Easy Baking

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 ()

Poolish:
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.

Note:

  • 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

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