Japanese Milk Bread Rolls

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There are dinner rolls. And then there are milk bread rolls. And if you’ve had them both, then you know the difference.
A good crusty dinner roll is a thing of beauty, yes. But, this is not that. Not at all. These are quite the opposite of that, actually. These are soft and squishy, and yeasty, and a little sweet. They’re the perfect shade of shiny caramel instead of pale and dry. They’re buttery and cloud like. They’re the perfect addition to your holiday table if you want your bread to steal the show. Brushed with melted butter and sprinkled with coarse sea salt, these are perfection.
These are not difficult to make, but require and extra ingredient, or technique called “Tanzhong.” This is just a flour and milk mixture that you heat and add to the dough before mixing. It’s what makes it so pillow-esque.
If you want to make these for a holiday meal, do yourself a favor and make the dough the day before and refrigerate it overnight. Then take it out and bake the next day. Or you can bake them all in the same day. Either way, make a double batch, because I promise, they will go fast!

Japanese Milk Bread Rolls

Fluffy and cloudlike, these Japanese milk bread rolls are the best thing that will ever grace your holiday table.
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Prep Time 2 hours
Cook Time 25 minutes
Total Time 2 hours 25 minutes
Servings 9



  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 2 tablespoons bread flour

Bread dough:

  • 2 1/2 cups bread flour
  • 2 tablespoons dry milk powder
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 packet instant dry yeast or about 2 1/2 teaspoons
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 egg
  • 4 tablespoons butter melted
  • 1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon milk
  • Melted butter and coarse salt for serving


  • Make the starter: Put the starter ingredients into a small saucepan. Heat to low, whisk constantly for about 5 minutes, until smooth, shiny, and slightly thickened. Transfer to a bowl and put in the fridge to cool.
  • Make the dough: Put the flour, milk powder, sugar, salt, and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook.
  • In a separate bowl, add the cooled starter, along with the milk, egg, and melted butter. Whisk to combine, and add to the mixer bowl.
  • Mix on low speed until ingredients are combined, and then increase the speed to medium. Continue mixing for about 15 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic. It shouldn’t be sticky and should form a tight ball. To test, take a small piece of dough and stretch it in your hand until you can see through it without it breaking.
  • Transfer to a large, lightly oiled bowl and cover with a towel. Set the bowl in the warmest spot in your kitchen and let it rise for about 90 minutes, until the dough has doubled in size.
  • At this point, you can refrigerate the dough to use tomorrow, or cut into 9 equal sized pieces. If you’re chilling the dough, take it out and let it come to room temperature before forming into rolls.
  • Once you’ve cut your dough into rolls, roll them on a clean, dry surface until they are smooth and round. Spray a square baking pan with cooking spray and add the rolls to the pan. Cover with a towel and let rise in a warm spot for about an hour.
  • Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Carefully brush the rolls with the egg/milk mixture and bake for 20-25 minutes, until the rolls are a dark caramelized brown.
  • Remove from oven, brush with melted butter and sprinkle with coarse salt. Let cool slightly before removing and serving.
Nutrition information is only an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. View full nutrition disclousre.
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