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. Dana Johnson

    Interesting. I presoak my whole grain flour overnight before using in sourdough recipes, but once, baking church communion bread, I forgot, and added very hot 160+ degrees F water to the whole wheat flour, turning it into pudding, to help soften the bran. Even at a 50/50 mix, the bread came out amazingly well with an excellent rise, much better than an unsoaked 50/50 mix. I don’t know how long it retained its characteristics since it was consumed the next morning, but I keep this in my repetoire any time I forget to presoak.

    Reply
  2. Steele

    Why do you use half AP flour instead of bread flour for Dutch Oven Dinner Rolls, since whole wheat has less gluten?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Steele! Whole-wheat flour as a very high protein content (14%) but the bran of whole wheat flour is sharp and it likes to cut all of those beautiful gluten strands. This is why many whole grain breads wind up being dense or short. Using half all-purpose flour lessens the ratio of bran to the flour so your gluten can develop strength. You still get the lovely nutty flavor of whole wheat, but the finished results are lighter, softer, and more tender. Happy baking! Annabelle@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Yes, Mary. 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. Who wouldn’t want that?! Kye@KAF

  3. J ackie

    Two things I am interested in knowing: what about sourdough and the effect on keepability on crusty bread and rolls, and can you still get a good crisp crust. I guess that is three things. Thank you.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Jackie! Tangzhong wouldn’t be a friend to any sort of crusty bread. Baguettes, chewy, crisp rolls, or artisan crusty loaves will likely lose that crunch you’re looking for. This method is ideal for soft, tender breads such as sandwich bread or soft dinner rolls. If you’re making a soft, tender sourdough loaf, then give this method a try! Annabelle@KAF

  4. N LEE

    PJ if you or anyone else tries this method with other GF bread recipes: cinnamon rolls, or dinner rolls, could you please post your results. Thank you! Holy Grail indeed!!

    Reply
  5. Eugene Sedita

    Thanks P.J., great work. And food for thought for further experimentation.
    In “Secrets of a Jewish Baker” by George Greenstein he offen adds some stale bread to the dough. Is there a parallel here? I have to look it up just what they s 3 generation baker does. And what he calls this slips my mind. Have you heard of it? Best Wishes, Gene

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Hi Gene – Thanks for the kind words. My fellow blogger, Barb Alpern, has written a terrific two-part piece on traditional Jewish rye; here’s what she says about a “soaker” (the typical term for using up old bread in a succeeding loaf): “An old bread soaker (Zingerman’s calls it “Old” and Greenstein calls it “Altus”) is a traditional European baking practice that involves using up old bread by soaking it, mashing it up, and adding it to the new bread mix. This is not only frugal, but adds a depth of flavor to your rye bread.” So it seems the soaker is used for flavor (and simply to use up the bread) rather than having any effect on texture, like tangzhong does. I’d say go ahead and give the soaker a try; as Barb says, it enriches the bread’s flavor. Good luck — PJH@KAF

  6. Sandy Rapp

    Can this method be used with sour dough breads?
    I am trying to make a softer sourdough bread for my little one, who does nto like the same chewiness that I do with my sourdough.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We haven’t experimented with sourdough meets tangzhong, but it’s certainly on our list of things we hope to soon try! Tangzhong is best applied to recipes that make soft, tender, moist bread rather than lean/crusty bread, and sourdough lends itself to the latter. However, tangzhong may in fact prove to be favorable in recipes like our Buttery Sourdough Buns or our Cinnamon Raisin Sourdough Bread, which are soft, enriched doughs. We’ll give it a go in a crusty recipe too (like our Rustic Sourdough Bread) to see if it stays fresh longer, though it’s worth noting that sourdough already stays fresh longer than regular loaves. We’ll be sure to report with our findings soon, and we hope other tangzhong bakers will do the same! Kye@KAF

  7. Barb

    Thank you PJ for all your work. I was anxious to know if the technique would help with gluten free bread. When I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease in ’99 my Aunt advised…” always toast the bread, it’s not so bad”. I’ve pretty much stuck to that over the years, but I still cling to the hope of a fresh soft loaf and untoasted sandwiches one day.

    Reply
  8. JuliaJ

    Does the tangzhong method work with recipes with original hydration ratio greater than 75%? Does the 6%:45% flour:liquid ratio still apply ?

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Julia, that’s something I have yet to test. I want to see if high-hydration breads like ciabatta need to be made with the same soft/sticky dough in order to produce the same results with tangzhong (in which case you’d add more liquid); or if, by using tangzhong, you produce dough that’s less sticky and easier to work with, but that still yields a loaf with a nice open crumb. At any rate, yes, I’d stick with the same flour/liquid ratio. If you try it, come back here and let us know how it goes, OK? PJH@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We haven’t experimented with sourdough meets tangzhong, but it’s certainly on our list of things we hope to soon try! Tangzhong is best applied to recipes that make soft, tender, moist bread rather than lean/crusty bread, and sourdough lends itself to the latter. However, tangzhong may in fact prove to be favorable in recipes like our Buttery Sourdough Buns or our Cinnamon Raisin Sourdough Bread, which are soft, enriched doughs. We’ll give it a go in a crusty recipe too (like our Rustic Sourdough Bread) to see if it stays fresh longer, though it’s worth noting that sourdough already stays fresh longer than regular loaves. We’ll be sure to report with our findings soon, and we hope other tangzhong bakers will do the same! Kye@KAF

    2. Pia Owens

      I have! It works great. I prefer softer, fluffier breads that don’t have a hard crust, so I often add olive oil to my sourdough bread, bake it in a loaf pan, and cover during initial baking. Since tangzhong promotes these same properties, it works well for me. Sourdough naturally has a longer shelf life than bread made with commercial yeast and I think that tangzhong prolongs it even a bit more. Also, I tend to put at least some starter into every bread that I make, so for me every bread is a little bit sourdough!

    3. Walter

      In Europe sour dough dark bread recipies very frequently incorporate boiled flour (tangzhong) to increase moisture, texture and taste as well as extend shelve life. I make all my sourdough dark breads with a boiled flour component and they come out perfect every time. I have posted one of my recipies on the KA blog. You can also research the topic on the web looking under breads with Kochstück or Aromastück which is the German version of tangzhong.

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