When discussing the Japanese dough-making method popularized by Taiwanese cookbook author Yvonne Chen, please do not write things like “In Japanese, tangzhong means either a warm or thin starchy (flour-based) starter”.
No, it doesn’t. In Japanese, “tangzhong” doesn’t mean anything at all, because the word 湯種 is pronounced “yudane” (and literally reads “hot water seed”). Anything you read or write about tangzhong is based on a Chinese cookbook that adapted a Japanese technique. If you want to call something “Hokkaido Milk Bread”, don’t describe it using Chinese words.
To find specifically-Japanese breads and recipes, search for “湯だね食パン” or “湯種食パン”.
So it looks like it all traces back to blogger and cookbook author Christine Ho, who introduced tangzhong to English-speaking audiences early in 2010, and has published a number of additional recipes, including the one that everyone copied, Hokkaido Milk Toast.
The Chinese name for Chen’s recipe, 北海道牛奶麵包, is indeed “Hokkaido Milk Bread”. It looks like Ho eventually settled on “water roux” as the translation for 湯種, but she’s quite clear that this is a popular Chinese method based on an apparently-patented technique developed in Japan.
Amusingly, the commercial bakery who owns the patent is headquartered in Nagoya, and doesn’t have a big presence in Hokkaido. In other words, it’s possible that neither tangzhong nor yudane is how Hokkaido-style bread is actually made in Hokkaido…
I haven’t found a Japanese reference that predates Chen’s book, so unless I stumble across the patent, I’m going to assume that she coined the name 湯種.
After reviewing a number of recipes, I’m convinced that the commercial Japanese method was quite different, and Chen deserves the credit for making it faster and more convenient. Japanese recipes for yudane bread may use either, but tangzhong bread almost always uses Chen’s method.
For instance, this Japanese recipe from a flour company has you mix 100 grams of bread flour with 73 grams of 90°C water, wrap it tightly, and let it rest for 10 hours in the fridge.
This recipe makes the starter a bit differently, having you mix 50 grams of flour, 5 grams of sugar, 5 grams of salt, and 100 grams of boiling water, wrap it tightly, and let it rest in the fridge for 12 hours.
Compare to Yippee’s recipe based on Chen’s book (which predates Ho’s version, but doesn’t seem to have been the (coughcough) starter for the trend in English-speaking baking), which uses a 5:1 ratio of water to flour, and cooks it to 65°C, either on the stovetop or in the microwave (about 90 seconds either way). Where most recipes subtract the tangzhong amounts from the total used for the bread, this one makes enough for two loaves, with instructions on saving the rest for later. Her primary change to Chen’s recipe is adding a sponge.
I haven’t tried the overnight yudane method, but this morning I made the King Arthur classic sandwich bread using the 6:1 (when converted from volume to weight) tangzhong option in the notes, which cooks it on the stovetop. It’s almost all gone now, so you could call it a success.
(the recipe worked perfectly in my Zojirushi Virtuoso bread machine, by the way, which I bought recently when my old Oster got a little flaky. Since by default it has a 30-minute rest period at the start, I didn’t even bother to cool the tangzhong to room temperature; I just put it in the bottom of the pan with the other liquid ingredients, poured the dry stuff on top, and made a well for the yeast, as usual)
I had odd flashbacks to my childhood, though, because the last time I cooked flour and water into a paste on the stovetop, I was making papier-mâché.
Oh, and the folks at America’s Test Kitchen included their take on Japanese Milk Bread in their book Bread Illustrated, using the same tangzhong ratio as King Arthur Flour. Theirs adds an egg for more richness.
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