Shokupan (Japanese Milk Bread) with Poolish Method

I have been baking bread quite often, really often in fact, with most of them being Asian buns with assorted fillings. Two or three years ago, I even made bread a few times per week for months during Summer to test out different methods, recipes, experimenting different proportions. This time, I made something different. Basic white bread. Not just any white bread, but Japanese milk bread. 

As flours, yeast, and a lot of baking ingredients becoming scarce in the midst of quarantine, I saw more and more posts about bread, this Shokupan being one of them (aside from sourdough of course). I wasn't interested at first and actually skipped reading about them as our family is not big on bread, which is weird considering how much I love making bread, but I was finally intrigued. So when I saw that we are having a heatwave for a few days, bread is the first thing that came to mind (every heatwave actually).

Shokupan is a term for Japanese milk bread or pretty much Japanese white bread. The more common term is Hokkaido Milk Bread. They are soft, fluffy, and milky. The most popular method for this type of bread is Tangzhong and the less popular cousin is Yudane (more on this on the next post)

Seeing many sourdough posts on instagram and blogsphere, I was curious to learn other pre-ferment method. So I started reading a lot about different ways pre-fermenting bread dough (poolish, biga, sponge dough). I won't go much about pre-fermenting method in this post but I was set to try out a recipe for Shokupan with poolish method to begin with after seeing it in a couple of posts. It may not be the traditional way to make the Japanese milk bread, but it makes such a soft and fluffy bread!

Poolish is one type or pre-ferment that has 100% hydration (1:1 flour:water ratio), it is known to increase the dough's extensibility. Biga (dryer version of poolish), is another one and increase the dough's strength, while other pre-ferment type has their own pros. I will write the summary on different post.

The original recipe for this bread was taken from @moucup. I modified it and made this poolish Shokupan a total of 4x with different bakers' percentage everytime to find the best one, as well as the baking temperature. So the recipe below is the final recipe that I now use.

Please note that with pre-ferment method, you would need to set aside more time than straight-dough method. The purpose of using any per-ferment method is to let the yeast ferment slowly. The amount of yeast used is very little (about 0.2%-0.3% bakers' percentage-wise), which is about 0.8 grams in this recipe. You would need 12 hours of pre-fermenting, and about 2-3 hours for each bulk ferment and proofing time (plus bench rest). So if you are pressed for time, using the straight dough method is probably best. It would still yield a very fluffy bread.

Since we are dealing with pre-ferment dough, which means part of the yeast work has been done overnight, it was  faster to achieve the windowpane stage (the stage where you can stretch the dough to become a really thin membrane without tearing it easily), which was a delight. You will need to dust your workspace and hand with flour as you work with them to prevent them from sticking. Once they rise, it was SO pillowy soft! I asked Mike to touch it to feel the texture and he was obsessed!

The photos in this post are from the first trial and I used a standard loaf pan. Since then, I bought a pullman-loaf bread pan with a lid (so I have the option to make a square one or the rounded top). It looks so much better and fluffier!
Note that if you are making the square version with the lid on, you would need to resize the recipe to be using 250g flour total (instead of 285g in this recipe below). But if you like a tall bread without the lid, the amount below is good. I calculate mine using bakers' percentage, let me know if you need it.

I highly recommend making this recipe if you love those tall Asian sweet fluffy white bread that is perfect for any kind of toasts, or sandwich. In fact, there has been more than one occasion that my lunch/dinner consisted of a few slices of these bread plain or toasted and slathered with salted butter, no kidding. I would say though, I think this type of bread is best for the sweet kind of sandwich or toasts than savory one. We used it to make my famous pesto grilled cheese sandwich and found that the bread was too rich for it (is that even possible?).

This bread stays soft at room temperature for 4-5 days (I didn’t try keeping it longer than that) when kept in an airtight container, even better when toasted.

I will be writing about the different method for this bread that's equally great!

Shokupan (Japanese Milk Bread) - Poolish Method

85g bread flour
85g water
A tiny pinch of instant yeast (0.8g to be exact, but I just used a small pinch)
  • Mix all ingredients in a bowl, cover it with plastic wrap and let it sit in room temperature for about 12 hours. 
  • The next morning, the poolish should be at least doubled in size, bubbly, smell yeasty (but not very strong), and definitely not sour. When it is at the peak, it should start to recede, but not collapse.
Main Dough:
200g bread flour
15g milk powder (optional)
40g sugar
110g whole milk
20g heavy cream (you can substitute it with more milk)
30g unsalted butter, softened
3-4g salt (about 1/2 tsp fine salt)
  • Using bread machine (dough or knead setting) or mixer with dough attachment, mix the flour, milk powder (if using), sugar, whole milk, heavy cream, and the poolish mixture and knead for about 10 minutes or so.
  • Add the softened butter and salt and continue kneading until it is completely elastic and can pass a windowpane test (take a little bit of dough and stretch it carefully with your fingers to make a thin membrane without easily tearing it). This can take another 20-30 minutes.
  • Gather the dough (might need to cover your hand in flour to prevent sticking) and put it in a bowl, cover it with a kitchen towel.
  • Let it rise in a warm place until it rises 2-3x original volume (this can take 2-3 hours )
  • Punch the dough down, put it on a slightly-floured workspace
  • Divide it into three equal portion. You can make two equal portion or even one, it is just for aesthetic purpose. 
  • Round it and let it rest for 15-20 minutes (bench rest), covered with kitchen towel on the counter.
  • Roll each dough into oval, fold the left and right side, slightly overlaping in the middle. Then roll it from one end to the other, pinching the end
  • Place them in a buttered-loaf pan. I lined the sides with parchment paper for easier removal and to help the dough "climbed" if it rises much higher than the sides of the loaf pan. You don't need to use this if you are using pullman loaf pan. You just need to lightly coat it with butter
  • Cover and let it proof the second time until they double or triple in size (mine takes another 2 hours). See before and after pictures. It should rise as tall as the height of the pan
  • Preheat the oven to 350F, brush the top of the bread with milk. If you are making the square version, you can skip this
  • Bake the bread for 25-30 minutes. For the rounded top version, if the top becomes too brown, cover it with foil after 20 minutes.
  • Let cool on cooling rack.
  • The time needed for the poolish to reach its peak varies from amount of yeast used and temperature. 
  • If you are short in time, add 2g of instant yeast in the final dough (mix it together with the flour), it will make the dough rise faster, but still have that softness from poolish
  • You can reduce the sugar for a less-sweet bread. Personally, I use this bread for sweet toasts so I would prefer a sweeter one. Sometimes I would even increasee the sugar to 50g since my husband likes it a bit sweet.
  • Let the bread completely cooled maybe an hour or two before slicing it as it is VERY soft. 


Yeni said...

I tried this recipe from @moucup 3x and all have failed. The dough didn’t rise at all even after proofing for 3 hrs. I noticed big difference in your recipe that you use water and didn’t have sugar at all in the pre-fermented dough. What do you think could be the culprit of my unrisen dough? I followed the original recipe to a tee. And leave it overnight inside the oven with the light on, then also with light off because I thought the first try I over fermented it. Now I’m at a loss. Everything else looked good. The starter was foamy, fibrous, smell yeasty, the kneaded dough has window pane.. but it won’t rise at all 😥

Bertha said...

Yeni: I use water for a few reasons, first, poolish normally is 1:1 ratio between flour and water. second, yeast have harder time to work in milk, it will take longer for it to get to the full capacity. third, leaving milk out overnight is not recommended as milk is safe out for probably 1-2 hours depending on temperature.

Having said that, the first time I made it, I followed the recipe to a tee with milk and all, it did rise, just took way way longer than expected. If your poolish looks fine, that means the yeast is still alive, so if it doesn't rise at all, it might be something in the mixing process. Did you knead it for too long? Did you add salt directly with the yeast (this will kill the yeast), did you use hot milk?
If you did none of those, my recommendation is to add 2g of instant yeast in the final dough together with flour. this will give the dough some push and make it rise easier and faster.