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Features 2 minutes 08 April 2017

Why Asian Breads Are Softer Than European Breads

Fat, sugar and a Japanese-invented dough named tangzhong make a world of difference to bread textures.

technique recipe

The Difference Between Western and Asian-style breads
Unless they’re softer varieties like brioche, traditional European breads have a harder crust and a drier, saltier crumb while Asian style buns are soft, springy and sweet. Think multigrain sourdough loaves versus kaya buns or slices of rye bread versus hotdog rolls.

The key difference lies in the dough’s chemistry: Western-style bread has zero fat – its main [components] are flour, salt and water while Asian-style bread contains 15 per cent fat and 25 per cent sugar to give that soft texture.

Tangzhong Dough
But the difference doesn’t end there. Asian-style breads are also made by adding a Japanese-invented cooked dough called tangzhong. By cooking the flour, the dough absorbs all the water which is then added into the rest of the bread mixture.
In this method, equal parts flour and boiling water is mixed in a pan. Once it is cooled, the dough can be added into the actual bread mix to comprise 5-10 per cent of its total weight.

The precise roots of this method are unclear, but the Japanese preference for soft, sweet breads can likely be traced back to 1875 when a former samurai named Yasube Kimura invented the anpan – a soft bun stuffed with bean paste that’s otherwise used for wagashi. He found that the bread introduced to Japan was either salty or sour – flavours which were out of step with the Japanese palate.

Recipe for soft sweet buns
Tangzhong Dough
100g strong bread flour (12.5 per cent protein)
100ml water

Sweet Bun Dough
1kg strong bread flour (12.5 per cent protein)
18g yeast
18g bread improver
240g sugar
30g milk powder
14g salt
2 eggs (50g each)
35ml condensed milk
450ml water
180g unsalted butter
100g tangzhong dough
100g sourdough (optional)
Illustration: Siow Jun
Illustration: Siow Jun
Step one: Make the tangzhong dough
Bring 100ml of water to a boil in a pan and add 100 grams of strong bread flour. Stir quickly and remove from fire to prevent the dough from over cooking.
Illustration: Siow Jun
Illustration: Siow Jun
Step two: Let it cool
Continue knead the dough with a spoon or by hand if cool enough until dough is formed. This step is crucial as adding a warm dough into the rest of the bread dough will alter the temperature.
Illustration: Siow Jun
Illustration: Siow Jun
Step three: Make the bread dough
Place flour, yeast, bread improver, sugar, milk powder and salt into a mixing bowl and stir until well-mixed. Then add in the eggs, condensed milk and water and start the mixer with a dough hook.
Illustration: Siow Jun
Illustration: Siow Jun
Step four
Add the tangzhong dough first and continue to knead. At this stage, the dough would've developed gluten. Next, add the unsalted butter and knead until dough starts to make slapping sounds against the mixing bowl.
Illustration: Siow Jun
Illustration: Siow Jun
Step five: Let it rise
Cover the bowl with clean wrap film or a cloth and allow the dough to ferment for approximately one hour. Place the bowl in a cupboard or space away from heat and moving air.
Illustration: Siow Jun
Illustration: Siow Jun
Step Six: Shape
Shape the dough into round balls and insert your choice of filling if any. Place the dough balls into small paper holders similar to the ones for cupcakes.
Illustration: Siow Jun
Illustration: Siow Jun
Step seven: Let it rise (again)
Proof the dough again in the cupboard away from heat and moving air and let it rise until it is 2 ½ times its normal size. To see if it's ready, poke it gently with your finger and the dent made should only return half way up. As the dough proofs, pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees celcius.
Illustration: Siow Jun
Illustration: Siow Jun
Step eight: Give it colour
Beat one egg and lightly brush over the top of the bun. This gives the bun a sheen when baked. Be sure to avoid the sides or drips.
Illustration: Siow Jun
Illustration: Siow Jun
Step nine: Bake!
Bake for 18 minutes or until golden brown. Remove and allow to cool. Enjoy.

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