liquid ingredients. Annabelle@KAF

    1. Stephanie

      I was just about to ask that–would love to see how this method can be used in whole-grain recipes!

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