A deliciously simple bread using a technique popular in Japanese baking that requires cooking some of the flour and liquid from the recipe, resulting in a very soft-textured interior with great depth of flavour
I first made bread using tangzhong when I was at university – too many decades ago! – with one of my fellow students explaining a method of a roux paste used by her family when making their bread.
The result is a softer crumb, that is sponge-like and slightly denser than a typical bread loaf, an improved flavour (more depth to it, almost veering towards sourdough-style). It is also lasts longer – although that is never going to be put to the test in this house!
The tangzhong method: a bit of Food Science!
I don’t make bread often using a tangzhong starter, but in the past few months I have revisited it as I look for more ways to demonstrate Food Science with my students as well as hopefully introduce different techiques along the way.
The tangzhong method is a great example of when the starch in the flour (amylose) gelatinises. If you’ve ever made a white sauce for a lasgne or fish pie, for example, and seen the sauce when it has cooled, you will note its gel-like texture.
A small proportion of the flour and water (or milk) is boiled together to a thick, gluey-paste ie) a roux paste. Not too dissimilar to the start of making choux pastry. As you heat up the mixture, the starch molecules absorb the liquid and then burst, releasing the starch and forming a gel in which moisture is trapped. This water stays they when the dough is baked, resulting in a softer bread interior.
Scalding the flour instead of making a roux paste
I have sometimes done a similar method where some of the flour is scalded in boiling water ie) boiling water is poured over the flour, it gets stirred and is left to cool before using. With this scalding method, you get a good amount of gelatinisation, too.
To be honest, I don’t find there is much difference in the final bread whether using a tangzhong starter or whether scalding, apart from the bread with the tangzhong started just wins on the flavour and texture fronts!
How much of the flour to use in the tangzhong starter?
I’ve done a fair bit of experimentation over the years with the proprtion of the dough that has been cooked out first, and I often go for about 20% of the dough in the flour and then double that amount in liquid – sometimes just water, but often I go for a mixture of milk and water (as in the recipe).
However, for some breads – such as rye bread – I use up to half of the flour for the roux paste. Mind you, one of my favourite rye breads involves all of the flour being scalded, giving a gorgoeusly sticky, dense rye bread.
On a side note, this experimentaion is a fundamental part of what I love in cooking and baking and it is, I know, a driving force of so many foodies. Now my experimentation here is basically a “real” version of the GCSE Food, Nutrition and Preparation food science/investigation task that is known as the NEA1 (non-examined assessment 1).
Boule – tangzhong method – makes 1
For the tangzhong starter:
- 60g strong plain flour
- 60g water
- 60g milk
For the dough:
- 300g flour
- the cooled tanzhong starter (see recipe)
- 10g sugar
- 7g fine salt
- 7g instant yeast
- 120g milk (or water)
- 30g unsalted butter, melted or softened
(1) For the tangzhong starter, mix the flour, water and milk together to give a smooth liquid. Add to a small pan and heat, stirring all the time, until it simmers and becomes a very thick gluey-paste: it needs to bubble away for a couple of minutes so keep stirring to prevent it from sticking to the pan. Set aside to cool.
NB: instead of a cooked-out paste such as this, you could scald some of the flour by mixing, say, 100g flour with 100g boiling water, letting it cool and working that into the dough: you get very similar results. I sometimes scald up to 1/3 of the flour content in a recipe.
(2) Mix the dough ingredients, including this cooled paste, in a bowl until a dough forms. Knead for 5-10 minutes until smooth. It starts lumpy but will smooth out. Cover and leave to prove until about doubled in size.
(3) Turn out the risen dough and knead on a lightly floured surface for a minute or two until smooth. Place in an oiled loaf tin or a banneton. Cover and leave to prove until well risen – ideally about double in size again.
(4) If using a banneton, turn out onto a baking sheet and make a few cuts with a sharp knife or razor. Bake in an oven preheated to 200C for about 30-40 minutes until deep golden on top and hollow-sounding underneath. Cool competely before cutting.
NB: as with many breads, if you want an even better rise with a crispy crust pop a tray on the bottom shelf of the oven while the oven heats up. As you put the dough into the oven, pour some cold water onto the tray to create steam, then close the door and let the magic* happen.
*The magic: the moisture from the steam on the rapidly expanding dough at the start of the baking keeps the surface from firming up too much, allowing more of a rise before or sets in place: basically, a touch more gelatinisation, which is why you can get those wonderful shinier blisters on the bread.