In the 1990’s, a Chinese woman named Yvonne Chen popularized a “flour paste” bread making method called tangzhong that she explains in length in her book, 65° Bread Doctor. To make the tangzhong, one part flour is mixed with five parts of liquid (by weight) and heated to 65°C to make a smooth paste. As she explains in the book (which is completely written in Chinese), it is at 65°C that the gluten in the flour and water mixture is able to absorb moisture. Thus, when the tangzhong is added to the other ingredients, it traps moisture and acts as a sort of leavener, producing a higher, softer loaf that stays that way for days.
The idea originated from the Japanese who have been using a similar method for years, as evidenced in their Hokkaido Milk Toast and other exceptional fluffy breads. But thanks to Ms. Chen, Asian bakeries – most notably in China and Taiwan – have adapted the tangzhong method with great success to make all sorts of breads that stay fresher for longer without using preservatives.
The bread recipe featured here is one that highlights the tangzhong method. The paste, which is made from glutinous rice flour and water, is unbelievably sticky; so sticky in fact, that I repeatedly resort to greasing my spatula and hands with vegetable oil. If you make this bread, don’t give up. The bread is well worth the effort and once you get past the kneading, the dough rises beautifully.
This bread using the tangzhong method is beyond magnificent. While baking, it fills the kitchen with an intoxicating scent and it’s exceptionally soft and stretchy thanks to the rice flour. It’s one of the best breads I’ve ever had the pleasure of baking (and eating). For maximum stretch effect, rip into the loaf while it’s still warm. Slather with butter or jam or eat as is.
Super Soft & Stretchy Bread
Adapted from a recipe on www.ladyandpups.com. Measurements are almost identical but I have dramatically changed procedure, wording, and technique.
Yield: 1 large loaf or 2 smaller loaves
1 1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon (150 grams) sticky (glutinous) rice flour
1 1/3 cup (315 grams) water
3 1/2 cups (485 grams) bread flour, plus more for dusting
3 large egg whites
1/4 cup (57 grams) granulated sugar
2 1/8 teaspoon (7 grams) instant dry yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 tablespoon (24 grams) unsalted butter, softened
Vegetable oil for greasing
Mix rice flour and water in a small pan over medium heat. Stir constantly with a rubber spatula until it comes together into a thick, smooth paste. Some lumps will form but continuous stirring will smoothen them out. Let sticky, pasty mixture cool until just warm to the touch.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, add the now-warm rice flour-water mixture, bread flour, egg whites, granulated sugar, yeast, and salt. Mix on low speed until the ingredients come together, stopping occasionally to scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl. Grease your rubber spatula with vegetable oil to facilitate scraping.
When ingredients have incorporated increase mixer speed to medium high and let mixer knead dough for about 5 minutes. The dough will come dangerously close to swallowing up the dough hook and rising up to hit the beater shaft but continue to stop and scrape before kneading again.
When dough has come together into a homogenous mass, scrape dough out from bowl onto a Silpat or similar nonstick mat. Knead in half of the butter and once it’s been incorporated, knead in the remainder of the butter. At this point, the dough will still be very, very sticky but resist all temptation to add no more than 2-3 tablespoons of flour. Too much flour will make a very dense, heavy loaf. Use more vegetable oil to grease your hands should the stickiness be overwhelming. Continue kneading the dough until it holds its shape and becomes smooth and slightly blistered. Total kneading time is approximately 15 minutes.
Place the dough in a lightly greased container – I use my KitchenAid bowl – and cover dough with a clean kitchen towel or plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm, draft-free place for 1.5 hours or until doubled.
Meanwhile, if baking one large loaf, line an 11x7 baking pan with parchment. If baking two loaves, parchment-line two 8.5 x 4.5-inch pans.
Turn the now-doubled dough out onto a lightly floured surface. If making one large loaf, divide the dough into 3 pieces, roll into long strips, and braid together. Place neatly into 11x7 baking pan. If making two loaves, divide dough into two then pat each dough half into a long rectangle. Fold the dough into thirds, similar to folding a business letter. At the short edge, tightly roll up the dough, fashioning it into the same size as your baking pan. Pinch the ends and the long seam to seal. Place the dough into the prepared baking pan tucking the ends under snugly. The dough will fill the pan about two-thirds full. Repeat with the remaining dough half. Cover pan(s) loosely with a clean kitchen towel or plastic wrap until fully doubled in bulk and rising about an inch or two over the rims of the pan(s), about 30 minutes to 1 hour depending on how warm it is in your kitchen.
Twenty minutes before baking, preheat oven to 350°F/180°C. Place the pan(s) on the center rack of the oven, cover loosely with parchment paper, and bake for 35-40 minutes. Bread is done when it is golden brown and the loaf/loaves sound hollow when tapped. I like to be super sure so I use an instant-read thermometer to check. An internal temperature of 195-210°F means the bread is baked.
Immediately transfer bread onto a cooling rack, and as soon as you can manage the heat, tear into the bread and enjoy.