Japanese Milk Bread is possibly the best version of soft white bread! With a milky-sweet taste and pillowy softness, shokupan is enjoyed daily in Japan as breakfast toast and in sandwiches. Here‘s the perfect milk bread recipe in two styles: rounded top and flat top.
Growing up in Japan, I ate Japanese milk bread, or what we call shokupan (食パン), as a staple for breakfast. The square-shaped white bread is incredibly soft, fluffy, and moist, even after toasting! These days, you can find shokupan at Japanese or Asian bakeries and markets. I’m here to tell you that there’s nothing like homemade shokupan!
This recipe makes a delicious loaf. I’ve given this bread to my Japanese and non-Japanese friends, who all highly approve of the results. I hope you will, too.
Before I begin, I’d like to inform you: This blog post and my recipe are long, but for good reasons. It is easy for the beginner home baker to follow along, and you’ll find all the tips to make the best shokupan.
Precision is required for a successful outcome. Those few grams of liquid or dry ingredients do make a difference. You may need to buy some special kitchen and baking tools you do not have yet for this recipe. I’m confident you’ll fall in love with this bread as I have and find these tools worth purchasing. You may make this bread monthly, if not weekly, like me!
Table of Contents
- What is Japanese Milk Bread?
- My Past Disappointment and Mistakes
- Where to Buy the Right Japanese Loaf Pan
- How to Make Japanese Milk Bread
- Four Important Tips to Remember
- Storing Japanese Milk Bread
- How to Slice Japanese Milk Bread
- Best Ways to Enjoy Japanese Milk Bread
- Expert’s Tip: The Desired Dough Temperature (DDT)
- Baking in Summertime
- Variations of Japanese Milk Bread
What is Japanese Milk Bread?
Shokupan (食パン), or simply Japanese milk bread, is the Japanese version of sandwich bread or Pullman loaf.
The characteristics of this bread are its delicate texture and subtly sweet taste. It has an exterior golden crust and an interior white crumb that’s light as a cloud and fluffy as cotton! It’s the most tender and moist bread you’ll find.
While I’ve seen Japanese milk bread, also called Hokkaido milk bread, the Japanese do not use either of these names and simply call it shokupan, which translates to “eating bread.”
What Does Shokupan Taste Like?
Over the decades, Japanese bakers modified the Pullman loaf to appeal to the Japanese palate. As a result, shokupan is at once slightly sweet, buttery, and milky. This delicate balance comes from simple ingredients like white flour, yeast, milk powder, butter, salt, and sugar.
How Is Shokupan Different?
Shokupan is distinct from other types of bread in its texture, flavor, shape, and slice thickness. With its higher fat content, shokupan is a richer product than traditional white bread.
You’ll instantly recognize shokupan by its distinctive square or rectangular block shape. Typically cut into thick slices, its flavor and texture are well suited for anything from breakfast toast to Japanese-style sandwiches.
Does Shokupan Taste Like Brioche?
While shokupan and brioche are soft and buttery, they are different. Brioche is a much richer bread than Japanese milk bread. It uses a lot more butter than shokupan dough, giving brioche a sweeter and more buttery taste. Brioche is also made with eggs. This helps give brioche its signature golden color and a denser, chewier texture than shokupan.
Two Types of Shokupan
There are two types of shokupan:
- a flat-topped loaf called kakugata shokupan (角型食パン), kaku shokupan (角食パン), or kaku shoku (角食; mainly in Hokkaido); and
- a round-topped loaf called yamagata shokupan (山型食パン), yama shokupan (山食パン), or yama shoku (山食; in Hokkaido).
The round-topped loaf is baked without a lid, which allows it to stretch upward and have a light and soft texture. On the other hand, the flat-topped loaf is baked with a lid, so the evaporation of water is minimal; it has a moist and chewy texture.
History of Shokupan
Bread was first introduced to Japan in 1543 by the Portuguese (hence, we call it pan, derived from the Portuguese word pão). However, it wasn’t consumed regularly by the Japanese for centuries.
When Japan underwent modernization in the early Meiji era of the late 1800s, British round-topped white bread (イギリスパン) was first introduced during that time. This bread was called honshoku pan (本食パン), literally meaning “staple food bread,” and was consumed mainly by foreigners. Bakeries started to open in Yokohama (my hometown!) and Kobe, where most foreigners resided.
After World War II, the American Resident Army introduced a flat-topped square loaf. The loaf was cut into eight slices and made into sandwiches for stationed soldiers. Japanese bakers gradually adapted this bread to suit Japanese tastes, and shokupan was born. Since then, shokupan has been a big part of Japanese food culture.
My Past Disappointment and Mistakes
I want to share some mistakes from my early shokupan making in case some of you have had or will have similar disappointments.
When I made my first shokupan almost a decade ago, I was so disappointed when my bread came out tiny compared to a regular Japanese loaf! I was using a regular American Pullman loaf pan to make shokupan. Even though the pan size difference seems insignificant, it does affect the outcome of the bread.
You can see the contrast of the end results below. I made two loaves here—one with the regular Western-style loaf pan and the other with the Japanese loaf pan I’m using now. The square and dotted lines show the area we use for Japanese-style sandwiches.
As you can see, a slice from the regular loaf pan is so tiny that I could barely make Japanese-style sandwiches with it!
Looking for the right size, I went a bit crazy. I purchased four more loaf pans! I even brought back 1.5 kin Tiger Crown loaf pans from Japan. Unfortunately, none were even close to the authentic shokupan size. Please note that there is no standard for loaf pan sizes in Japan, and every company makes their shokupan mold a different size.
But then, several years ago, my luck changed! That’s when Asai Shoten (浅井商店), the famous kitchen equipment company in Kappabashi, Tokyo, introduced its own line of “Ideal Shokupan Molds (理想の食パン型).” These pans make bread loaves close in size to the shokupan sold in bakeries and supermarkets in Japan.
The bread I baked with her was the best shokupan I ever made. It was unbelievable. Her recipe is similar to those I’ve tried, but the techniques she taught me made such a huge difference!
During my first class with Mariko, I learned two mistakes that I had made early on:
- The KitchenAid Professional Series stand mixer with a spiral hook was wrong. I tried and failed many times to make a loaf of shokupan with this machine. The bowl is too wide on the bottom, and the wet dough doesn’t engage the spiral hook. Last year, I bought a KitchenAid Artisan Series stand mixer (325 watts), and this is the perfect tool for making a loaf of shokupan. Note: You can succeed with a Professional Series stand mixer IF you double the rectangular loaf recipe since there’s enough dough to engage the spiral hook.
- Speed 2 on KitchenAid is the wrong speed. The KitchenAid instruction manual recommends Speed 2 for kneading, but reaching the right dough texture takes forever. Shokupan dough requires more aggressive kneading to develop gluten. Mariko taught me to use Speed 4 and 6. It was a total game-changer.
I also learned that advanced knowledge and the proper techniques make a huge difference in the quality of your bread.
This is where Mariko comes in. As an experienced bread-making teacher, she can provide detailed insight on how to improve your outcome. I’ve taken Mariko’s class twice so far, and I feel like I learned new things in each lesson.
Trust me that you can make pretty good bread following my written recipe below, but with Mariko’s guidance, you can improve your techniques even further. It’s the little things you do that will improve the texture and flavor of your bread.
Where to Buy the Right Japanese Loaf Pan
If you don’t mind that your Japanese milk bread is not a standard Japanese shokupan size, get this loaf pan with a lid (4.2 in. x 7.7 in. x 4.4 in.) on Amazon. You can follow my rectangular loaf recipe precisely if you use this size.
But if you want to make true shokupan at home, then you have to get this 1.5 kin loaf pan (4.7 in. x 7.8 in. x 5.1 in.) and/or this 1 kin loaf pan (4.7 in. x 5.3 in. x 5.1 in.) from Asai Shoten (浅井商店) in Japan.
The loaf size in Japan is measured in “kin (斤),” an old Japanese unit for measuring bread weight. The British-style round-topped bread was 1 pound (450 g) back then and was called “1 kin.”
How do you get a loaf pan shipped to your home from Japan? I have written an extensive post about Japanese loaf pans and how to order them from Japan.
Tools You Need for Shokupan
If you’ve never baked bread, you may need some new tools. However, these are essential tools that you can use for making any type of bread, and they can be valuable additions to your kitchen.
- A Pullman loaf pan—I use a rectangular loaf pan (4.7 in. x 7.8 in. x 5.1 in.) and a square loaf pan (4.7 in. x 5.3 in. x 5.1 in.)
- KitchenAid Artisan Series (5 QT, 325 watts; I do not recommend the bowl-lift Professional Series with a spiral hook unless you double the rectangular loaf recipe)
- C-dough hook
- Digital kitchen scale* (I use this and LOVE it after trying three other brands)
- Large bowl
- Dough scraper (I use this)
- Rolling pin (I use this)
- Mister (for round-topped loaf)
- Wire rack
- Bread knife (I use this)
*Precise measurement is vital for this recipe; therefore, please weigh your ingredients with a kitchen scale. I strongly discourage using a cup or volume measurement.
From Your Kitchen
- Tea towel
- Plastic wrap
How to Make Japanese Milk Bread
You can make shokupan with straightforward ingredients and procedures. However, you need time, proper skill, and an understanding of yeast bread. To be completely transparent with you, I’m still learning and may not know all the answers. So again, I encourage you to take Mariko‘s bread-making classes!
Ingredients You’ll Need
(Baker’s percentages are in parentheses)
- Warm water (71%): 104ºF or 40ºC
- Sugar (6%): I use organic cane sugar from Costco
- Instant yeast (2%): I use Fleischmann’s® bread machine yeast or RapidRise® instant yeast
- Kosher salt (2%)
- Honey (3%): I use multi-floral and clover honey from Trader Joe’s, but you can use other types
- Bread flour (100%): I use King Arthur bread flour, which is 12.7% protein–a whole point higher than other US brands
- Skim milk powder or nonfat dry milk powder (6%): Skim and nonfat dry milk differ. Skim milk powder has 34% protein, while nonfat dry milk powder has 18%. In Japan, shokupan is made with skim milk powder. Here in the US, you can only find nonfat dry milk powder, and I’ve been using Bob’s Red Mill’s to make shokupan.
- Unsalted butter (7%): I use Kerrygold. Please DO NOT use salted butter
- To substitute active dry yeast for instant yeast: Some online resources say to use the exact same amount as instant dry, while others say to use 25% more active dry. So please give it a try and adjust. Proof active yeast by dissolving it in a portion of the warm water (105º-110ºF or 41-43ºC) from the recipe before adding to the rest of the ingredients.
- Use the following yeasts interchangeably: Instant yeast = RapidRise® yeast = quick-rise yeast = bread machine yeast.
- Can I substitute bread flour with all-purpose flour? Please do not substitute if you want to make a proper shokupan. For the dough to rise high enough, you will need more protein in bread flour.
- Vegan milk powder option: I haven’t tried alternatives, but Mariko tried coconut milk powder, which worked. Avoid soy milk powder, as the dough does not rise well.
- Vegan butter option: Please use unsalted vegan butter such as Miyoko’s.
Overview: Bread-Making Steps
Total time: 3 hours and 35 minutes (+ cooling) / Active time: 1 hour and 10 minutes
- Measure the ingredients: 10 minutes (+ 10 minutes for the yeast to bloom)
- Knead the ingredients: 15 minutes
- The first rise (bulk fermentation): 40 minutes
- Divide and roll the dough: 15 minutes
- Bench rest: 15 minutes
- Shape the dough: 20 minutes
- The final rise (proofing): 60 minutes
- Bake: 30 minutes
- Cool: 3 hours
Four Important Tips to Remember
1. Create a Warm Environment for Your Dough
The optimal temperature for fermenting and proofing bread dough is 86-95°F (30-35°C) degrees. Living in San Francisco, where it’s relatively cool all year (60-65ºF degrees), I had a challenging time with dough proofing until I got a new oven with a proof set. However, you can successfully proof your dough without a special oven setting.
To create a warm environment, place a baking pan or dish of boiling water on the oven’s lower rack and place the dough bowl on the upper rack. With the door closed, the oven stays warm and humid. Sometimes, it gets nice and warm, even with the light on.
Dough proofed at temperatures lower than 86ºF (30°C) will take longer to ferment or go dormant. The yeast will expand more quickly at higher temperatures than the gluten structure. If this happens, it won’t be able to keep up with fermentation, and the air bubbles will collapse.
Also, avoid placing your dough in direct sunlight in the summertime as it gets too hot and develops a crust, even though it may seem like a warm location for proofing.
2. Use the Windowpane Test
The more you knead the dough, the stretchier it gets. But how do you know when to stop kneading? That’s where the windowpane test comes in handy. It’s a helpful way to check the elasticity of the dough, and here’s how to do it:
- Pull off a small bit of dough. Gently stretch it into a square with your fingers.
- Keep on stretching until it becomes a thin film in the middle.
- Check to see that:
- it’s a super-thin membrane
- light can pass through
- there’s no tearing.
- If you’ve got all 3 points, the dough passes the windowpane test!
Now you know your dough is kneaded correctly and the gluten is well developed. Dough with the proper elasticity can hold gases in while it rises and stretches even more as it expands.
3. Create a Smooth and Taut Surface
When you roll and shape the dough, try to create a smooth, slightly taut skin on the outside (see below).
When you have smooth, taut skin, the carbon dioxide generated during fermentation will not escape. As a result, the bread becomes plump and voluminous, and the baked shape is beautifully finished.
Try one of these two methods for creating a smooth, taut dough ball:
- Place the dough on a non-floured surface. Place both hands behind the dough and drag the dough ball along the surface toward your body. The bottom of the dough sticks to the dry surface, creating tension and tightening the ball. Keep the dough ball upright, and don’t allow the top of the dough to roll over as you pull (see this video). Rotate the ball a quarter turn and perform another gentle drag toward your body. Continue rotating and dragging a few more times until the dough is sufficiently taut and uniformly round.
- Using both hands, gently pull the sides of the dough to create tension on the outside and tuck the ends underneath the ball.
4. Gently handle the dough as if it is a baby!
Always handle the dough with slow, gentle movements.
Be careful not to cause unnecessary stress to the dough. You will damage it if you pull or tear the dough while you divide, roll, and shape the dough. With your gentle care, your bread will be even more delicious.
Storing Japanese Milk Bread
Let’s check out the different ways to store your baked and completely cooled shokupan:
- At room temperature: This is the best storage method if you consume the bread within 1-2 days. Put your loaf in this plastic bag and keep it in a cool place out of direct sunlight. I usually cut slices off the loaf as needed. On warm days, consume it within a day or store it in the freezer (make sure to slice first before freezing).
- In the freezer: If you can’t consume your bread within a day or two, freezing is the best choice. The bread can stay fresh for up to 2 weeks. Cut the loaf into slices before freezing. It’s typically recommended to wrap the individual slices in plastic wrap to avoid odor absorption and freezer burn; however, I try to minimize plastic use, so I do not individually wrap in plastic. It’s best to enjoy it soon.
- In the refrigerator: The cold air dries the bread; hence, refrigeration is not the best method.
How to Slice Japanese Milk Bread
It’s essential to wait until the bread is completely cooled before slicing. Otherwise, the bread will be too soft and difficult to slice neatly.
I use a Nagomi Japan bread knife, and it is incredible how easily I can slice bread without a struggle!
If you’d like to know the precise thickness of toast and sandwiches in Japan, the standard square milk bread, or 1 kin shokupan, is sliced into the following thicknesses:
- 4 slices — 3 cm (for toast)
- 5 slices — 2.4 cm (for toast)
- 6 slices — 2 cm (for toast)
- 8 slices — 1.5 cm (for toast and sandwiches)
- 10 slices — 1.2 cm (for sandwiches)
- 12 slices — 1 cm (for sandwiches)
No, I don’t follow these rules, and my slices are often uneven!
Best Ways to Enjoy Japanese Milk Bread
- Simple toast: Score the shokupan slice in a pattern (see above) and toast it. Then, place a pat of butter on top! If your bread is frozen, mist some water on the slice and toast it in a preheated oven.
- Ogura Toast: This is Nagoya’s specialty breakfast. Toast a slice of shokupan and top with butter, red bean paste, and whipped cream! YUM!
- Sandwiches: Katsu Sando, Tamago Sando (egg sandwich), Wanpaku Sando, and Fruit Sando.
How long does it take for the bread to rise?
It depends. Different factors can affect the proofing time of your bread, such as:
- the temperature and humidity of your kitchen
- the freshness of your yeast
- the water temperature.
In a warm kitchen, your dough may proof in 40-60 minutes, while it can take 2-3 hours in a cold kitchen. It’s essential to create a nice, toasty environment for your dough to rise.
How do I get the dough to rise faster?
Find a good spot where it’s nice and warm. Heat rises, so some people proof their dough on top of a running dryer machine or top of the refrigerator.
My recommendation is to use an oven. Place a baking pan/dish of boiling water on a lower rack and place the bowl with dough on an upper rack. Sometimes, it gets nice and warm, even with just the light on. You can also use a microwave and place a dish of boiling water inside the microwave.
Why is my dough not rising?
Possibly out of these reasons:
- Your yeast was old. (This has happened to me before!) Yeast is a microorganism, and it goes bad. Don’t waste the rest of your ingredients because of old yeast. Get brand-new yeast (and make sure it’s a good batch from the store!)
- Hot water killed the yeast. Read the instructions on your yeast package. Generally, the warm water temperature should be between 105ºF (40ºC) and 115ºF (46ºC) degrees.
- Too much salt/sugar/flour. Did you measure your ingredients with a kitchen scale?
- The dough was too dry. Did you cover the dough with plastic wrap? If you used a damp towel, did it dry up? The dough should be moist and elastic during proofing. Be careful not to develop a crust on the dough’s surface to prevent it from rising further.
- The dough was too cold. The yeast is most active at around 86-95°F (30-35°C) degrees. See my recommendation above to create a warm environment for the dough.
Can I leave my dough to rise overnight?
The short answer is yes you can. However, I highly do not recommend keeping your dough overnight (12-18 hours) in the refrigerator, especially if you are not an experienced bread maker.
As I consider myself a not-so-experienced bread maker, I am sorry that I won’t be able to troubleshoot your situation if you have issues with overnight bulk fermentation.
If you are going to do overnight bulk fermentation (the first rise), here are some factors to consider:
- The amount of yeast — You must reduce the amount, but it’s unclear by how much. Some recipes suggest using 1/3 of the amount of yeast called for in the original recipe.
- The initial bulk fermentation — How long do you leave your dough for the first rise before putting it in the refrigerator? It depends on the temperature, but it should be 20-30 minutes.
- The refrigerator temperature — Ideally 39ºF (4ºC).
- Experienced eyes — You need to monitor the progress of your dough and determine what to do based on the condition of the dough.
When you resume your bread-making, allow the dough to return to a temperature of 68ºF (20ºC) degrees or higher, which may take up to an hour. Punch it down and divide the dough to continue. You must use the dough within 24 hours since you start making the dough.
What do you think of the yudane (tangzhong) method?
Both yudane and tangzhong are methods of precooking a small portion of the dough by cooking or scalding. Cooking the flour causes the starch to gelatinize, making the bread’s texture chewy (we call it mochi-mochi texture) compared to regular shokupan. Furthermore, the bread stays fresher and moister for longer due to a higher moisture content. However, the dough is stickier and harder to knead, and it is known that the dough does not rise as high as in a regular shokupan recipe.
Most Japanese milk bread recipes in English use the yudane or tangzhong method, so it may seem like that’s how you have to make shokupan. However, it’s not a classic shokupan recipe used by bakeries and home bakers. It’s simply just another way of making shokupan.
To be 100% honest, I love how easy and perfect this recipe is. I don’t feel the need to use the yudane or tangzhong method to achieve the best results. With the recipe that I’m sharing here, I can be spontaneous and finish making a fantastic shokupan in 3.5 hours from start to finish. I love that part and make at least one to two shokupan weekly. The yudane or tangzhong method doesn’t fit my lifestyle as a busy working mom.
Can I knead the dough with my hands?
The dough for shokupan is very wet and sticky compared to regular bread dough. You may feel doubtful, but you must trust that it will work if you continue to knead more. Moreover, kneading this type of dough by hand requires a lot of armwork. For these reasons, shokupan dough is more suitable for kneading with a stand mixer. I shared the helpful link in the recipe card.
Why does my loaf have a coarse crumb?
Does your shokupan look like the following picture?
- The crumb (interior texture) is coarse and looks like a kitchen sponge.
- It is dense and not fluffy.
- It has a strong yeast smell.
- It did not rise tall at the proof (second rise).
The chances are:
- You over-proofed the dough during bulk fermentation (the first rise). It’s important to check your dough’s progress during this step. Sometimes, the kitchen is too warm for the dough (especially in the summertime), and it rises too fast before you realize it.
- Your dough temperature was too high. The dough temperature increases as you knead aggressively for a period of time. This means you must put all factors into the calculation to keep the dough within an ideal temperature range. For example, using cooler water when baking bread in hot weather can make a big difference. If you use warm water to start, the dough temperature may exceed the ideal temperature during kneading. The high temperature could potentially kill or weaken the yeast. You can also refrigerate the flour, mixing bowls, and dough hook. Read the next section for more details about the desired dough temperature.
- You over-kneaded the dough. This is tricky to assess as you are supposed to knead the dough aggressively to achieve a pillowy and soft crumb for shokupan. When the dough starts to look smooth and shiny, do the windowpane test to check if the dough is firm enough to stretch to a super-thin membrane without tearing. When your dough passes the test, stop kneading. If you miss this stage, you will break the gluten strands and continue kneading. The dough becomes gooey and taffy-like and will lose its strength and structure.
Expert’s Tip: The Desired Dough Temperature (DDT)
The dough’s temperature affects the fermentation rate and, in turn, the flavor and texture of the finished product. When the season changes, the temperature in your kitchen also changes. Even if you’re doing everything the same, the temperature difference could affect the result of your bread.
Therefore, the key to achieving consistently great results in your bread baking is to bring your dough to the desired dough temperature (DDT), no matter what season or kitchen condition you are in. At professional bakeries, measuring the temperature of the ingredients is as important as weighing the ingredients. The DDT varies depending on the type of bread.
For shokupan, the DDT range at the end of kneading is 79-82ºF (26-28ºC).
Maintaining the temperature range will produce the best flavor and rise in your shokupan. The yeast activity slows at around 113ºF (45°C) and dies when the temperature rises above 140ºF (60°C).
Professional bakers use a simple mathematical formula to calculate the temperature of the one variable they can control: the water. Because water accounts for a large proportion of the ingredients in making shokupan, having the right water temperature to start is the most important factor in bringing the dough to the DDT. The formula is:
(DDT x 3*) – room temperature – flour temperature – friction factor** = water temperature
Examples at my kitchen in San Francisco:
- Summer in ºF: (80 x 3*) – 72 – 70 – 14** = 84ºF (29ºC)
- Winter in ºF: (80 x 3) – 65 – 70 – 14 = 91ºF (33ºC)
- Summer in ºC: (27 x 3) – 22 – 21 – 8** = 30ºC (86ºF)
- Winter in ºC: (27 x 3) – 18 – 21 – 8 = 34ºC (93ºF)
*The number of variable temperatures (room, flour, and friction) other than water temperature that affect dough temperature
**The friction factor in baking represents the heat transferred to bread dough during mixing and kneading. Friction can raise the temperature of your dough significantly, so it needs to be considered when making dough temperature calculations. The amount of heat generated by the specific mixing method varies.
- For stand mixer kneading, use a temperature between 11ºF and 18ºF (6°C-10°C) – I used 14ºF (8ºC) as the friction factor.
- Use a temperature between 0ºF and 9ºF (0°C-5°C) for hand kneading.
I used the professional bakers’ friction factor for shokupan, which I found on multiple Japanese resources. The range was given because it varies depending on the machine, the temperature of your palm, and the amount of time you knead. For a temperature difference conversion, you multiply ºC by 1.8 (9/5) to get ºF, or you multiply ºF by 0.55 (5/9) to get ºC. Thus, a mixer friction factor of 14°F is equivalent to 8°C, not -10°C.
How to Troubleshoot
- If the dough temperature is lower than DDT: Let the dough rise for a little longer than the time specified in the recipe in a warm place.
- If the dough temperature is higher than DDT: You can either let the dough rise in a cool place for a short time or lower the dough temperature by putting it in the refrigerator for about 1-2 minutes, then taking it out and re-rolling it so that the temperature of the dough is uniform. When the dough temperature is high, it is easy to over-proof, resulting in bad flavor and fast deterioration.
Baking in Summertime
When you bake in hot summer weather, you must ensure the dough will not over-proof. The bread will have a good smell, taste, and texture when the dough rises properly. When the dough over-rise, it will not yield tasty bread.
Here are five ways to prevent the DDT (Desired Dough Temperature) from rising too high on a hot summer day.
- Reduce the room temperature (use air conditioning to keep the room temperature cool).
- Use cold water, and possibly use less water if humidity is high.
- Refrigerate flour before using.
- Refrigerate baking tools (stand mixer bowl, etc).
- Reduce the amount of yeast just slightly.
Readers’ Japanese Milk Bread (Shokupan)
Japanese Milk Bread (Shokupan) was the challenge recipe for JOC Cooking Challenge June/July 2022. Check out the beautiful shokupan created by JOC readers!
Variations of Japanese Milk Bread
Japanese Milk Bread (Shokupan)
For 1 Rectangular Shokupan Loaf (1.5 kin (斤) size)
- 250 g warm water (104ºF, 40ºC; in the summertime when the kitchen is warm, use room temp or cold water; read about desired dough temperature in my blog post)
- 20 g sugar
- 7 g Diamond Crystal kosher salt
- 10 g honey
- 7 g instant yeast (I use Fleischmann’s® bread machine yeast; 1 packet (all types) weighs 7 g; use every last granule in the packet; DO NOT use old yeast that‘s more than 6 months old; to substitute active dry yeast, use the same amount or up to 25% more active dry and proof it first in the warm water from the recipe)
- 350 g bread flour (King Arthur)
- 20 g skim milk powder or nonfat dry milk powder (Bob’s Red Mill; for vegan, use coconut milk powder; avoid soy milk powder as the dough does not rise well)
- 25 g unsalted butter (room temperature; for vegan, use Miyoko’s)
- ½ tsp neutral oil (for greasing the bowl)
- 10 g unsalted butter (room temperature; for greasing the pan; or use cooking oil spray)
Before You Start
- Shokupan Loaf Pans: The rectangular loaf pan is 4.7 x 7.8 x 5.1 in. (12 x 20 x 13 cm) and can hold 3100 ml. The square loaf pan is 4.7 x 5.3 x 5.1 in. (12 × 13.5 × 13 cm) and can hold 2070 ml. I have written an extensive post about Japanese loaf pans and how to order them from Japan. If you‘re not particular about the size and shape, you can use this 1 lb loaf pan on Amazon and follow the recipe for the rectangular loaf.
- Stand Mixer: Please note that my instructions below are for a KitchenAid 5-QT Artisan Series stand mixer (325 watts). If you‘re using a KitchenAid Classic Series mixer, do not double the recipe as the 275-watt motor is not strong enough. If you‘re using a KitchenAid Professional Series mixer with a spiral hook, you must double the rectangular loaf recipe to succeed, as there won‘t be enough dough to engage the hook otherwise. With twice the dough, you must knead 1.5 times longer at each step (as noted in the instructions). If you have a different brand of stand mixer, follow my steps the best you can to achieve a dough with the correct texture that passes the windowpane test. Please see the blog post for more details.
- Hand Kneading: I hope this video is helpful for the kneading technique to use.
- Oven Rack: Set the oven rack to a lower position where the top edge of your loaf pan is 6 to 7 inches (15–18 cm) away from the top heating element. This will allow enough space for the bread to rise during baking, especially if you plan to make a round-topped milk bread. Don’t get closer than 6 inches or the top may brown too fast.
- To Create a Warm Environment for Bulk Fermentation: If your oven has a Proof setting, turn it to 100ºF (38ºC). Otherwise, place small baking dishes of boiling water on the lower-middle rack at the four corners. Then, place your dough in a bowl in the center of the rack and close the door. The steam and heat from the boiling water will create a warm environment for bulk fermentation. You can also proof bread dough with an Instant Pot using the Yogurt function on Low or the temperature setting. During the summer when humidity is high, you may not need to create a special environment.
To Make the Dough
- Gather all the ingredients. Precise measurement is extremely important for this recipe; therefore, please weigh your ingredients with a digital kitchen scale. I strongly discourage measuring by volume. Now, cut the butter into small cubes; I used a pair of kitchen shears. For 1 rectangular loaf, use 25 g unsalted butter. (For 1 square loaf, use 17 g unsalted butter.)
- In a large bowl, combine the warm water, sugar, salt, and honey: For 1 rectangular loaf, combine 250 g warm water, 20 g sugar, 7 g Diamond Crystal kosher salt, and 10 g honey. (For 1 square loaf, combine 167 g warm water, 14 g sugar, 4.5 g Diamond Crystal kosher salt, and 7 g honey.) Mix well together. Then, add the yeast: For 1 rectangular loaf, add 7 g instant yeast. (For 1 square loaf, add 4.7 g instant yeast.) Whisk it all together and set aside in a warm place for 10 minutes. You want to see bubbly foam on the surface. Tip: If you don’t see any, maybe your yeast is old or the environment is not warm enough; wait another 5 minutes to see if any bubbles develop.
- Meanwhile, combine the bread flour and skim or nonfat dry milk powder in a stand mixer bowl: For 1 rectangular loaf, combine 350 g bread flour and 20 g skim milk powder or nonfat dry milk powder. (For 1 square loaf, combine 235 g bread flour and 14 g skim milk powder or nonfat dry milk powder.) Mix it together and make a well in the middle of the flour mixture.
- Once you confirm the foamy surface on the yeast mixture, pour it into the well of the flour mixture, scraping every bit of the liquid with a silicone spatula or dough scraper. Then, mix it until combined. Keep this yeast mixture bowl, as you’ll be putting the dough ball in it later.
To Knead the Dough in the Stand Mixer
- Warning: KitchenAid does not recommend kneading dough at settings higher than Speed 2. However, we can’t achieve a perfect texture without kneading aggressively. Hold your stand mixer down with your hand(s) when you’re kneading at Speed 6, and keep an eye on it at all times. Do not walk away. Don’t take this warning lightly, as my instructor’s mixer fell off the countertop onto the kitchen floor twice when she stepped away for just a few seconds. Please use it at your own discretion.
- Set up the stand mixer with a dough hook attachment. Knead the dough on Speed 2 for 2 minutes (or 3 minutes if making double the rectangular loaf recipe using the Artisan or Professional series mixer). This is just to get started. The ingredients should be well combined after this step.
- Next, increase the speed and knead the dough on Speed 4 for 4 minutes (6 minutes for double). After 4 (or 6–8) minutes, stop the mixer. The dough will be smoother than before, yet it should still look a bit rough and bumpy.
- Add the butter cubes to the dough. Knead the dough again on Speed 2 for 2 minutes (3 minutes for double), or until you can no longer see any streaks of butter.
- Then, knead the dough on Speed 4 for 4 minutes (6 minutes for double). While spinning, the dough will stretch and elongate (see the photo below).
- Stop the mixer and check the texture of the dough. It should be smoother, shinier, softer, and thinner when it’s stretched. At this stage, the dough is still attached to the bottom of the mixer bowl.
- Now, knead the dough on Speed 6 for 3 minutes (4½ minutes for double). From here, you MUST hold down your stand mixer with your hand(s) since the machine will shake and move, and it could possibly fall off the countertop.
- The dough will start pulling away from the bottom of the bowl and eventually become a solid ball shape. The mixer will shake and wobble as the dough bangs around the sides of the bowl. Again, hold your stand mixer to keep it from falling and monitor it at all times.
- Japanese milk bread requires aggressive kneading to get that soft, tender texture. The goal here is to develop the gluten (elasticity) by lengthening and stretching the gluten strands in the dough.
- After kneading on Speed 6, stop the mixer. The dough should look really shiny, silky, soft, and smooth (not sticky). When you lift the dough hook, it should pick up all the dough in one piece, separating easily from the bottom of the bowl. Tip: If the dough becomes slack and gooey, you‘ve kneaded for too long.
The Windowpane Test
- Now, it’s time for the windowpane test. Either pull on a part of the dough or tear off a small piece. Hold the dough in both hands and gently pull it into a square with your fingers. It should be very elastic, smooth, and shiny. If it‘s strong enough to stretch to a super-thin membrane without tearing and light can pass through the center, your dough passes the test. If it doesn’t stretch or it tears too easily, knead it again on Speed 6 for 2–3 minutes and test again.
- To check the dough temperature, insert an instant-read thermometer into the center of the dough. It should be 79–82ºF (26–28ºC) and not lower or higher than this temperature. Yeast is most active at 82–95ºF (28–35ºC) during bulk fermentation. Tip: If your dough temperature is higher than 82ºF (28ºC), let the dough slowly rise for the First Rise (Bulk Fermentation), instead of putting it in a Proof setting (100ºF/38ºC) or placing it in a warm place. This will help prevent overproofing.
To Slam and Fold
- Once your dough passed the windowpane test, lightly dust the work surface and your hands with flour to prevent sticking. Scrape the dough from the bowl with the silicone spatula or dough scraper and place it on the work surface. From this point, make sure to keep one smooth surface on your dough ball at all times. My nice smooth surface is currently on the bottom of the dough.
- Now, pick up the dough ball, keeping the smooth side up. Then, slam the smooth side onto the work surface. Bang!
- Then, hold one edge of the dough with your fingers in the 12 o’clock position and fold it over to the other side at the 6 o’clock position, revealing the smooth surface. Now, pick up the dough with the smooth side up.
- Once again, slam the smooth surface of the dough onto the work surface. Bang! Now, pick up the edge of the dough at the 9 o’clock position and fold it over to the opposite side at the 3 o’clock position, revealing the smooth surface. Again, pick up the dough with the smooth side up.
- Repeat this “slam and fold“ process 5 times in total. After you slam the dough for the final time, leave the dough on the work surface temporarily, and don‘t fold it over yet.
- Take the bowl that you mixed the yeast in and thinly coat it with ½ tsp neutral oil. Wipe off any excess oil from the bowl and your fingers with a paper towel. We do not want a pool of oil in the bowl.
- Finally, go back to the dough and fold it over one last time. Pick it up and pull the edges of the dough from all sides to create a smooth, taut skin. Tuck and pinch the edges underneath to hide them at the bottom. Put the dough ball in the bowl and cover it with plastic.
The First Rise (Bulk Fermentation)
- Let the dough rise for 40 minutes. The dough will become 3 times bigger in size. If you live in a cooler climate, it may take longer (1–1½ hours). I use the Proof setting on my oven at 100ºF (38ºC). Please see the “Before You Start“ section of the recipe for my proofing tips.
To Use the Finger Test
- Once the dough has tripled in size, dust some flour on top and use your index finger to poke the middle of the dough. If the hole does not close up, it’s ready. If the dough closes up immediately, proof the dough a little longer and test again.
To Deflate the Dough
- Uncover and invert the bowl to release the dough onto your work surface. Using your fingers, gently press down and deflate the dough. Remember to keep one smooth surface on your dough at all times. My smooth surface is currently on the bottom of the dough.
- Collect and press all the edges into the middle, flip the dough, and form a round shape, tucking any loose edges underneath.
To Divide the Dough
- Using a kitchen scale, weigh the dough. Then, divide it into 3 equal pieces with the dough scraper. For a square shokupan loaf, divide it into 2 equal pieces.
- If you have a piece that‘s bigger than the others, tear off some dough from the edge, keeping its smooth surface intact. Attach the torn dough to the edge of a piece that‘s smaller than the others.
- Form each piece into a ball with a smooth, taut skin: Hold the dough with the smooth surface on top. Gently pull and tighten the dough down from all sides to create tension on the outside. We want all three dough balls to rise equally, so limit the pulling action to roughly the same for each ball, about 3–4 times total. Tuck and pinch the loose dough at the bottom. Place the dough on the work surface and repeat this process for the rest of pieces. Alternatively, you can place the dough on a non-floured surface. Place both of your hands behind the dough and drag the dough ball along the surface toward your body. The bottom of the dough sticks to the dry surface, creating tension and tightening the ball. Keep the dough ball upright and don't allow the top of the dough to roll over as you pull (see this video). Rotate the ball a quarter turn and perform another gentle drag toward your body. Continue rotating and dragging a few more times until the dough is sufficiently taut and uniformly round.
The Bench Rest
- Cover the dough balls with a damp towel and rest them for 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, use a pastry brush to grease the pan(s) (and the lid, if you‘re making flat-topped shokupan) with a thin coating of 10 g unsalted butter. Tip: I like the taste of butter around the crust, but you can use cooking oil spray instead of butter, if you prefer.
To Shape the Dough
- After 15 minutes, take out one dough ball, keeping the rest under the damp towel. Gently handle the dough without stressing it. Dust just enough flour so your dough does not stick to the work surface and rolling pin, but not so much that your dough slides around. As you practice, you will know how much flour is just enough. Next, place the rolling pin in the middle of the dough and press it down.
- First, roll out the dough away from you, rolling all the way through the top edge. Rolling releases gas in the dough. Next, roll out the dough toward you, rolling through the edge closest to you. Tip: If the dough slides around, you dusted too much flour. Next time, reduce the flour. I love this non-stick rolling pin (I bought it at the same time as Japanese loaf pans). You can buy a similar one from Amazon.
- Pick up the dough and flip it over, and then rotate it 90 degrees. It‘s now laid out in front of you in a horizontal oval shape.
- Press the four corners of the dough to shape the oval into a rectangle. Place the rolling pin in the middle.
- Roll out the dough away from you and then toward you, rolling through all the edges.
- Next, roll out the upper two corners, so they are squared rather than rounded.
- Then, roll out the lower two corners. The dough now should look like a vertical rectangle.
- Make sure the dough is an even thickness from the center to the edges. If the edges are slightly thick or have air bubbles, use the heel of your hand to press down the thick parts or pop any bubbles on the edges. The rectangle should be roughly 21 x 26 cm (8 x 10 in.). Tip: I noticed from my own experience that if I don’t roll out the dough evenly at this stage, it affects the shape when I roll up the dough later.
- Fold the dough in thirds, starting with the right third. Bring the dough to the left one-third line, lightly and gently pressing the edge down so it stays in place. Next, fold the left third of the dough, overlapping the edge of the right third by two-thirds. The edge of the left third should be slightly past the center line. Tip: If the dough sticks to the work surface, detach it gently; do not pull, or else the surface of the dough will not be smooth. Always gently handle your dough with care and do not stress the dough.
- Press down and seal this edge with your fingers, from top to bottom. At this stage, the folded dough should have an even thickness. Both the right and left horizontal edges are thicker (puffed up), but the overlapped edges along the center line even out the thickness of the dough.
- Fold down the two upper corners toward the center line, so the top now looks like a triangle tip. Then, tuck the tip down toward you, making sure it is right in the middle.
- Start rolling the dough slowly toward you, gently pulling the dough downward as you roll to create a smooth, taut skin, but don‘t roll too tightly. Tip: Use the same amount of tension when making all of your dough rolls. This helps them rise at the same rate during the final proof and results in an ideal round-topped shokupan shape.
- Keep rolling all the way to the end, making sure the shape of the roll is even. Now, pinch the dough at the edge to seal. Keep the rolled-up dough under the damp towel and repeat this process with the rest of the dough balls. Remember which piece of dough you rolled last.
- Now, place the dough rolls in the shokupan mold, starting with the first two pieces you rolled. Place the first dough roll, seam side down, on one side of the mold. Make sure that 1) the seam is on the bottom, 2) the direction of the swirl goes toward (and not away from) the middle of the pan, and 3) the rolled edge touches the pan‘s side.
- Now, place the second dough roll on the opposite end of the mold, seam side down. Again, the direction of the swirl should go toward the loaf‘s center.
- Finally, place the last piece of dough you rolled between the first two, seam side down. The direction of the swirl can go either way. Gently press down on the tops of the rolled dough to make them the same height.
- If you are using the square shokupan loaf pan, the two rolls should go in just like the first two rolls for the rectangular loaf pan.
The Final Rise (Proofing) and Oven Preheat
- Cover the mold with plastic and place in a warm environment for 1 hour or until the dough has risen to 80–90% of the height of the mold (see the next step). Tip: For the first 30 minutes, I use the Proof mode of my oven. I then take out the mold and place it in a warm area in the house to finish proofing.When you have 30 minutes of proofing time left, start preheating the oven to 425ºF (220ºC). For a convection oven, reduce the baking temperature by 25ºF (15ºC). Tip: My oven usually preheats in 15 minutes; however, it is very important that the oven is thoroughly preheated, so I plan 30 minutes of preheating time.
- To make a flat-topped shokupan (角型食パン), let the dough rise to 75–80% of the height of the mold. Then, remove the plastic and close the lid. If your proof was a bit too long and you exceed 80%, change to a round-topped shokupan. Tip: Don‘t force the lid closed over the dough. Even if the lid closes, the dough will continue to rise in the oven and the lid will get stuck.
- To make a round-topped shokupan (山型食パン), let the dough rise to 85–90% of the height of the mold. When the highest point of the dough touches the plastic wrap, it’s ready to bake. Now, remove the plastic and spritz the surface of the dough with water. Note: The volume for each shokupan mold is very different. My 90% may not be the same as yours if we use a different mold.
To Bake the Bread
- For the flat-topped shokupan, lower the oven temperature to 415ºF (210ºC) and bake for 25–30 minutes (in my oven, it’s 28 minutes). For the round-topped shokupan, lower the oven temperature to 385ºF (195ºC) and bake for 30 minutes. For a convection oven, reduce the baking temperature by 25ºF (15ºC). For a square loaf, the baking temperature and time should be the same or slightly less.
- If you are baking two loaves at the same time, bake 1–2 minutes longer and make sure to have plenty of space between the pans so heat can circulate. Tip: If the loaf has come out lighter in color, you may also want to increase the oven temperature by 5ºF (2–3ºC) next time. To bake both the flat-topped and the round-topped shokupan together, bake at 400ºF (200ºC).
- When it’s done baking, drop the mold firmly 1–2 times on the work surface (I use a grate on the stovetop) to allow the water vapors to escape from the bread. This keeps the shokupan from shrinking. Tip: If water vapor remains in the bread, it will weaken the bread‘s structure and make it easier to deflate. The sides of the loaf will wilt and bend as well.
- For the flat-topped shokupan, open the lid carefully. If you struggle to remove the lid, close it and drop the shokupan mold on the work surface one more time. If you still can’t open it, note that you need to stop the second proof earlier next time. Maybe instead of 80%, try 75%.
- Give a few thrusts and let the shokupan slide out of the mold onto a wire rack. After baking, do not wash your Japanese shokupan loaf pan. Simply wipe it off with a paper towel and store it completely dry to prevent rust.
- Let the shokupan cool completely on the wire rack; it may take 2–3 hours. Do not cut or open the loaf while it’s hot; the steam will escape and the bread will lose moisture. Slice the bread and toast it to enjoy with butter and jam/honey or use untoasted slices for Japanese-style sandwiches.
- If you plan to eat the shokupan within 1 to 2 days, put the whole loaf, completely cooled, in a bag (I use clear plastic bags) and slice as needed. If you don‘t consume the shokupan within 2 days, slice and freeze the rest for a month to preserve its quality. If you don‘t plan to eat the shokupan within the next 2 days, slice and freeze it.
- KitchenAid Stand Mixer (Artisan Series) (with C-dough hook)
- Rectangular Japanese Loaf Pan (4.7 x 7.8 x 5.1 in. or 12 x 20 x 13 cm; 3100 ml; read this post on how to purchase it from Japan)
- Square Japanese Loaf Pan (4.7 x 5.3 x 5.1 in. or 12 x 13.5 × 13 cm; 2070 ml; read this post on how to purchase it from Japan)
- Large bowl