Japanese and Chinese breads are well known and loved because they are deliciously soft and fluffy. When Yvonne Chen published The 65 C Bread Doctor, she made the water roux method (tang zhong) very popular. I tried two other highly rated asian bread recipes before attempting this and the water roux method (tang zhong) was, by far, the best. My family absolutely loved it. This results in bread very similar to those sold in Hong Kong (Cantonese/Chinese) bakeries. By changing the way you shape the bread and by adding various ingredients, you can use this as your base for all sorts of buns and breads. For example, see my instructions for Chinese bakery hot dog buns here.
Water Roux (Tang Zhong) Method for Making Asian Style Bread
adapted from The 65 C Bread Doctor, by Yvonne Chen (see here)
for the water roux starter
bread flour and water in a 1:5 ratio (for bread flour substitute, see here)
(Note: The starter can be kept in the refrigerator for 3 days, so if you’re planning on making a lot of bread, you can make a large batch of starter once. If the starter turns gray in colour, it has gone bad.)
In a heavy bottomed sauce pot, whisk together the bread flour and water. Then set up a candy thermometer and over medium low heat, heat up the starter until it reaches 65 C or 149 F, stirring constantly. Alternatively, you could use a microwave. The starter will thicken and it should leave a trail if you draw a line through it. Cover with a piece of plastic wrap placed directly in contact with the surface of your starter to prevent a skin from forming. Set aside to allow it to cool to room temperature before using. Store leftover starter in the fridge for up to 3 days. Discard when it turns gray in colour.
for the bread
Note: The following recipe yields 2 loaves of bread or approximately 12 buns depending on the type of buns you’re making.
144 g water roux starter (recipe above)
540 g bread flour (for bread flour substitute, see here)
86 g granulated white sugar
8 g salt
11 g instant dried yeast
86 g eggs (approximately 2 eggs)
59 g whipping cream (or substitute with milk)
65 g milk
49 g unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
1 egg, whisked for egg wash
In a large bowl, mix together the bread flour, sugar, salt, and instant dried yeast. Then mix in the eggs, cream, milk, and water roux starter. Form it into a ball and transfer it to a generously floured surface. Knead in the butter. The dough will be sticky and the kneading process takes a bit of time, but you could use a bread machine instead of kneading it by hand. Knead the dough until it passes the windowpane test (ie. stretch the dough out thinly and when you poke your finger through it, you should be left with a perfect circular hole as opposed to randomly torn dough). Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover it with a tea towel, and allow it to rest at room temperature until it doubles in size, 40 minutes to 1 hour.
* Separate the dough into the number of pieces that you need (ie. divide it in half if you are making 2 loaves of bread or form it into 12 separate balls if you are making 12 buns) and allow it to rise for 15 minutes, covered loosely with a damp tea towel at room temperature.
Then shape the bread as desired and place it onto baking sheets or into loaf pans as applicable. Cover loosely with a damp tea towel and allow to rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour at room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Brush the surface of the dough with a thin layer of the egg wash and bake the bread until golden on the outside and just cooked through (approximately 30 minutes for loaves of bread). Remove from the loaf pan or baking sheet and allow to cool on a wire rack.