Whole Wheat Sourdough Hokkaido Milk Bread (also known as whole wheat sourdough Japanese milk bread) is the softest and most perfect bread for sandwiches. And much healthier than any of the store bought breads loaded with preservatives and additives to create their soft texture.
I can’t wait to share this recipe and method with you so your whole family can have the pleasure of a soft slice with butter at breakfast or the most perfect sandwich!
In this this post, you’ll find my sourdough recipe, demonstration video, important tips, and some of the reasons why this whole wheat bread is so special.
Important note that the recipe makes two loaves. I have found that since this sourdough bread recipe involves more prep than others and is devoured quickly, making two loaves made a lot of sense!
What is Hokkaido Milk Bread aka Japanese Milk Bread?
This bread making technique has a few different names: Hoikkaido milk bread, Japanese milk bread, or shokupan.
It originated from the Hoikkado region of Japan which is known for their food. It produces about half of all the dairy for Japan.
This bread is known for its soft feathery texture, high rise, and unique shape. It is made with a technique where a tangzhong is added. This post shares more of this iconic bread’s background.
What is tangzhong and what does it do?
The tangzhong is a mixture of water and white flour or water, milk, and white flour. Christine Ho adapted the tangzhong technique called a “water roux” and made it popular for home bakers.
The ingredients are whisked until there are no lumps left from the flour. Then it is scraped into a pot and cooked over medium heat until it forms a thick paste (mashed potatoes consistency).
While the flour is cooking in the hot liquid, the starches contained in the flour are exploding. This is why it changes texture so drastically and becomes very sticky.
The starches released, bind to all the moisture from the liquids. This means that after this bread is baked, the structure is able to retain this moisture so that the bread stays soft and fresh longer than other varieties of bread.
My whole wheat sourdough milk bread recipe makes bread that stays soft even after a week, but it usually doesn’t last that long because everyone enjoys it so much!
How does Sourdough improve Hokkaido Milk Bread?
Sourdough breaks down the gluten in flour during the long fermentation process making the dough more digestible. As sourdough milk bread ferments, that same process of fermentation is making the final bread more digestible and healthier.
The flavor that develops during long sourdough bulk fermentation also means that this recipe uses less sugar than other milk breads made with commercial yeast.
If you’ve been baking with sourdough for a while, you probably have noticed how sourdough bread has a better shelf life than breads made with commercial yeast.
The sourdough acts like a natural preservative. So the preserving ability of sourdough combined with the benefits of the tangzhong method, this bread lasts for a long time without going stale.
How to Make Whole Wheat Sourdough Japanese Milk Bread
The process of making this sourdough milk bread recipe has the following steps: Ingredients, Stiff Starter preparation, Making the dough, Making the tangzhong, Kneading, Bulk fermentation, Shaping, Proofing, Baking, Cooling.
Here are the ingredients you will need:
- Stiff Starter preparation
- 30g (2 T.) sourdough starter
- 150 grams (1 cup) all-purpose or bread flour
- 100 grams (1⁄4 cup and 3 T.) water
- Tangzhong Technique
- 150g (1/2 cup and 2 T.) water
- 150g (1 cup) all-purpose flour
- 150g (1/2 cup and 1 T.) milk*
- Dough ingredients
- 300g (1 cup and 3 T.) whole milk, scalded
- 30g (2 T.) water
- 250-260g (all of prepared starter) active stiff starter
- 370-380g of prepared tangzhong (most likely all of it)
- 40g (3 T.) sugar
- 16g (2 3/4 t.) salt
- 400g (2 2/3 cups) bread flour
- 400g (2 2/3 cups) whole wheat flour
- 2 eggs
- 58g (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
- Egg wash
- 1 egg
- 1 t. water
*Note: You can replace the milk in the Tangzhong with water. The only change I’ve noticed is that the amount of tangzhong is slightly more when I have used water for both liquid portions.
Stiff Sourdough Starter Preparation
Take 30 grams of sourdough starter from your most recent active sourdough starter (ideally) or from discard that is no more than a few days old.
When a sourdough starter is old and has been left without care for a few weeks, the starter is not healthy and will not perform well. Do this reactivation method if your sourdough has been in the fridge for longer than 2 weeks: Is my sourdough starter dead?
Add 150 grams of white flour (all-purpose or bread flour) and 100 grams of water to the 30 grams of healthy sourdough starter. Mix until there’s no dry flour left.
Cover and let this stiff starter sit at room temperature for 8 to 14 hours to ferment. It will double in volume and have an aerated appearance.
I recommend doing this process the night before so you can begin mixing the dough the next day.
Scalding the Milk
Once the starter is active, the first step to prepare the dough is scalding the milk. This neutralizes proteins in the milk that can conflict with good fermentation.
Add more whole milk than the recipe calls for to allow for evaporation, 330 grams/mL if you are making the double batch that the recipe outlines.
Heat the milk over medium to medium-high heat in a medium saucepan until it is steaming and proteins begin to stick to the bottom of the pot.
Temperature will be 130 to 140 degrees F. Don’t let it foam.
Transfer 100g of your scalded milk to a separate glass carafe to cool down to 90-100 degrees F.
Leave the pot in in place for the next step.
Making the Tangzhong
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the white flour and half of the liquid. Once all the flour is absorbed and there are almost no lumps, add the rest of the liquid and whisk.
I have tested half water and half milk as well as only water, both tests tasted delicious with hardly any discernible difference. Slightly less milky flavor using only water and the weight of the tangzhong was greater using only water.
Pour the mixture into the saucepan you used to scald the milk.*
Turn the heat to medium to medium-low heat and cook the mixture. Use a large spoon to stir the mixture as it cooks so it doesn’t burn and cooks evenly.
Once the mixture has changed from a white, watery mixture to a thick, starchy consistency that looks like mashed potatoes, transfer all of it back to the large mixing bowl.
Spread it out in the bowl so that it can cool down faster.
*There’s no special reason for using the same saucepan without washing in between. Only that I want to reduce the amount of dishes you have to do later!
Making the Whole Wheat Sourdough Japanese Milk Bread Dough
The preparation of ingredients, cooling time, and proper rest time/fermentation is key in this recipe. Don’t rush these stages.
Make sure the scalded milk and tangzhong have cooled down to less than 110 degrees F.
Check the tangzhong with a thermometer. The starches hold in heat really well, so its a good idea to test a few spots.
Place a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer (if you have a 6qt or greater capacity stand mixer) on a kitchen scale and tare.
Add the water, scalded milk, salt, sugar, bread flour, whole wheat flour, stiff starter, and tangzhong.
Mix the ingredients together with a large spoon or the dough hook attachment until a rough dough is formed and the ingredients are fairly well incorporated. This initial mix allows the temperatures of the ingredients to disperse evenly throughout the dough.
The importance of dough temperature regulation is to avoid cooking the eggs when they are added. Add the eggs then continue mixing the dough until all ingredients are well incorporated.
Knead the dough until it begins pulling away from the sides of the bowl or the work surface. Use a dough scraper to scrape the sides of the bowl.
Knead in the softened butter one tablespoon at a time.
Continue kneading until the surface of the dough becomes smoother and is pulling away from the bowl or work surface cleanly.
Bulk Fermentation for Whole Wheat Sourdough Japanese Milk Bread
Place your milk bread dough into an airtight container or use a large clean bowl covered with plastic wrap.
I like to use a 6-qt cambro like this one as a bulk fermentation container because it is easy to use and see the dough rise and gauge when the dough has doubled in volume. The 6-qt size is needed for the double batch made in this recipe.
The dough needs to ferment for 4 to 6 hours. This is also known as the first rise. This goes by quickly due to the whole wheat content and starting temperature of the dough which is warmer from the added ingredients and the kneading process.
For clarity on when bulk fermentation is done, see this post.
Dividing the Japanese Milk Bread Dough
Once the dough has fermented, place the bulk on an unfloured surface. For two loaves of bread (as prescribed in this recipe), divide the dough into six equal size pieces.
Scale the dough for the most precise division. Usually each sixth of dough weighs 320-330 grams. Weigh each one and adjust as needed.
Having all the pieces at nearly the same weight will help the loaves of bread bake evenly.
Roughly preshape each section into a ball and rest the dough while you prepare loaf pans.
Prepare Loaf Pans
To make sure your loaves release easily from the loaf pans, I recommend lining them with parchment paper. Especially a higher quality brand like If You Care Parchment paper that holds up to high heat and I usually get a few reuses out of the liner since it removes easily and doesn’t fall part like some brands.
To do this, you will cut a large piece of parchment paper, turn your loaf pan over, then make four cuts at each corner. Fit the cut parchment into the loaf pan by folding the long edges behind the flap.
See this post for more tips on sourdough sandwich baking: How to Shape a Sourdough Sandwich Loaf and Bake with Steam
Shaping the Hokkaido Milk Bread
Lightly flour the work surface and a rolling pin. Place a round of dough smooth side down onto the lightly floured surface.
Roll out the dough into a rectangle-like shape with an even thickness. Roll until it is about 5-6 inches wide by 9 inches long.
Then, take the longest sides and fold in 2 inches each so that they are overlapping a bit. This overlap ensures a higher rise in the center.
Press along the seam to seal.
Finally, roll the dough up into a spiral from the long end to the other end so that the seam is inside the spiral. Press or pinch the seam to seal, set spiral of dough aside.
Repeat with two more rounds of dough. Once there are three, place them in a line in the prepared loaf pan so that the spirals all face the long outside edge of the pan. The spirals shouldn’t be touching each other.
Repeat the process for the second loaf.
Cover the pans of dough with plastic wrap.
Proofing Sourdough Hoikkado Milk Bread
The pans of sourdough hoikkado milk bread dough need to sit at room temperature to proof for 1.5 to 3 hours.
Because the proofing time range in sourdough is very dependent on room temperature, it may be helpful to read this post on when your dough is finished proofing to learn the signs.
At the end of the proof, the spirals of dough should have expanded outward to the walls of the loaf pan and upwards. The top of the dough should be beginning to rise above the rim of the pan (if your pan is very narrow, the tops of the dough should be about a half inch above the rim).
The dough should feel soft when pressed with a gentle fingertip with an indentation that remains.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F with a steam pan to create manual steam. See this post for information on baking with manual steam.
Baking Whole Wheat Sourdough Japanese Milk Bread
Place pans into the hot steamy oven. Add a few sprays of water to the walls of the oven then shut the door.
Bake for 20 minutes, then remove the steam pan. Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees F and continue baking the loaves for 15 to 20 more minutes.
Use a cooking thermometer or meat thermometer inserted into the center of one of the loaves to make sure that the internal temperature is 195 to 200 degrees F.
Make sure the thermometer is not touching the hot bottom of the pan which would give you a false reading. The thermometer should come out fairly clean without any gummy dough on it.
Important: Cooling the Loaves
Cutting the bread too early will allow steam to escape and interrupts the final part of the baking stage to set the texture of the bread.
Let the bread cool for 60 minutes or overnight.
7 tips for Whole Wheat Sourdough Hokkaido Milk Bread
- Don’t skip the cooling stages! This takes time but is important for the best final results.
- Use fresh whole wheat flour. Check the pull date to make sure it is not too old if you are using store bought. If milling your own flour, use a hard red wheat. This is my favorite.
- Whole milk will give a richer flavor to your bread.
- This bread ferments quickly due to the warm ingredients added to the dough and the whole wheat flour. So pay attention to your dough. If it ferments too long, it will become too sticky and hard to work with.
- To store this bread, use a bread box once the loaves are completely cooled.
- For kids, pre slicing the loaf and storing in a large plastic ziplock bag will make meals easier as they can grab their own soft slices.
- If you need to delay your bake for some reason, the best point to delay is during the proofing. Make sure the pans of bread dough are well covered with plastic wrap. Place in the fridge to slowly cold proof. The timing will be 1 to 2 hours before the fridge or 1.5 to 2 hours after the fridge. The maximum time recommended for the fridge is 10 hours.
Savor and Share
Whole wheat sourdough Japanese milk bread is the ideal soft sandwich bread and tastes so wholesome and delicious! The flavor is mild and it has the perfect crumb.
Enjoy this whole wheat sourdough hokkaido milk bread for sandwiches, breakfast toast, or the most perfect peanut butter and jelly! Or cashew butter and jelly, as is the preference in our household.
Share this recipe with another sourdough baking friend who’d enjoy a great new soft fluffy bread to try!
After you try it, send me a note, leave a review comment, or tag me on facebook or instagram @livingbreadbaker
I love seeing how people connect with people they love through bread.
More whole wheat sourdough recipes
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If you are just getting started in sourdough, I’d love to support you with my books or online courses.
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My Intro. to Sourdough online course is comprehensive with video tutorials for each stage of the process to help new or aspiring sourdough home bakers gain a solid foundation for sourdough, the traditional way, to learn all the basics, language, techniques, and the process from start to finish to make sourdough bread. My teaching is straight forward and makes the whole process seem simple. I have helped launch hundreds of eager sourdough bakers onto their own inspiring sourdough journeys.
I also have a Once-a-Week No Knead Sourdough online course, which is my strategy for busy weeks to have sourdough on hand ready to make into country bread, sandwich loaves, English muffins, pizza, bagels, and more! This course is great for absolute sourdough beginners to just get familiarity with sourdough or for veteran sourdough bakers who need to simplify their baking schedule.
If you are just starting on your sourdough journey, you can get my free Quick Start Sourdough Guide to begin learning some of the key terms and concepts in sourdough. Learn the difference between the sourdough stages of active sourdough starter and sourdough discard as well as how to care for a starter.
Perfect for new or experienced bakers, I have a full Sourdough Time Planning Workbook with 8 templates ready to fill in and a baking journal. The 8 templates include 4 different ways to make classic sourdough country breads, 3 time planning worksheets for enriched sourdough bread depending on serving time target, and a blank template. The baking journal goes over baker’s percentages and how to take notes on your sourdough bakes.
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Whole Wheat Sourdough Hokkaido Milk Bread, Japanese inspired
- 100 g water
- 150 g flour
- 30 g healthy Sourdough starter
- 150 g water
- 150 g white flour
- 150 g milk
- 300 g whole milk scalded
- 30 g water
- 250-260 g stiff starter
- All of Prepared Tzangzhong equals 375-385g
- 40 g Sugar
- 16 g salt
- 400 Bread flour
- 400 Whole wheat flour
- 2 eggs
- 58 g 1/4 c unsalted butter, softened
- 1 egg
- 1 t. water
- Prepare the stiff starter: Mix together the stiff starter ingredients in a small bowl or container. Cover and leave at room temperature for 10 to 16 hours until it is doubled in volume and is full of airy carbon dioxide.
- Scald the milk: Pour in more milk than needed to account for evaporation--330g of whole milk. Heat the milk over medium to medium-high heat until it is steaming and proteins begin to stick to the pot. Temperature will be 130 to 140 degrees F. Don't let it foam. Pour into a heat safe carafe to cool to 90 to 100 degrees F.
- Make the tangzhong: Whisk together the water and white flour for the tangzhong in a medium mixing bowl. Once the flour is nearly all absorbed, whisk in the milk. Use a spatula to add the mixture to medium sized pot. Heat over medium to medium-high heat, stirring frequently until it changes in form to a starchy mashed potato looking mixture. Transfer the cooked tangzhong back to the mixing bowl and spread out to cool down more quickly, to cool down below 110 degrees F.
- Begin mixing the dough: Once the milk and tangzhong have cooled down to the proper temperature, add 300g of whole milk to a very large mixing bowl. Then, add the water, 250-250g stiff starter, all of the tangzhong, sugar, salt, whole wheat flour, and bread flour. Mix until the ingredients are partially combined and a rough dough is beginning to form*
- Add eggs: Add the eggs and continue mixing until all the ingredients are well incorporated.
- Knead the dough: Knead the dough until it is no longer sticking to the sides of the bowl and pulls away easily from your hands or work surface.
- Add the softened butter: Knead in the soft unsalted butter one tablespoon at a time. Continue kneading until all the butter has full incorporated into the dough and the dough is no longer sticky and pulls away easily from your hands or work surface.
- Bulk ferment: Place the dough into a greased large bowl or 6-qt. Cambro container, well covered with plastic wrap or a lid. Leave at room temperature for 4 to 6 hours until the dough has doubled in volume.
- Prepare loaf pans: Grease two loaf pans with butter or oil or line with parchment paper cut to size.
- Divide dough. Divide the dough into six equal pieces (about 324g each section).
- Preshape: Form each section into equally shaped round balls.
- Shape: Lightly flour the work surface and rolling pin, roll out the first round of dough to 7.5" x 9' rectangular shape. Along the longest (9-inch) edges, fold in the sides of the dough two inches into the center so that they overlap*. This overlap should be about 3 inches wide. Roll up from the long bottom of the dough to create a spiral shape. Pinch where the end of the dough ends to seal the spiraled dough. Set aside.
- Repeat: Repeat the shaping process with the other rounds of dough. Once there are three spiral-shaped portions, arrange in one of the loaf pans. Place the last three in the second loaf pan.
- Proof: Cover the loaf pans with plastic wrap and proof at room temperature for 1.5 to 3 hours until they have risen and expanded to 1.5 to 2 times their volume.
- Preheat: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F with a heat-safe (metal or cast iron) pan filled with 1-2 inches of water on the lowest rack.
- Egg wash: Whisk egg wash ingredients. Use a pastry brush to brush the egg wash over the tops of the unbaked loaves until they are fully covered.
- Bake: Place both pans of dough into the preheated steamy oven. Bake 35 to 40 minutes until the tops are golden brown.
- Cool: After the loaves have cooled for 5 minutes in the pans, remove from pans and cool on a cooling rack for 20 to 30 minutes.*
- Combining the dough ingredients in the initial mix helps to distribute the heat evenly before adding the eggs to prevent hot spots in the mixing bowl that could cook the eggs.
- The overlap during the shaping process allows the center of the spiral to remain higher than the edges.
- Cooling helps retain the softness and freshness of the bread by not letting steam escape by premature cutting.
- If you need to test doneness of the bread with a food thermometer, it should measure 190-195 degrees F.