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 5x 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, or add more instant yeast in the final dough. 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!

After making so many of these, I finally caved in and 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
Yield: One loaf of Pullman bread pan 7.3x4x4.3" or 18.6x10x11cm
For square Pullman with a lid, or standard loaf pan, use the amount in ()

85g bread flour (75g)
85g water (75g)
A pinch of instant yeast (approximately 0.15-0.25g)
  • 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 (175g)
15g milk powder (optional) (13g)
40g sugar (35g)
1.5g instant yeast (optional, see note) (1.3g) 
110g whole milk (96g)
20g heavy cream (you can substitute it with more milk) (18g)
30g unsalted butter, softened (25g)
3-4g salt (about 1/2 tsp fine salt) (3g)
  • 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 1.5g 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. I don't normally add this, only when I want it to proof a little faster because I like my bread with no yeast flavor.
  • 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 increase 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. 
  •  To make the square version using pullman-loaf pan with the lid, use the amount in (), proof until it is about 1.5-2cm lower than the rim to give it room to rise in the oven
  • If you're using standard loaf pan, also use the amount in (), proof until it is to same height as the rim


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.

dcarollina said...

Hi! I experienced the same problem with Yeni. As of today, I have tried 2 times, both times the bread didn’t rise nicely. I used the same pan as recommended by @moucup, but my final product only rise until 3/4 of the pan. So now will try your version of poolish. Now that I think of it, you do have a good point about leaving milk out overnight 😅.
Wish me luck ❤️

Bertha said...

dcarollina: Since the yeast used is very little, it will take a long time to rise, but it will (given the yeast is not dead). I set mine in a hot sunroom (during Summer), or in the oven with the bread proof setting. It takes 2-3 hours each time, but would probably take longer in a cool room temperature. You can add 1.5g yeast as I suggested in the post in the final dough to give it a boost. Good Luck!

dcarollina said...

Trying your recipe as we speak. I added the 1.5gr of yeast as you suggested, so I have good feeling about this. Currently is doing first proofing in hot room. I’ll let you know the result in 4-5 hours �� (if you count, it really does take a whole day just to bake a good loaf of bread haha)

Bertha said...

dcarollina: *crossing fingers. It does take a whole day and that is exactly why I am buying a second pan so I can make 2 at the same time! Yes, please let me know how it goes. You can also tag me if you have IG account at

Unknown said...

What % is this bread. I can't find the original recipe. Can you send it to me at
I'm looking for 75% hydration.
I also found information about using milk in the polish which I will be trying at some point.
Found under French Loaf Blog
Feb 18 2011 - 10:08am
Milk contains protease
I have read that Milk contains the enzyme protease, which inhibits gluten formation,
and yeast development, this is true of Powdered, Condensed, & Liquid milks.
Unless high temperatures are used.
Pasteurization doesn't reach temperatures sufficient to denature the enzyme,
Scalding milk does.

1. Stir while slowly heating milk to just under boiling. (198F) Don't boil.
2. Allow to cool. (~100F)
3. Skimming off the skin will result in a lighter, more tender bread.
Quick breads don't need this extra step, since gluten and yeast aren't used.

Cook's Illustrated (March 2004)
Pasteurized, homogenized fluid milk will produce a better volume loaf
if scalded to stop enzymatic action that affects gluten development and
decreases loaf volume. Scald, skim, and cool.

Scalding and skimming fluid milk OR the use of "high heat" nonfat dry milk
solids is recommended by professional bakers.
" Scalding breaks down a constituent in milk that can weaken gluten,
the protein in dough that gives bread its structure.
That milk protein is removed when the skin that forms on the scalded milk
is skimmed off and discarded."

Oregon State U. Food
Resource Web site.
Kitchen Notes, p30.



Bertha said...

Monique: Thank you for the info! I gotta try scaling the milk and cooling it down to see if it makes any difference.
For this recipe, the poolish is 100% hydration (as with most poolish). For the bread itself, if you take the ratio of the liquid versus the flour+powdered milk, it will come up to be about 72% hydration.

This recipe with poolish makes considerably wet dough, so I don't recommend adding more liquid. If you want to increase the hydration to 75%, I recommend using one of the other methods I posted for this bread. Yudane or straight dough method dough is not as wet as poolish, even when the bakers percentage is the same, making it possible to increase the hydration content a little bit

Anonymous said...

Can i substitute the milk and heavy cream with water +milk powder? Since it all i have in the pantry. Thank you!

Bertha said...

anonymous: yes you can. the fat percentage is different so it will affect it a bit in the final result, but you can still do it. You can also increase the butter to 40g to account for fat loss, but it is optional.

Anonymous said...

40 grams per 285 flour right?

Bertha said...


Anggun.textiles said...

i've been making bread using this recipe for a few times, and i'd like to admit it is one of the best tasting bread i've made so far! poolish does make a difference in flavour as compared to straight dough method. my dough takes almost a whole day to rise. sometimes i put it in a warm oven to fasten the rise. since the poolish starter and dough proofing time takes a while i will always plan ahead before i make bread using this recipe. thanks for the great recipe!