Anyhow, I really want to share this amazing method of making bread with you! I know it's not that new anymore, but it really is a keeper! You've always been wondering questions like these about the bread and buns that you buy from bakeries outside: "The bread is so soft and fluffy! How did they do it?" "How can the bread stay so soft for so many days!!??" "Any secrets to homemade bread that can stay soft and fluffy for the rest of the week?"
Oh, well! I can't really think of that many questions on top of my head now. What I can tell you for sure though is that "secret ingredients" such as stabilizers, bread improvers, bread softeners and preservatives (e.g. xanthan gum and citric acid) are used for commercial bread and buns. Everyday at work, I have to go through and edit all the marketing and promotion materials for such ingredients. The more I read, the more shocking information I get! Man, this makes me think homemade bread and anything homemade are--HANDS DOWN--the BEST, HEALTHIEST and SAFEST!
At least, I'm glad that I can make my own bread from scratch. This ensures my family isn't consuming all those unwanted additives. But if you do happen to make your own bread, you often may end up asking, "How come my bread turns tough and dry in just 24 hours!?"
Let's say you've succeeded in making bread, this is very likely that the method you used was what we call the direct method (直接法) in Asian bread making. Bread made via this method almost always end up dry and hard the second day it was made. This is, in fact, the simplest method of all in the art and science of bread making.
Based on what I've learned over the last 2-1/2 years of baking and cooking, tangzhong, or the water-roux method (湯種法) is the best if what you're looking for is homemade bread that can retain its soft and fluffy texture as well as stay fresh for up to five days! Yes, you heard me right--no preservatives and all those "secret agents!" (Do note though other methods such as the 17-hour starter method [17小時麵包法] and starter method [中種法] work just as good--except they require more time and energy.)
The tangzhong method has been circulating in the Chinese baking community since Yvonne Chen's "Bread Doctor" from Taiwan (陳郁芬。《65C湯種麵包》。臺灣) was first published in 2003 or 2004. This was of course a rage in the Chinese blogging-baking community at first. Though the fever has faded, the method stays because it really works!!!
The secret to the success of this method lies in the tangzhong, or the water-roux starter (湯種). It was an ancient Chinese method used in the making of Chinese steamed buns (e.g. bao 包 and mantou 饅頭), dumplings (餃子), glutinous rice balls or tongyun (湯圓) and so forth. The Japanese recently revived the method, and it later became very popular in Taiwan, Hong Kong, China, Singapore, Malaysia and other Asia regions.
In Japanese, tangzhong means either a warm or thin starchy (flour-based) starter. Bread that's made with tangzhong is called tangzhong bread. So, how does it do the magic of producing bread that stays soft and fluffy longer without the addition of any "artificial ingredients?" As you cook the flour-water mixture for the tangzhong over gentle heat, the starch begins to react with the water via gelatinization. The mixture will subsequently thicken up as the starch traps and locks moisture from the water. The cooking will have to be stopped once the mixture has reached 65C.
Thus, incorporating tangzhong into your bread will give you a soft, fluffy bread that has fine crumbs and springy texture. On top of that, it has better anti-staling effect! ("Thermometer-less?" No worries, we can still enjoy tangzhong bread with just our own judgment. =) Read more and you'll find out how ...)
I hope you get the picture now. I've been using the tangzhong method for over 1-1/2 years and am loving it to bits! Here, you'll see how tangzhong is made and a keeper recipe that I've used. Because we prefer wholemeal, oatmeal and multigrain bread, I NORMALLY won't make any plain white bread because it's really not good for you. ;P
In the meantime, I'd like to tell all of you I finally have my first square-looking bread loaf after many painstaking attempts!! HAPPY, HAPPY! Except that I actually had to "trim" it due to my poor estimation. I filled the tin with too much dough that the dough overexpanded out of the tin LOL! You learn along the way, right?
Anyhow, to get a square-looking sandwich loaf, all you need is a Pullman loaf tin that comes with a lid. They can be easily acquired at the baking supplies stores here. Bread baked in Pullman loaf tins yields a really thin crust and fine crumbs. I absolutely heart it, man! I just feel so sorry for those living in the U.S. because these tins cost a bomb over there and they're not that readily available. =(
The following is the wholemeal tangzhong recipe from the book. It was SO good! I couldn't believe the texture of the bread came out soft, fluffy and springy while having fine crumbs. And, all these qualities actually kept for five days! I only had to microwave the final slice on the sixth day. I made a little over two loaves and they kept me through till my last working day of that week.
Simple sandwiches made with the bread and served with ham, cabbage, Cheddar cheese slices, ketchup, mayo, orange marmalade and butter brought me a simple sense of happiness and achievement that were inexplicable. I felt so happy as I had my breakfasts and lunch at work! Oh, dear! Can you taste some homemade goodness now?
Tangzhong, or the Water-Roux Starter 湯種
The flour-to-water ratio for tangzhong is always 1 (bread flour) : 5 (water). Thus for instance, you can make a batch of approximately 300g tangzhong with:
50g bread flour
- Whisk (A) together till combined and lump-free, then heat this mixture over medium-low gentle heat in a saucepan--keep stirring continuously as you cook it
- Once the thermometer hits 65C--OR if you don't own a thermometer like I do, pay attention at all times. When the mixture starts to thicken up and once you can see "traces of line" with every stir that you make with a hand whisk--stop! This is tangzhong.
- Immediately remove from heat and transfer the tangzhong into another clean bowl; quickly cover with a piece of cling wrap sticking onto the surface of tangzhong to prevent a layer of "skin" from forming
- Leave it to cool completely aside before use; otherwise, it can always be refrigerated for up to two days--discard after that or even once it's turned gray (i.e. it's bad now.)
Just bring it to room temperature right before using it. (I'm not too sure about this, but I've heard that tangzhong that's been left to age in the fridge for up to 12 hours is better. Hope I've got time to try this out.)
- When it's about time to be used, measure out the amount needed to carry out the following steps in bread making
Makes two 22cm(L) x 10.5cm(W) x 10cm(H) loaves
** I'm posting this recipe almost word-by-word from the book. The reason being that you may have success with the dough rising almost to or over the rim of the loaf tin using the original recipe. In contrast, I've never had successful attempts at making a square loaf or over-the-rim height of a loaf with original recipes. I wish the same will never happen to you! **
280g bread flour
200g wholemeal flour
10g instant dried yeast
60g egg, at room temperature and slightly beaten
140g milk, at room temperature
120g tangzhong, at room temperature
50g unsalted butter, slightly softened at room temperature
- Combine (A) together and make a well in the center, then whisk together (B); pour the wet mixture into the dry ingredients and mix till a dough has formed and pulls away from the sides of the mixing bowl
- Turn the dough out onto a surface and knead till gluten has developed, then knead in the butter till incorporated; further knead the dough till it's elastic and has reached the windowpane stage--i.e. a thin "membrane" can be formed by slowly, gently pulling the dough out towards opposite directions. It might take longer for the stickier wholemeal bread dough to reach this stage compared to plain white bread dough. But, DON'T SKIP this step!
- Round the dough up and place it into a greased bowl, cover and let it proof till it's doubled in size. To know whether it's doubled in size, dip your finger in some bread or plain flour and gently, slowly poke into the dough--of course, don't puncture it! If an indentation remains at where you poked your finger in, this means proofing is sufficient; otherwise, if that spot bounces back, let it proof further till the dough is doubled in size
- On a lightly floured working surface, deflate and divide the dough into four equal portions, with each weighing 220g (approximately,) then round up and cover them to let rest for 15 minutes
- To each of the portion of the dough, flatten it up and roll out into a rough oval-olive or rectangular shape with a lightly floured rolling pin. Next, roll it up tightly from the shorter ends the Swiss roll-style; pinch ends to seal the dough tightly. It might be slightly challenging to shape wholemeal bread dough. During the entire process, lightly dust your hands with flour, if and as necessary.
Arrange rolled-up dough in a greased Pullman loaf tin starting from the center; repeat the same with the remaining portions of the dough. Arrange the loaf tin with those rolled-up portions of the dough till filled up--leaving some room in between each for expansion later on
** OK, I've read that some of you are having trouble with bread that doesn't reach the rim of a 22cm(L) x 10.5cm(W) x 10cm (H) Pullman loaf tin after the second round of proofing and/or baking. The author of the recipe does indicate that wholemeal bread dough doesn't rise as much as plain white bread dough does. Plus, I actually never follow the--or, any--bread loaf recipes to the "T." When I'm aiming for a square or any super tall loaf that can actually rise almost to or over the rim of the loaf tin, I always make sure the dough placed into the loaf tin actually has:
- 1/3 or a little over 1/3 the height of the loaf tin, for a square loaf;
- at least 1/2 the height of the loaf tin, for a bread loaf that has "humps" (i.e. its height is taller than the height of the loaf tin.) **
- Cover with a piece of cling wrap and let the dough proof till it's reached 80% of the capacity of the loaf tin. (If you want a square loaf, cover the tin--leaving 4~5cm of of "hole" for you to peek in--with the lid that comes with the Pullman loaf tin before the second round of proofing--it should be right underneath the piece of cling wrap.)
- For those who are baking a square loaf, slide the lid to cover the tin fully. For those who don't plan on using the lid to make a square loaf, you can brush the loaf with some slightly beaten egg if you want a glossy finish to the bread.
- Bake at 180C for 30 minutes or till the bread is golden brown and cooked through.
- Remove from the oven and immediately unmold the bread onto wire rack to let it cool completely. Slice to serve or store airtight once it's thoroughly cooled
Because of the extra dough, I did something really weird with it and it ended up with a very awkward, funny shape LOL!
P.S. Here's to wish all Hinduists out there a Happy Diwali!!