The Dreamiest of Dreamy Milk Toast

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OH boy, do I have a sob story for this one.  Well, not of me growing up with Hokkaido milk toast of course (If you love bread but don’t know what it is, I feel truly sorry.  It’s the dreamiest loaf of toast you could dream up.).  Those were only fond memories, VERY fond memories  like – me standing in the bakery, staring and chuckling like an idiot at the milk toasts on the racks why because they were also smiling back at me, and couldn’t stop myself from poking them with my fingers – kind of memories.  The sobbing part is how I got to successfully making them in my kitchen, which was a road paved with disappointments, heartbreaks and betrayals (supposedly-trusted recipes out there…how could you?).  Let me just start by saying that on Sep 19th at 10:45 pm, a loaf of bread died of a gruesome death on my kitchen counter.  And at 4:30 am the next day, another one followed.

This is how I killed them and atoned for it.

I don’t know what had gotten into me that day but it was surely cursed.  The initial idea that stuck didn’t start out as an intent to make milk toast but just a loaf of white bread with peanut butter and jelly swirls inside.  I know… what an unnecessary and retarded idea.  Don’t rub it in.  Since I woke up exceptionally early that day at 12 pm, I took a sweet ass whole-3-hours to assess the possibility of me actually going out my front door to get the ingredients I need.  If it sounded any better, during which I also gossiped with my mom on the phone for 2 hours and watched a bit of Barefoot Contessa, so it wasn’t a total waste of time.  So at 3 pm sharp after some motivational speech I made to myself, I finally gathered enough momentum to peel myself off the couch and make a run for it.

Then I came home rewarded with a raging headache.

To explain the headache I have say a) Because we don’t own a car.  We bike.  b) Again because 80% of the biking experience in Beijing ends in oxygen deprivation in the brain.  Why?  Well there’s the air pollution that I can always count on (How good the air is on any given day depends on how well I can see the mountains on the west horizon and let me just say that in the first 2 months I lived here, I didn’t even know the mountain existed…), and the black-smoke-squirting-squid buses that somehow always coincidentally situates around me.  Then let’s not leave out those fellow bikers who enjoy leisurely sipping on cigarettes on their scooters, and always think they should contribute to my misery, too.  All in all sends a powerful signal to my brain to suspend my already-pathetic lung functions, and ignore the stress calls made from my earnest, pedal-stepping feet and raging, exercise-deprived heart.  So I hope that sufficiently explains the headache that lead to another 3 hours haze to regather my will to actually make the bread.

Then I successfully pulled myself together to start at 7 pm.

I measured.  I kneaded.  I proofed, rolled then proofed again and I baked.  The first loaf came out of the oven at 11:45 pm sharp, then like a stomped pudding, catastrophically collapsed in the middle into two miserable mess (insert a little gasp here) before I even had a chance to take a first breather.  It sent me into an out-of-body experience where I floated to the ceiling and stared at myself staring at the corpse of the bread that stared back.  All three of us engaged in a post-traumatic silence.  What the HELL happened?  I went back to the recipe and realized that I had miscalculated the wet ingredient (by way too much) while trying to half the recipe.  I blame the headache.  So what’s a responsible blogger had to do at this point at 12:00 am?  Get my ass back in there and do over.  I righted my wrongs in the recipe and patiently waited another 4 hours for my final, well-deserved triumph to come gloriously out of the oven.  It didn’t.  If the first loaf was a stomped pudding, the second one came out like a skull-breaking brick.  I could murder someone with this loaf.  Now what’s a responsi… oh who am I kidding…

At 4:30 am, I went to bed with tail between my legs.

I woke up the next day feeling like a piece of stale bread dropped in dirty water.  Totally worthless in the soggiest way.  I realized I had to scrap the devil-pb+j-loaf idea (partially because I used up all the pb+j) and go back to the thinking tank.  Let’s focus on how to make the perfect loaf of white bread first.  And what’s more perfect in the realm of white toast than a loaf of Hokkaido milk toast?  If you’ve never had it, you can’t imagine how crazy good a loaf of white bread can be.  But if you have ever stepped into a Japanese bakery and landed your hands on their white toast, and were astonished at how much more moist, stringy, tender, creamy and chewy it is than your regular dry and boring white toast, then agonized over how you could produce the same at home?  This is your answer.  After combining several different recipes online, the third loaf came out of my oven two days later with songbirds and halos circling around it.  It was so good I couldn’t believe I did it and had to make three more loafs in the following days just to reconfirm that it was real.  Guys, seriously.  You’ll want to dig a hole inside and sleep in it.  It is so good.

Servings: 2 loafs

* You can half this recipe and make just 1 loaf instead.  But I have to tell you that, considering the work involved, it makes much more sense to make 2 portions and freeze 1 portion of the dough in the freezer for next time.

** The dough takes two stages of proofing.  The first stage is recommended to be done in the fridge overnight for a better texture and moisture content in the final product.

*** The original recipe calls for milk powder which I suspect no baby-less grownups would have it in their pantry.  So to makeup for the “milky-ness”, I replaced the sugar in the first proofing ingredients with condensed milk.

**** The recipe is in metric system.  I try to convert some for you but I would strongly recommend measuring it in grams instead.

Ingredients: ****

  • First Proofing:
    • 600 g of bread flour (at least 12~14% protein)  updates on 2012/10/15: the bread flour from Hong Kong flour mills would yield the best result
    • 42 g of egg white (approx 4 1/2 tbsp)
    • 7 g of dry yeast (approx 1 1/8 tsp)
    • 168 g of heavy cream (approx 3/4 cup)
    • 190 g of whole milk (approx 3/4 cup)
    • 12 g of unsalted butter, room temperature
    • 18 g of sugar (approx 4 tsp), or 2 tbsp of sweeten condensed milk ***
  • Second Proofing:
    • 7.2 g of salt (approx 1 tsp)
    • 5 g of dry yeast (approx 1 tsp)
    • 90 g of sugar (approx 7 tbsp)
    • 50 g of egg white (approx 5 tbsp)
    • 36 g milk powder (I didn’t add this)
    • 12 g of butter, room temperature
  • To finish:
    • 40 g of browned butter
    • sea salt
    • egg wash

Combine heavy cream, whole milk, butter and sugar in a bowl and warm it in the microwave to 110ºF.  In a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment, combine bread flour, dry yeast, egg white and the warm milk mixture, then knead until smooth on medium speed.  You could either now proof the dough in the fridge for 18 to 24 hours, or under room temperature for 1 to 2 hours until doubled.  I placed my dough over the warm espresso machine to proof and it took approximately 2 hours for the dough to double.

Once the dough has doubled (or kept in the fridge overnight), take it out of the bowl and punch out the air.  Cut the dough into small “bite-size” pieces and return it to the stand mixer with a dough hook.  Add the salt, dry yeast, sugar and egg white (save the butter for later) and turn the mixer on medium.  Work the dough until it is smooth and elastic (approx 5 min), then add the room temperature butter.  Keep the mixer on medium and work the dough for another 3 min.  The dough shouldn’t be sticking to the side of the bowl too much.  If it does, add another couple tbsp of flour.  Then turn the mixer on medium high and work the dough for another 6 to 10 min.  The dough should pull away from the mixing bowl and making “slapping sounds” against the bowl.

When you are done, the dough should be in a state where it isn’t too sticky, but just moist and developed enough gluten that you could slowly stretch it into a thin, translucent film without breaking (see the pictures above).  Divide the dough into 2 equal portions and let it rest for 15 min if it was proofed under room temperature, OR 30 min if it was kept in the fridge overnight.  During this time prepare the browned butter.  Melt the butter in a small sauce pot over medium heat.  It will start to foam, then turn brown and smell nutty.  Turn off the heat and set it aside.

Once the dough is rested, take 1 portion of the dough (keep the 2nd portion covered in plastic wrap) and divide it into 3 equal parts.  Roll each part into an oval shape, then fold the sides toward the center (like folding a letter) and roll it out again into a long rectangle, then curl it up like a snail.  Repeat the same step with the 2nd portion and let the dough pieces rest for another 15 min (you should now have 6 pieces of dough, 3 pieces for each portion).

I formed the 2 loafs into 2 different shapes, 1 that’s braided and 1 that’s not.  To make the braided shape, roll 1 piece of dough out into a oval shape again.  Brush the top of the dough with the browned butter and sprinkle with some sea salt, then roll it into a long log.  Repeat the same step with the other 2 pieces, which will give you 3 long logs.  Braid the 3 long dough like braiding a ponytail, and set it inside a loaf pan.  OR for a traditional loaf, after brushing the dough with browned butter and sea salt, you could fold it again and curl it up like a snail, and set it side by side in a loaf pan.

At this point, I put the un-braided loaf into the freezer and kept the braided loaf under room temperature to proof.  To bake the frozen loaf, take it out of the freezer and set it inside a loaf pan in a warm spot.  Let it completely defrost and proof until it has expanded to 80% full.  This will take several hours.

Preheat the oven on 360ºF/180ºC.  Let the dough proof to 80% full (not doubled which will be 100%).  This took another 1:30 hour in my kitchen.  Brush the dough with egg wash and cover the loaf pan with aluminum foil.  Bake in the oven for 20 min, then uncover the foil and let it bake for another 20 min until golden brown on the top.  The loaf should expand significantly in the baking process.

You could take the loaf out of the pan and let it cool on a rack for 20 min.  I personally think it’s a crime not to eat it while it still retains its warmth from the oven.  You wouldn’t believe the stringy and chewy texture of this milk toast.  It doesn’t need any jam or butter.  It’s good enough to be a snacking bread on its own.

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32 Comments

  • Oh soft and fluffy bread! I am making this for sure! I just got a kitchenaid mixer, and I am looking for a good bread recipe! This just looks perfect! I am very excited! Let’s hope everything will come out ok. Thanks for sharing!

  • Laurie says:

    Oh my! This is a gorgeous bread. The crumb on the loaves looks so soft and light!
    I am SO American and am a bit lame when it comes to metrics.. but this loaf is so worth getting a converter chart out.

    Loved your tale.. and the idea of a P&J swirled loaf.. sounds awesome and if you ever do have success with it, I’ll be happy to hear!

  • Mandy L. says:

    Lokness and Laurie, Thanks for commenting. It really is a super yummy bread. please let me know how it turns out if you guys ever tried making, OK?

    • I made it tonight. It was my first ever homemade bread. It was a bit dense and it didn’t rise as high as yours, but it was still soft. Do you think it is because I didn’t let it proof long enough? I let it sit at room temp for 1 1/2 hour. I still have another loaf in the freezer. I am hoping it will come out better the second round. :)

      • Mandy L. says:

        There’s a few reasons that are possible. It could be that your home may be a bit cold, which would take much longer for the dough to rise. I placed my dough above a warmed-up espresso machine (I would assume the temperature to be around 28 to 30 degrees) and it still took 1 1/2 ~ 2 hours for the first proofing (to double), another 1 ~ 1 1/2 hour for the second proofing (to rise to 80% full). OR. It could be that the yeast you used have lost its potency. The ratio of yeast used in this recipe is relatively lower, so it would need longer time to proof and a potent active dry yeast. When you are ready to bake the one in the freezer, make sure you let it thaw COMPLETELY in a warm spot (would take several hours), and let it rise to 80% full before baking. I hope the second one turns out better.

        It also took me a couple of tries to get this right but this bread is definitely worth it!

        • Got it. 失敗乃成功之母! I will let it proof longer next time. Thanks for the tips :)

          • hexanes says:

            I usually proof my breads in the oven with the light on. Might still be a bit cooler that on top of the espresso machine but I’m used to it and it gives consistent results even if the rooom temperature varies.

  • carey says:

    Wow, this bread looks amazing. And you are hilarious! “Totally worthless in the soggiest way” killed me. (:

  • Your post is so funny! And this bread looks simply amazing. I love to bake breads, I hope mine will look similar.

  • Nathalie says:

    Sincèrement, un des meilleur pain blanc que j’ai mangé!!! Long à faire mais ça en vaut la peine, il sera sur mon blog dès demain, Merci beaucoup!!!!

  • Jessie says:

    this looks incredible

  • This looks amazing!! I walk through the bakeries here in Okinawa and wonder how they make those beautiful, soft and delicious breads. I cannot wait to try this and learn another Japanese recipe! Thanks for posting this!

  • fanny says:

    麻煩請教一下配方里用的是active dry yeast還是instant dry yeast?我用的是active dry yeast,沒有用溫水溶直接和干料一起攪拌的,第一次攪拌好還看得見yeast的顆粒。另外我用普通的loaf盤烤,360F烤40分鐘,外殼很硬很焦。是否要降低溫度。最后請問攪拌時用中速和高速是指kitchenaid的mixer哪幾個檔,4檔和8檔嗎?

    • Mandy L. says:

      Hi Fanny, 我用的是 instant dry yeast 牌子叫 “安琪”. 你的情況聼起來像是麵糰沒有發成功。將牛奶加熱至 110 (但不能過熱)很重要。尤其是冬天。如果麵糰太冷或太干。yeast 溶解不了就發不了。如果想再試一次,會建議先讓 yeast 在溫牛奶内溶解冒泡后,再和麵糰攪拌一起。發的時候記得將碗用保鮮膜蓋住,保持水氣。每個烤箱溫度有些不同。如果太焦了,可以試試看前半個鐘頭將烤槃用鋁箔紙蓋起來。最後10分鐘打開。中高速是 5~6 檔之間。 再試試看吧。我也試了一兩次。

  • Laetitia says:

    Yumm..Looks delicious!

    Two questions for you:
    1. Where did you buy your loaf pan from?
    2. What is the purpose of splitting the ingredients between the two proofs?

    • Mandy L. says:

      Laetitia, 1. I bought the loaf pan online in Beijing on taobao.com. 2. To be honest I have no idea why but I just followed the instruction given. Please let me know if you have any clue!

      • Jena says:

        The two step process is generally called the “sponge” method and I believe it is also related to the “levain” method by which you get stuff like sourdough. It gives yeast a chance to work longer and more slowly (which is why you refrigerate overnight so that yeast doesn’t go all crazy and double, triple, quadruple your dough). The slow fermentation gives a different sort of texture and a deeper flavor that a lot of straight dough method (twice rise, single proof method) gives you. You can easily make any of your regular sandwich straight dough method breads by this method (check out Alton Brown’s episode on yeast – he has a basic bread that does this). Try it, you’ll see the flavor difference. Both dough methods are tasty; just different.

        • Mandy L. says:

          Jena, thanks so much! That’s very informative! I tried both proofing in the refrigerator AND in room temperature for the first stage. The dough in the fridge only rised 50% overnight, but doubled rapidly (within 1 hour) on the second proofing stage. Where as the dough in room temperature doubled in the first proofing, but took a long time (2 hours) in the second proofing. Next time I will try the straight dough method and see where it takes me. Thanks again!

  • CBGCP says:

    Hey, did you use the famed- Tangzhong method in this recipe? It seems all of the real, and authentic milk loafs use that.

    Just curious, as I like your recipe the best, and it sounds quite good.

    • Mandy L. says:

      Yes I have heard about that method but never tried it yet. Supposedly it helps the bread retain moisture better. This is sort of a more simple technique (even though already quite time consuming). Maybe someday ill give tangzhong a try.

  • Kimberley says:

    I just made this tonight (started last night) and the bread is wonderful. I love the consistency of it. I made the version with milk powder. Next time I’m going to half the sugar in the 2nd proofing though to bring it down from almost being a sweet bread. Also, the bread was very moist at the end of mixing during the 2nd stage. I had to add about 4 tbsps of flour. And even then it seemed quite sticky but I didn’t want to ruin it so just went for it instead. Turns out that was a good choice. And knowing after 24hrs of working on it that there’s now a second loaf in the freezer makes it even so much better! Thanks for putting this recipe out there.

  • This is straight up HEAVEN in the shape of a loaf. WOW! Truly, the dreamiest!

  • Lisa I. says:

    Made this today.

    A. MAZ. ING.

    Someone needs to take this away from me before I eat both loaves in one fell swoop.

    Thank you for a fantastic recipe and a beautiful blog.

  • Viola C says:

    Thanks so much for the detailed recipe!

    I had a question: do you knead the dough to the “windowpane” consistency before the first proofing?

    Cheers

  • Alexandra says:

    I dont have a way to mea. things in grams. I Googled a conversion for flour, and I am getting all sorts of different answers. About how many cups is the flour you used? Im in the middle of making this based on what I think it is, and im feeling a little iffy about it turning out right lol

  • Ling says:

    I finally mustered up the courage to take on this recipe and o…m…g… THANK YOU!!!!! It is AMAZING!!! I accidentally let it rise too much in the last step and the top stuck to the foil and I ended up ripping off the top layer but despite it’s looks, it still tastes amazing. The dough was so nice to work with too! Other recipes I’ve tried that didn’t use egg or butter were very stiff to work with. Not sure those are the only reasons why yours came out softer and more elastic, but they are the most notable differences to me. Seriously amazing stuff here =D

    In case any other readers at high elevation are wondering, I made this at 5000′ elevation and followed the recipe exactly proofing all at room temp. You’ll want to keep an eye on it while it does its last proof as it might rise faster than you expect & watch it in the last 20 minutes of baking. For me at 15 minutes, the crust was already well-browned & the inside was super soft & fluffy. Next time I might even cut it down to 12 minutes as the crust is a bit thick for my tastes.

  • Mel says:

    Hi, there isn’t any bread flour where I come from, but there are bread mixes and normal flour. Is it possible to use plain flour for this recipe instead of bread flour?

  • maripaz says:

    Holy smokes, this loaf is AMAZING!!!!! I didn’t quite get the stringiness that I see from the pictures, but I may have underbaked mine. It was starting to get really brown though so I just took it out with a few minutes left to go.

    I also don’t know if I let it proof too long the final time, but I would recommend oiling the aluminum foil and giving it some slack. My bread stuck to the foil even though I left room for it to grow. While that doesn’t affect the taste, I wanted to give one loaf away, and the top just doesn’t look so nice…

    Thanks so much for the recipe!!!! : )

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