Portuguese Milk Bread Buns (with an Asian twist)

Portuguese Milk Bread Buns (with an Asian twist)

TL;DR – here’s the recipe:

UPDATE – Additional notes for this recipe:

  1. Feel free to drop the sweetened condensed milk and add another 20ml of whole milk instead.
  2. If you’re using a bread maker, wet ingredients, including eggs and butter, go in first, then the dry ingredients (flour and sugar) on top, then make a small well in the middle and add the Japanese starter and yeast into the well. Use the dough program to mix and knead the ingredients, but note that this dough rises quickly, so you keep an eye on it as you will most likely need to turn the machine off before the dough program cycle is done and pull the very sticky dough out. Roll out onto well-floured surface and give it one more light need, just to add a little flour and even it out. Then cut and shape into buns and let those rise again before baking.

Portuguese milk bread (with Asian starter)

The floofiest milk bread buns known to Man.
Prep Time 30 mins
Cook Time 30 mins
Resting Time 2 hrs 30 mins
Total Time 3 hrs 30 mins
Course Bread
Cuisine Japanese, Portuguese
Servings 9 buns

Equipment

  • Baking pan/tin
  • Glass or plastic bowl

Ingredients
  

  • 1 starter Tangzhong (see instructions below)
  • 500 g bread flour (all-purpose flour, type 500/550 or 0 flour)
  • 150 g pastry flour (also known as cake flour, type 400 or 00 flour)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 40 g sweetened condensed milk (1 oz)
  • 250 ml whole milk (1 cup)
  • 25 g granulated sugar (2 tbsp)
  • 25 g brown sugar (2 tbsp)
  • 10 g salt (2 tsp)
  • 40 g European-style butter (3.5 tbsp)
  • 14 g dry yeast (2 packages or 4.5 tsp)
  • 1 egg wash (1 egg and 3 tbsp milk whisked together)

Instructions
 

  • Tangzhong (starter)
    Ingredients:
    6 tablespoons (90g) water
    6 tablespoons (90g) whole milk
    5 tablespoons (35g) flour
    Place all three ingredients in a pot and cook for a few minutes on medium (to low) heat, stirring consistently, until it turns into an even, runny paste. Let cool.
  • In a bowl or large measuring cup, combine the whole milk, sweetened condensed milk, butter, sugars, salt, and two eggs. In a separate bowl, combine the flour and dry yeast.
  • Once your tangzhong has cooled, add it to the bowl with flour and yeast. Slowly pour in the wet ingredients, bit by bit, as you fold in the flour and then continue to lightly stir. Use either a wooden spoon, if you prefer manual labor (which I sometimes do), or a mixer with dough attachment on slowest or second slowest setting.
    You want to work this dough ever so slowly and gently. Now is the time to consider all those who have recently wronged you, how you have recently wronged others, and what a fucking colossal mess the world is. Take your time.
    When you're done, the dough should have an even, silky finish and still be a little tacky but not sticky.
  • Get a clean bowl, line it with a thin film of vegetable oil or butter, then scrape the dough into that bowl. Cover with cling film or a barely moist cotton kitchen towel and LET SIT in a warm place for AT LEAST ONE HOUR.
    I cannot stress this part enough. Proper proofing is paramount to all yeast doughs. Can you make it happen faster? Sure, find a spot that's warmer, but not too hot. Or you can prepare the dough in the evening and let it slow proof overnight in the fridge, if you have room. Either way, until that dough nearly doubles in size, it isn't ready.
  • Once it has nearly doubled in size, gently lay it out onto a floured surface and knead it lightly with a little more flour. When it's even, cut into nine or twelve relatively equal pieces, roll gently into balls, and place in a rectangular or round baking/cake pan lined with a baking sheet.
  • LET SIT FOR ONE MORE HOUR OR MORE UNTIL THE BUNS DOUBLE IN SIZE. When they've doubled, whisk the egg and milk for the egg wash in a bowl, and brush plenty of it over the proofed buns.
  • Turn the oven down to 180°C (360°F) and place the baking tray into the oven. Depending on your oven, the buns will be done in 20 to 30 minutes, or when golden brown on top.
Keyword bread, milk bread

Full version (includes life story and baking tips):

I first took up baking to deal with stress. To work out issues I had either with myself or the people around me.

My paternal aunt, who was a temperamental but conservative and traditional wife of a retired army officer and WWII hero, once told me that baking was what kept her sane most days. She was also a phenomenal cook and cooked nearly every day, but claimed to dislike cooking. Cooking was a requirement. Baking was her art.

Just like stress and anger, dough needs to be worked slowly and meticulously. Releasing stress quickly and forcefully seldom works out well. Working through it, with care and attention, on the other hand, can yield marvelous results.

As of this week, our family of five officially entered its fourth week of social distancing and isolation. I’m fine. I have everything a girl could wish for and plenty more than I need. But I haven’t been dealing with the stress-induced rage I’ve been harboring. I’m a little pissed off with the world right about now. Fine, a lot pissed off. For so many reasons.

And, because pretty much everything and everyone is pissing me off, I decided to make a family favorite. And I decided to make it better. I highly recommend both the process and the end result.

Before we get to the recipe, note that it does require yeast. Preferably dry yeast, although fresh will work too. If you happen to not be a baker on the regular and are also, coincidentally, not a maniacal hoarder who picked up all of the yeast in every grocery store in a 20-mile radius, you have the option of making a yeast starter yourself, using just all-purpose flour and water.

Portuguese milk bread (Pão de leite)

I’ve changed the original recipe that I picked up while growing up in Portugal just a tad over the years. This time around, I made a major, even blasphemous change that I’ll be keeping because it worked out beautifully.

This big change was using the traditional Japanese starter (tangzhong). It takes minutes and the added fluffiness it contributes is well worth the time.

Pro tip: Preheat your oven to max temp a good 30 minutes before the dough is ready to go in. Fluffy cakes and pastries love a steaming hot oven.

Tangzhong

Ingredients:

6 tablespoons (90g) water
6 tablespoons (90g) whole milk
5 tablespoons (35g) flour

Place all three ingredients in a pot and cook for a few minutes on medium (to low) heat, stirring consistently, until it turns into an even, runny paste. Let cool.

Milk bread dough

Ingredients:

500g bread flour (also known as all-purpose flour, type 500/550 or 0 flour)

150g pastry flour (also known as cake flour, type 400 or 00 flour)

2 large eggs

150g sweetened condensed milk (4 oz)

250ml whole milk (1 cup)

25g granulated sugar (2 tbsp)

25g brown sugar (2 tbsp)

10g salt (2 tsp)

40g butter (3.5 tbsp)

14g active dry yeast (2 packages or 4.5 tsp)

1 egg and 3 tbsp milk for (egg wash)

In a bowl or large measuring cup, combine the whole milk, sweetened condensed milk, butter, sugars, salt and two eggs. In a separate bowl, combine the flour and dry yeast.

Once your tangzhong has cooled, add it to the bowl with flour and yeast. Slowly pour in the wet ingredients, bit by bit, as you fold in the flour and then continue to lightly stir. Use either a wooden spoon, if you prefer manual labor (which I sometimes do), or a mixer with dough attachment on slowest or second slowest setting.

You want to work this dough ever so slowly and gently. Now is the time to consider all those who have recently wronged you, how you have recently wronged others, and what a fucking colossal mess the world is. Take your time.

When you’re done, the dough should have an even, silky finish and still be a little tacky but not sticky.

To distinguish those two fickle descriptions frequently used in baking recipes, stick your index finger out and gently press the dough. If, when you have removed your finger, there is a big gunk of dough on it, that’s sticky. Add a little more flour and get back to working it until it’s right.

If there’s absolutely nothing on your finger and the dough didn’t cling to your skin in the slightest, that’s no good either. Add a little more milk and get back to work.

If, however, the dough is just a little sticky and leaves some specks of residue on your fingertips, you’ve nailed it.

Get a clean bowl, line it with a thin film of vegetable oil or butter, then scrape the dough into that bowl. Cover with cling film or a barely moist cotton kitchen towel and LET SIT in a warm place for AT LEAST ONE HOUR.

I cannot stress this part enough. Proper proofing is paramount to all yeast doughs. Can you make it happen faster? Sure, find a spot that’s warmer, but not too hot. Or you can prepare the dough in the evening and let it slow proof overnight in the fridge, if you have room. Either way, until that dough nearly doubles in size, it isn’t ready.

Once it has nearly doubled in size, gently lay it out onto a floured surface and knead it lightly with a little more flour. When it’s even, cut into nine or twelve relatively equal pieces, roll gently into balls, and place in a rectangular or round baking/cake pan lined with a baking sheet.

And now I’m going to yell at you in all caps again. LET SIT FOR ONE MORE HOUR OR MORE UNTIL THE BUNS DOUBLE IN SIZE. When they’ve doubled, whisk the egg and milk for the egg wash in a bowl, and brush plenty of it over the proofed buns.

Turn the oven down to 180°C (360°F) and place the baking tray into the oven. Depending on your oven, the buns will be done in 20 to 30 minutes, or when golden brown on top.

Now stay home and enjoy. And wash ya damn hands.

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