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. The Baker's Hotline

      Thanks for reaching out to us, Rosalee. We’re not sure why you aren’t seeing your comments, as the three we’ve seen from you (from 10/18/17, 4/24/18, and 7/30/18) are all showing up on our end. We encourage you to try clearing the cookies on your internet browser, as that could be preventing your computer from loading correctly. If you have any questions, please feel free to chat with or call our friendly Customer Service team at 800-827-6836. Kindly, Annabelle@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Good question, Azure. If you were making a recipe that had two to three pounds of butter, you might want to include the water portion of butter in your hydration, but in most home recipes, we don’t consider butter to have a part in hydration. The milk and water will be your ingredients to work off of. Happy baking! Annabelle@KAF

  1. Tom Randall

    This is good to know! I make a lot of cinnamon rolls and sticky buns for friends. Your big batch cinnamon roll recipe is my go to, but I always make a tangzhong and add to it, and then adjust the flour to get the right consistency. Of course that always leaves me with extra dough. I chop up the scraps and end pieces and throw them in a 6” cake pan and bake them up for me!
    I’ll try this next time I make up cinnamon rolls, and see what comes of it.

    Reply
  2. Joe Grondine

    I think I will try it, sounds interesting plus I like to experiment. I do have a scale , Got it from KA.
    Joe

    Reply
  3. Donna Martz

    I would like to use some white whole wheat flour in a tangzhong recipe. I haven’t made tangzhong as of yet, but want to make a healthier sandwich bread that is soft and shreddable. If I use 40% WWW flour, what should the hydration level be? Also, should the tangzhong be made with the percentage of WWW flour, or bread flour? Thanks

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Thanks for reaching out with your question, Donna. We are in the process of testing tangzhong with whole grains (like whole wheat flour) and hope to have a comprehensive blog article published about this topic in the next few months. While we don’t currently have exact hydration levels to share with you, we think that starting with a slightly higher hydration than what’s illustrated in this post is a good place to start. If you decide to experiment with this technique, we hope you’ll share your results with us. We’re eager to hear how it goes. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  4. Mary Speer

    I noticed Kara asked for specific numbers, and was given the 44 grams answer again. For those who don’t have a scale or feel confident with the math, that works out to 10 teaspoons (3 TBSP + 1 tsp) of water, based on ½ cup of water weighing 113 grams. The weight of ¼ cup of water would be 55.5 grams. Hope this helps someone!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Mary, thanks so much for jumping in and helping Kara. Much appreciated! PJH@KAF

  5. Vivian

    It would be very helpful if you could put the original and the converted recipes side by side so we could see the final amounts that change and the techniques that change also.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Vivian, practically speaking it would be a real challenge to put two recipes side by side online; everything is built off a template, back-end, and there’s not a template for side-by-side recipes. But does this help? — PJH@KAF

      Original recipe:
      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

      Mix and knead all of the ingredients together to make a smooth dough. Continue with recipe as directed.

      Tangzhong method
      Slurry
      1/2 cup (113g) milk
      3 tablespoons (23g) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour

      Dough
      1/2 cup + 3 tablespoons (156g) milk
      2 tablespoons (28g) butter
      2 teaspoons instant yeast
      2 tablespoons (25g) sugar
      1 1/4 teaspoons salt
      3 cups less 3 tablespoons (338g) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour

      To make the slurry: Cook the 1/2 cup milk and 3 tablespoons flour until thick.
      Combine the slurry with the remaining dough ingredients and continue with the recipe as directed.

    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Anna, yes, make a slurry from the additional flour and liquid in the dough, not from your starter — OK? Good luck — PJH@KAF

  6. Mary Anne Lancaster

    Could you please give me a recipe for rolls and bread for this method of Tangzhong,I would appreciate it.Thank you.Mary Anne

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Mary Anne, if you’d like to make rolls using the tangzhong method, then our Japanese Milk Bread Rolls are just what you’re looking for. For sandwich bread, use our Classic Sandwich Bread and check out the Baker’s Tip at the bottom of the recipe for a tangzhong version. It’ll stay soft and fresh for longer and also have a tender texture. Yum! Kye@KAF

  7. CJ

    How do you convert 44gm of milk to tbsp or ounces? Do you assume a density of 1gm (or 0.87 gm/ml) per ml and a conversion of 15 ml per tbsp?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      CJ, 44 grams of milk is just about 3 tablespoons. 1 cup of milk weighs 227grams, so you can break that down to 1/4 cup weighs about 57 grams, and each tablespoon weighs slightly over 14 grams. (Therefore an approximation of 0.87gm/ml and 15 ml/tablespoon are accurate ratios for conversion.) You can check out the full details on our Ingredient Weight Chart here. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

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