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. TwylaBeth Lambert

    Do I count oil and eggs as part of the liquid in the hydration %? My challah recipe uses about 932g of bread flour (7.75 cups), 397g of water … and 4 eggs plus 125g of oil. Help?!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Good question. We did a little bit of “drilling down,” into common yeast dough ingredients and their respective moisture percentages. This information is helpful if you’d like to be super precise when determining the overall hydration of a recipe. Oil contains 0% water (it’s 100% fat) so you can omit it from your hydration calculations. As for the eggs, they contain about 74% water and each large egg weighs an average of 50 grams out of the shell. Some quick math (4 eggs x 50 grams each = 200 grams x 0.74 water content = 148 grams) shows that you can add an additional 148 grams to the dough hydration content for this specific recipe. We hope this helps, and happy baking! Kye@KAF

  2. R Hawkins

    Used tangzhong in my oatmeal bread. It was great in all respects EXCEPT when slicing after cooling to room temp. It was difficult b/c it was too soft to slice. I ended up partially freezing the finished loaves which sort of helped. Any suggestions?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi, R, it might be worth doing half the amount of tangzhong now, in the summer months. In the dryer, winter months, the full amount should be fine, but it sounds like because things have been humid and flour absorbs moisture from the air, that it didn’t need quite as much of the tangzhong mixture to give you good results. Annabelle@KAF

  3. Sheri Sidwell

    You guys should get a kick out of this. My GRANDMOTHER used this technique (well, sort of). When I saw “Japanese Milk Bread,” it didn’t ring any bells, but when you posted the picture with the typed index cards, a little chime dinged, and I had to go dig out Gram’s recipe box (as the eldest daughter of the eldest daughter, etc., I got possession of the “Ark of the Covenant,” as it’s known in our family). Sure enough, every one of her recipes for dinner rolls, cinnamon rolls, and sandwich bread called for “one-half cup thick milk gravy,” and “one cup potato water.” Okay, so now I’m intrigued. I call Mom (the non-baker), and she tells me that whenever Gram made a cream sauce for anything, she didn’t make a roux, she made a slurry, and before she added extra milk to thin (and cheese, or sausage, or whatever) she would hold back a ladle of thick to put in the “ice box” for bread. Mom assumed I knew this. Well, I sure didn’t, and Gram and I talked cooking all the time. All I know is that whenever people raved over her baked goods, she would just say with a twinkle, “Never throw out your potato water.” Not one whisper about thick gravy, not even to me, and I named my daughter after her! That’s okay; I have three granddaughters now, so in a few years I’ll have one more nifty trick to hand down, though I imagine we’ll use your method. I mean, nowadays, who has unseasoned flour and milk slurry just sitting in their fridge waiting to be baked?! Gram was one smart cookie.

    Reply
  4. Rebecca

    What do you recommend for a bread recipe that starts out at around 70% hydration? (The original recipe has 310 grams water and 440 grams flour.) Increasing to 75% hydration gives a very small additional amount of liquid, for a very small amount of slurry. I’m going to try to split the difference – start with a slightly higher hydration than 75% but still use up all the additional liquid in the slurry – and see what I get… but I wonder if you have a more scientifically-based recommendation.

    Thanks! This whole process is really interesting.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      It’ll take some experimentation, Rebecca, but we’d start by bringing it up to 75% hydrations since that’s what worked for us. You may find you don’t need to increase it after all and just use some of the water from the recipe. It’ll make for some delicious trial and error testing. Annabelle@KAF

  5. lavi ronen

    Hey thanks for the very interesting information
    Question: If there is no milk in my recipe, can I do the cooking process(tangzhong slurry) with water and flour instead of milk and flour?
    Thanks

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      You bet, Iavi! You could also just swap some of the water out for milk if you want it to be extra tender and a bit richer. Annabelle@KAF

  6. Joyce Field

    Can this technique be used with sourdough bread? the other night I used it with your classic white bread: amazing texture. I typically make a lot of sourdough and challah breads I was curious about using this technique with it. I will try it on challah the next time I make it.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      This method will definitely work in challah, Joyce. We haven’t tried it in sourdough but you’re welcome to give it a go! Just use some of the flour and water from the dough (not from your starter) to make a slurry. It’s worth a shot! Annabelle@KAF

  7. Diane

    I have a photo of my tangzhong loaf, scored and baked, in a covered pullman pan, but I do not see any way of attaching it to comments.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Diane! To share photos, head over to our Contact page and you can either send it by email or click any of the social media icons to show us there. Can’t wait to see! Annabelle@KAF

  8. Zoe

    In case it helps anyone: what’s helped me when adapting a bread recipe for the tangzhong method is to account for any lost liquid from evaporation while cooking the tangzhong. I weigh the combined flour and liquid for the tangzhong before I heat it on the stove and then weigh it after I’ve cooked it. I add back an equal portion of liquid based on the difference.

    For some reason I need to do this whenever I’m making an adapted bread recipe using the tangzhong method but not when I’m using a recipe that is specifically designed with this method in mind.

    Hope this helps someone!

    Reply
  9. Anne Corcoran

    Would this method produce bread and rolls like the commercial brand King Hawaiian? Sounds like it could.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We don’t have King Hawaiian Bread here in Vermont, Anne, so we couldn’t say for sure, but if it’s a fluffy, moist, tender bread, this may be a great way to go! Annabelle@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Thanks for asking, Mary. Our bakers are excited to explore this topic more thoroughly in a future post on our blog. Without having tested it at this point, we’ll say that we think it should work well since tangzhong hydrates the starches to make baked goods super moist and tender. Since gluten-free flours have high amounts of starch, we think it could work fabulously. We’ll be able to report more thoroughly on this topic soon, but if you decide to explore this in the short term, we hope you’ll share your results with us. Happy GF baking! Kye@KAF

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