Tangzhong beyond white bread: will it work in whole wheat and gluten-free breads?

I’m in love — with tangzhong.

This Asian yeast bread technique, when applied to soft bread — think sandwich loaves, dinner rolls, cinnamon buns, and their ilk — enhances both moisture and keeping quality. You know how your homemade toasting bread starts to dry out and crumble after a few days? Or your cinnamon buns seem to harden up within just a few hours? Tangzhong will solve both of those issues.

In previous posts I’ve explained the science of tangzhong, as well as showed you how to apply it to your own favorite yeast recipes. Now, after so many of you have asked, I’m going to see how tangzhong works with both whole wheat and gluten-free loaves.

Whole wheat and gluten-free bread made with tangzhong @kingarthurflour

Let’s start with whole wheat bread and rolls.

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

First, a very short explanation of tangzhong (for details, read our introduction to tangzhong). A small part of your yeast bread recipe’s flour and liquid is cooked into a slurry before starting. Typically, tangzhong calls for using about 6% of the flour and 45% of the liquid in the slurry. In a normal-sized sandwich loaf using 3 cups of flour, this translates to 3 tablespoons of the flour and 1/2 cup of the liquid.

Whole wheat and gluten-free bread made with tangzhong @kingarthurflour

This slurry, due to heat-related changes in the starch particles, holds onto its liquid a great deal more effectively than ingredients mixed in the regular manner. The slurry distributes itself throughout the dough during kneading, and once baked helps keep the bread soft and fresh.

Now there’s not nearly as much starch in a cup of whole grain flour as there is in all-purpose flour; whole wheat includes bran and germ along with its starch, while all-purpose flour is mostly starch.

Given its diminished starch, will tangzhong work with whole wheat flour, yielding softer, more storage-friendly bread?

Let’s find out.

Whole wheat and gluten-free bread made with tangzhong @kingarthurflour

Tangzhong in 100% whole wheat bread

I make one of our most popular bread recipes, Classic 100% Whole Wheat Bread. I start with my 6% slurry; despite its lesser amount of starch, the slurry made with whole wheat cooks up just fine.

Since I’m using a slurry, which basically holds onto its liquid during the kneading process, I increase the water in the recipe by 2 tablespoons in order to keep the dough nice and soft.

Whole wheat and gluten-free bread made with tangzhong @kingarthurflour

The doughs look identical. They rise at the same rate.

Whole wheat and gluten-free bread made with tangzhong @kingarthurflour

And at the end of the day (literally!) they bake up the same: two gorgeous loaves of 100% whole wheat bread.

Whole wheat and gluten-free bread made with tangzhong @kingarthurflour

Once cut, the two loaves still exhibit identical features: same interior crumb, same moistness, same sliceability.

So let’s get back to our initial question: “Will tangzhong work with whole wheat flour, yielding softer, more storage-friendly bread?

The answer is no. And yes.

Perhaps it’s just that the particular recipe I chose to test already makes a soft, moist loaf, but I can’t see or taste any difference in the tangzhong vs. standard versions — right out of the oven, or overnight. So that’s the “no.”

Whole wheat and gluten-free bread made with tangzhong @kingarthurflour

And the “yes”? Two days later, the tangzhong loaf is softer and moister than the standard loaf. So in this particular recipe, tangzhong helps with shelf life.

And in other recipes, those that produce a naturally drier bread, tangzhong will probably encourage some additional fresh-baked softness, too.

Tangzhong in 50% whole wheat rolls

Remember Maggie’s initial comment? “A soft, tender dinner roll with something like 50% whole wheat that stayed moist a day or two would be amazing!”

Whole wheat and gluten-free bread made with tangzhong @kingarthurflour

Let’s give our Dutch Oven Dinner Rolls a try.

The dough for these rolls is made with 50% white whole wheat flour, 50% unbleached all-purpose flour. I make the slurry from the whole wheat flour.

And just as with the 100% whole wheat bread above, the dough for both versions is seemingly identical. Soft and quite sticky initially, once it’s risen the dough is easy to work with and shape.

Whole wheat and gluten-free bread made with tangzhong @kingarthurflour

Both doughs rise nicely, filling their respective Dutch ovens: the tangzhong rolls in their stoneware pot, the standard rolls in enameled cast iron.

Whole wheat and gluten-free bread made with tangzhong @kingarthurflour

Both bake into beautiful golden rolls. The rolls bake more quickly in cast iron than stoneware, understandably, but I make sure both sets reach an internal temperature of 190°F for a fair comparison.

(By the way, this is a dynamite recipe; I recommend you give it a trial run before Thanksgiving.)

And what about their texture?

Whole wheat and gluten-free bread made with tangzhong @kingarthurflour

Right out of the oven, both sets of rolls are equally soft and moist — pull-apart rolls at their very best.

Whole wheat and gluten-free bread made with tangzhong @kingarthurflour

Three days later, though, the standard (non-tangzhong) rolls are starting to become just a tiny bit crumb-y; while the tangzhong rolls are still just as soft as the day I baked them.

So once again, tangzhong helps with shelf life, if not with initial softness.

Whole wheat and gluten-free bread made with tangzhong @kingarthurflour

Tangzhong in whole wheat yeast baking — your takeaways

Use the same tangzhong technique in whole wheat baking that you do when baking with all-purpose or bread flour: a cooked slurry using about 6% of the flour and 45% of the liquid. This applies to all whole wheat recipes, from those using just a touch of whole wheat to those using 100%. Note that you may or may not have to add additional liquid to the recipe; more on how to determine that in How to convert a bread recipe to tangzhong.

• In recipes using a combination of whole wheat and “white” (all-purpose or bread) flour, make the slurry from either the whole wheat or white flour, your choice. But take into account ALL of the flour when calculating your 6%: e.g., if the recipe calls for 170g white flour and 170g whole wheat, the flour weight for the slurry will be 6% of 340g.

• In recipes that yield soft, moist results to begin with, tangzhong doesn’t make an appreciable difference in texture when the rolls are fresh. But as time passes, tangzhong prolongs the rolls’ shelf life.

Tangzhong, a technique embraced by bakers in the know, extends the shelf life of your favorite whole wheat breads. Click To Tweet

Tangzhong in gluten-free yeast bread

Ah, gluten-free yeast bread — the Holy Grail of gluten-free bakers everywhere! Unlike brownies, cookies, muffins, and a number of other treats that can easily transition to gluten-free simply by substituting our Gluten Free Measure for Measure Flour for any regular flour in the recipe, yeast bread is more complicated.

Think about it: it’s a culinary oxymoron. Gluten is what makes yeast bread rise; it’s the keystone of any loaf. So gluten-free yeast bread? It’s like saying, “I’ll have a hot fudge sundae, but hold the hot fudge.”

Still, those of us baking gluten-free soldier on, perpetually in search of GF yeast bread that’s a dead ringer for our favorite homemade toasting bread. Maybe tangzhong can help prevent two notable downsides of gluten-free bread: its crumbliness and short shelf life.

Let’s bake Gluten-Free Sandwich Bread using tangzhong and see what happens.

I start with the slurry: as usual, I use 6% of the flour and 45% of the liquid in the recipe (which in this case is milk).

Whole wheat and gluten-free bread made with tangzhong @kingarthurflour

The slurry cooks up fine.

Whole wheat and gluten-free bread made with tangzhong @kingarthurflour

Next I make two doughs: one following the recipe as written (standard), one using the slurry (tangzhong).

They appear identical; they rise at the same rate.

Whole wheat and gluten-free bread made with tangzhong @kingarthurflour

A couple of hours later — bread!

And here’s the question of the day: Will the tangzhong loaf be softer and less crumbly? Will it resist becoming stale as quickly as the standard loaf?

Whole wheat and gluten-free bread made with tangzhong @kingarthurflour

The answer is no on both counts.

Right out of the oven the loaves are identical in all respects: rise, interior texture, sliceability.

As time passes, they “stale” at the same rate; while still good for toast, they’ve lost that just-baked freshness. So tangzhong doesn’t seem to make any appreciable difference in gluten-free bread’s texture or shelf life.

That said, I’ve only tested tangzhong with this single recipe. If you’d like to try tangzhong in your favorite recipe, read our post — How to convert a bread recipe to tangzhong — then have at it!

Whole wheat and gluten-free bread made with tangzhong @kingarthurflour

Meanwhile, if you’re into whole wheat yeast rolls or bread, tangzhong can be a definite step up, especially when it comes to shelf life. And after all, who wouldn’t love to make their Thanksgiving dinner rolls two or three days ahead of time — with no drop-off in quality?

Read more about tangzhong:
Introduction to tangzhong
How to convert a bread recipe to tangzhong

Have you tried tangzhong yet? If not, here’s a great place to start: Soft Cinnamon Rolls. Let us know what you think!

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. Betty C.

    When I make four tortillas they get hard by the next day. Can I use the Tangzhong method on this and other quick bread recipes?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Betty, the tangzhong method is best applied to yeast doughs, like bread. If your flour tortilla recipe includes yeast, then you’re welcome to try making a slurry and incorporating it into your tortilla dough. If the recipe only calls for baking powder or baking soda to make the tortillas rise, then you might want to try another approach like using some potato flour to help keep your tortillas soft and fresh. (Using a bit of Baker’s Special Dry Milk might also help increase tenderness and shelf life.) It’s also important to keep your tortillas in an airtight container. Reheat by adding a little bit of moisture to them and then warm slightly (in the microwave or on the stove). This will make them more pliable and practically like they just came off the skillet for the first time. Good luck and happy baking! Kye@KAF

  2. Carmen Carlton

    I’ve been making your standard Classic Whole Wheat Bread for many years albeit using my bread machine on the “dough” cycle. I am most happy with the recipe. Now I’ve been reading all of your articles about the tangzhong method. So I wonder…can the tangzhong method be adapted to the bread machine?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Definitely give it a try, Carmen! You’ll need to make the slurry using the correct amount of water and flour beforehand, but once it’s cooled slightly you can go ahead and add the ingredients (along with the rest of the dough ingredients) to the bucket of your bread machine and bake. We think you’ll find the final results to be soft, tender, and have better keeping qualities. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

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