Fully proofed sourdough sandwich bread with pre-cooked flour (tangzhong)

How to Make Tangzhong

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In this how to make tangzhong introduction, we'll take a look at a method for bringing extra tenderness and keeping quality to your sourdough bread by pre-cooking a portion of the recipe's flour. Pre-cooking some of the flour and liquid in your formula gelatinizes the starches in the flour, transforming the two ingredients into a viscous paste that's then added directly to your bread dough. The remarkable thing about tangzhong, also called yudane or water roux, is how the overall dough hydration can be kept relatively low, with fewer fats and oils, and still result in incredibly tender bread. In this guide on making a tangzhong, we'll look at what flour types you can use for the roux, what liquids, and a few different methods to cook the flour and mix it into your bread dough.

First, let's quickly look at yudane, a similar approach to pre-cooking some of the flour in the recipe.

Tangzhong versus Yudane

Yudane is Japanese and essentially means roux (just like tangzhong, which is Chinese). It has the same end goal: to gelatinize the starches in flour with a hot liquid. It differs from tangzhong in that you boil the liquid (usually water) and pour it directly over the flour, stirring to incorporate. After this, you let the mixture rest until it's at room temperature before mixing it into your dough (or you can let it rest in the fridge until the next morning). At this point, you'll take the mixture out, let it warm to room temperature, and mix it into your dough as needed.

Tangzhong and yudane [su_highlight background=”#ffffdc” color=”#444444″]both work equally well[/su_highlight] to gelatinize some of the starches in a bread formula.

The yudane method saves a little time since you don't have to cook the flour at the stove, but reaches the same end goal. In my experiments, I've not seen dramatically different results between the two methods. Because of this, in this guide, I'll talk about them both interchangeably.

Sourdough sandwich bread and how to make tangzhong

What is Tangzhong?

Tangzhong is simply the act of cooking a portion of the raw flour in a recipe with a liquid. You heat the mixture over the stove in a saucepan to approximately 150°F (65°C), at which point the starches in the flour will gelatinize. During starch gelatinization, the liquid is absorbed into the starch which swells as the mixture becomes more viscous and gel-like. This gelatinization is similar to how the exterior of a bagel gelatinizes during boiling. When you do this, the process irreversibly turns the mixture into a sticky starch-paste that’s then added to the dough during mixing. This upfront cooking is a small step at the beginning that results in a bread that’s more tender and fluffy without the need for, or a reduced quantity of, other enrichments such as butter, oil, or eggs.

Yudane is another method similar to this with a little less upfront work; we'll look at this alternative method a little later.

What are the benefits of tangzhong?

Below is a quick roundup of the benefits to using pre-cooked flour, and for such a small amount of work upfront, the return is quite dramatic.

  • Adds tenderness and an open interior without the use of eggs, butter, or sugar
  • The dough can have lower hydration but still achieve a soft texture
  • The dough will feel stronger and more cohesive when mixing and handling, even at higher hydration
  • Prolongs the shelf life of the bread
  • Because you can make tangzhong/yudane with water as the liquid, it's a great vegan alternative in baking

How To Make Tangzhong

Making tangzhong with whole wheat flour and whole milk

To make the actual roux of flour and a liquid, the process is simple:

  1. Take a portion of the flour in a recipe and add it to a saucepan with a liquid (typically milk, but see below for other options)
  2. Heat the saucepan over medium heat, stirring often to prevent scorching, until the mixture thickens and reaches about 150°F (65°C)
  3. Let the roux cool and mix it directly into a dough as you would any other mix-in

Use the stove but could also use microwave.

What liquids can be used for tangzhong?

I tend to use Tangzhong with whole milk, but I've also successfully experimented with using 2% milk, low-fat milk, and oat milk. Water, of course, also works very well, and readers have reported back using a wide range of dairy substitutes with success: almond milk, soy milk, and cashew milk.

What flour can be used for Tangzhong?

I've used white flour (all-purpose as well as medium protein bread flour), whole wheat flour, and whole-grain rye flour. My guess is anything with sufficient starch is a candidate for tangzhong or yudane.

soft sandwich bread with pre-cooked flour

How Much Tangzhong Should I use?

I've found using between 4% and 8% of the total flour in the recipe as a roux to be ideal. I think it's very possible to do percentages outside this range, but for my formulas, 8% has been my soft upper limit.

Converting a recipe to use tangzhong

When converting a recipe to using a tangzhong, you might notice the dough feels stiffer than it might have previously. This is because some of the once “free” liquid mixed into the dough is now bound up in the roux itself.

When converting a recipe, take some of the flour and liquid from the recipe ingredients to make the roux. In other words, [su_highlight background=”#ffffdc” color=”#444444″]don't add extra flour and a liquid to the bread formula for the roux[/su_highlight]. In doing this, you will change the ratio of ingredients (baker's percentages) in the formula.

Recommended reading: Introduction to Baker's Percentages.

Roux Ratio (flour to liquid)

Tangzhong water to flour ratio

Tangzhong typically has a ratio somewhere near 1 part flour to 5 parts liquid (1:5), but this ratio is not absolute. I've used various ratios with varying success, and in my tangzhong sandwich bread, I use a ratio of 1 to 4 (74g flour to 296g milk, or 1:4). The additional liquid ensures it doesn't burn and likely also accounts for evaporation.

Yudane water to flour ratio

Yudane typically has a ratio of 1 part water to 1 part liquid (1:1).

Preparing Tangzhong Ahead of Time

When using tangzhong or yudane, it's possible to make the roux the night before or several hours ahead of time. Prepare the mixture, either by cooking over the stove or by pouring boiling liquid over the flour, then set out to cool. Once slightly cool, cover the roux and place it in the refrigerator until needed.

I like to take it out of the refrigerator to come up to room temp before mixing the roux into my dough but this is not necessary. Just be sure the added ingredient is taken into account when determining your final dough temperature.

Recommended reading: The Importance of Dough Temperature in Baking.

Tangzhong recipes to try

Many amazing bread recipes use the tangzhong or yudane method: Japanese milk bread, tangzhong milk bread, and milk bread (sometimes called milk toast). I've experimented using tangzhong and yudane in several of my recipes (with more to come)—here's where you can get started:

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