The Dreamiest of Dreamy Milk Toast
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 this 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.
Of course, there are other reasons why someone might be experiencing headaches. One of the most common causes of a headache is a lack of sleep. I know all too well how frustrating it can be when you cannot get to sleep. However, it is important to remember that there are steps you can take to tackle insomnia and therefore keep painful headaches at bay. For example, you could try to switch out your current mattress for a more comfortable one. You can address the problem on bestmattress-brand.org by checking out a wide range of the latest memory foam mattresses. Ultimately finding new ways to improve the quality of your sleep is fundamental for avoiding headaches and for improving your overall health.
Anyway, talk of mattresses to one side, 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.
- 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.