March: Making Milk Bread
Originally Posted on March 25,2020 in the Archive
This article was written before the COVID-19 pandemic began to spread aggressively within the United States. Please keep that in mind while reading.
Saturday morning came. It was the one day this week where I wouldn’t hate myself for heating up my kitchen with my oven for an hour making bread. Wisconsin is about to get its first taste of spring with some near 50 degree weather, and my second story apartment heats up like no one’s business the minute the weather gets over 35. I couldn’t start a Japanese cookbook in good conscience with anything but the milk bread recipe, especially when it is actually present in the book.
Milk Bread has hit its stride in the United States in the last few years, especially on the West Coast where the Japanese immigrant population is much more dense. I’ve heard of it, but I’ve never had it made by a professional. My stint on the East Coast was short, and we never made it to any kind of joint in the big cities where they might serve it. This will be my first taste of milk bread, and my first attempt at making a bread so reliant on dairy.
The strangest thing about it is starting out with a milk/water/bread flour roux that has to be heated to a boil and whisked until it becomes thick. This isn’t something I have done with any western bread recipe that I’ve tried over the last four years. Dairy comes into play for me in western breads mostly for flatbreads and that’s about it. I don’t pull out my whole milk for anything that’s going into a loaf pan-- until today.
This roux has to cool to room temperature before you can move on to the rest of the recipe, so there is a shocking amount of downtime early on before you even have to start proofing your dough. This was cleaning time for me. I’m the WORST at keeping up with my dishes, so while I waited for the roux to cool, I tackled the growing stack of pans I created making Katsu from Bon Appetit (more on that later).
A few clean pans later, and I began combining the rest of the ingredients in the bowl for my stand mixer. I couldn’t find buckwheat flour, but the recipe in this cookbook is flexible enough to allow any ‘heritage’ grain such as rye, so my rye flour was finally used. The dough pulls together super easy, and you just let it go in the standmixer for about ten minutes until its a nice, smooth consistency.
The dough goes through two different proofing sessions, first in a bowl and then in the loaf pan. Prior to putting it in the loaf pan, you split your dough, ROLL IT, and then fold the two sections separately into logs. Those logs are laid in opposite sides of your loaf pan, and then proofed again. I forgot to brush the top with milk before baking it, so I brushed it halfway through. This might be enough of a problem that I’ll make myself do the recipe again to see if it mattered.
Spoiler alert: It definitely mattered. I made this bread again several times over the course of March and found that the majority of my problem was because i did not allow my stand mixer to knead the dough for a long enough amount of time to allow for elasticity within the dough so that the yeast could do its work. Every attempt afterwards came out much better.
This recipe has become one of my favorite project bakes for the weekend since I don't have to have my oven up at ungodly temperatures to come out with a good loaf of bread. I would honestly recommend this book if only for the Milk Bread Recipe. I love it so much. We use it for sandwiches and egg in a basket, and I imagine it would turn into some great breadcrumbs when it goes stale. I can only hope to have milk bread made by a professional one day.
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