Vegan Japanese Milk Bread
This vegan Japanese milk bread is easy to make at home and perfect for all your sandwich and toast needs! It bakes up golden brown on the outside, with a soft, tender interior. Best bread ever!
If you’ve never had Japanese milk bread (also known as shokupan) before, you’re in for a treat. It has a soft, cloud-like texture, a delicate sweetness, and it’s perfectly moist. Just toasting a slice and enjoying it as-is—yes, without jam or even a smear of vegan butter!—is a simple pleasure.
While most Japanese milk bread is made with dairy milk, butter, and eggs, I’ve come up with a vegan version that’s every bit as good as the original, sans the animal products. Homemade yeast bread has a reputation for being fussy, but you’ll also be glad to know that this vegan Hokkaido milk bread is one of the easier bread recipes you can make at home—in fact, it’s great for beginners!
What Is So Special About Milk Bread?
One of the things that makes Japanese milk bread unique is that it begins with a tangzhong starter, which involves cooking a small amount of the bread flour in liquid. This technique “pre-gelatinizes” the flour, allowing it to hold more moisture, giving Japanese milk bread its signature melt-in-your-mouth texture and a longer shelf life.
Dough made using the tangzhong method can be used to make cinnamon rolls, dinner rolls, and burger buns in addition to loaves of bread. Many Chinese, Taiwanese, and Korean breads are made with tangzhong, but the most popular bread using this technique is Japanese milk bread! I also used this technique in my incredibly delicious vegan cinnamon rolls!
Notes on Ingredients
Please note that this is important information on the ingredients and instructions and the FULL recipe with amounts and details can be found DOWN BELOW (scroll to it) in the recipe card.
For the tangzhong:
- Bread flour – Bread flour is important in this recipe; it creates a more elastic dough because it has more protein than all-purpose flour.
- Soy milk
For the vegan milk bread:
- Bread flour
- Brown sugar
- Instant yeast
- Sea salt
- Soy milk – This should be warm, or somewhere between 110°F to 120°F if you have a thermometer.
- Vegan butter – Melt this in the microwave or in a small saucepan on the stove.
How to Make Vegan Japanese Milk Bread
While making yeast bread at home takes some time, it’s not hard to do! Follow along with the step-by-step photos and instructions below.
Make the tangzhong:
Cook the mixture. Whisk together the bread flour, soy milk, and water in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Continue to whisk until the mixture thickens to the consistency of a pudding or a slurry.
Chill. Pour the tangzhong into a small bowl and place it in the fridge for about 10 minutes.
Make the bread:
Combine the dry ingredients. Whisk together the bread flour, sugar, instant yeast, sea salt, and cinnamon in the bowl of a stand mixer.
Add the remaining dough ingredients. In the center of the flour, make a well. Pour in the warm milk, vegan butter, and tangzhong mixture in a slow, steady stream. Using a spatula, stir until just combined, making a shaggy dough.
Rest. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and let it rest for about 10 minutes.
Knead. Knead the dough on medium speed (speed 4 for a KitchenAid stand mixer) for 15 minutes, stopping to scrape down the sides as needed. You can add up to 2 tablespoons more flour if the dough is sticky at first; you want the dough to be smooth. Pull or roll the dough into a smooth ball by stretching it up and around itself.
Let the dough rise. Lightly grease the bowl with oil and place the dough ball back into it. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and set it on the counter for at least 1 hour (or up to 90 minutes) in a warm place, or in the fridge overnight for 8 to 12 hours. The dough should double in size.
Form the dough into balls. Gently punch down the dough to deflate it. Pull the sides in onto each other and fold over the dough a few times. Weigh the dough, then divide it into 4 equal balls, rolling them tight. Cover them with a damp towel and rest for 15 minutes.
Roll and shape the dough. Place one dough ball onto a floured surface. Use a rolling pin to roll it into an 8” x 4” rectangle. Fold the two ends over onto each other, then turn the dough 90 degrees, and roll it out again into a 4-inch long log. Repeat with the remaining balls of dough.
Assemble the loaf. Butter an 8 ½ x 4 ½ loaf pan, then place the logs of dough next to each other in the pan, seam-side-down.
Let the dough rise. Cover the loaf with a damp towel and let it rise for about 45 minutes, or until the dough reaches the top of the pan. During the last 15 minutes of rising time, begin preheating your oven to 350ºF.
Make the egg wash. In a small bowl, whisk together the ingredients for the vegan egg wash. Brush this mixture onto the top of the dough.
Bake. Place the bread pan in the centre of the oven and bake for 30 to 35 minutes.
Finish. Remove the loaf from the oven and brush the top with melted butter or simple syrup if you want it sweet. After 10 minutes, remove the loaf from the pan and let it cool completely on a wire rack. To serve, pull it apart or cut it into slices.
Tips for Success
Here are a few additional tips for making vegan Japanese milk bread and working with tangzhong.
- Making the tangzhong. You don’t need to chill the tangzhong for a long time; I pop it in the fridge while I gather up and measure the rest of the ingredients for the recipe.
- Creating the perfect environment for dough to rise. If your kitchen is cold or drafty, your dough might not rise as well as you’d like, resulting in a lackluster bread. If you need a warm place for the dough to rise, set the bowl in an oven with the pilot light on, which will provide just enough residual heat for it to rise.
- Preventing the crust from being over-done. Keep an eye on the loaf during the last half of the baking time. If you notice the crust is getting too dark, you can tent it with foil.
How Do You Eat Japanese Milk Bread?
The way I’ve developed this recipe, the loaf can be pulled apart or you can slice it. If you pull it apart, eat it as-is or slather it with vegan compound butter, jam, almond butter, or my Insanely Delicious Cookie Butter.
Sliced vegan Japanese milk bread makes amazing toast, peanut butter and jelly, plant-based grilled cheese, and it’s an excellent base for just about any sandwich. (Try it with my chickpea tuna salad!) You can also cut the bread into cubes, toast it in the oven, and float them on tomato soup to add some crunch and texture!
How to Store
When wrapped well, this vegan milk bread can be stored at room temperature for 5 to 7 days.
Can This Recipe Be Frozen?
You can freeze a loaf of Japanese milk bread for up to 3 months. Let it thaw at room temperature before serving.
Enjoy friends! If you make this vegan Japanese milk bread recipe, please snap a photo and tag #jessicainthekitchen on Instagram! We’d also love it if you would leave a comment below, and give the recipe a rating! Thanks so much!
Vegan Japanese Milk Bread
- 2 tablespoons bread flour, 15g
- ¼ cup soy milk, 60mL (or any non dairy milk)
- 2 tablespoons water, 30mL
- 3 cups bread flour, 360g – reserve two tablespoons for when kneading
- ¼ cup brown sugar, 50g
- 2 ¼ teaspoons instant yeast, about 1 packet
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- ¾ cup soy milk not hot – warm to touch ranging between 110°F to 120°F, 180mL (or any non-dairy milk)
- ⅓ cup melted vegan butter, 69g
Vegan Egg Wash
- 3 tablespoons unsweetened vegan milk, (44mL) (or any non-dairy milk)
- 1 teaspoon maple syrup or agave syrup, (6.75g) use only ½ teaspoon if you don't want any extra hint of sweetness on your bread
- ½ teaspoon regular mustard, , (2.5g) or dijon mustard
After Baking Brush On
- some melted vegan butter, or a simple syrup mix if you want it sweet, simple syrup by melting down 1 tablespoon sugar + 1 tablespoon water until mixed
- In a small pan, whisk together the bread flour, vegan milk and water until mixed together. Add the pan to the stove over medium high and stir until the mixture thickens up which will happen quickly, within 1 minute or 2. It’ll look thick, almost like a pudding or a slurry. Remove from heat and pour into a small bowl and allow it to cool for about 10 minutes in the fridge. I like to do this first while I’m assembling the rest of the ingredients.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, add in the bread flour, sugar, instant yeast and sea salt. Whisk the ingredients together.
- Create a well in the centre of the flour. Slowly add the warm milk, vegan butter and Tangzhong mixture from earlier to the dry ingredients, and then mix together with a spatula until JUST incorporated. The dough should look shaggy.
- Cover with a kitchen towel and let it sit for about 10 minutes to rest and allow the ingredients to absorb together.
- Using your dough hook, knead the dough for 15 full minutes on medium (speed 4 for a Kitchenaid). You can pause halfway for a minute or two to scrape down your bowl.
- The dough might be sticky at first, but you can add up to 2 tablespoons of flour while kneading about 5 minutes in to make it easier to manage. You want the end dough ball to be smooth, with slight dimples with a bit of tension formed. Stretch the dough up and onto itself and pull/roll into a smooth ball.
- Lightly grease the bowl of the dough with some additional oil and place the dough ball back into the bowl. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and let it sit for at least 1 hour to 90 minutes on the counter in a WARM area. If your kitchen is too cold, you can place it in your OFF oven with the pilot light on which will provide enough residual heat for it to rise. The dough should rise and double in size.
- Punch down the dough. Pull the sides in on each other and fold over the dough a few times.
- Weigh out your dough, and divide into 4 equal balls. Pull and roll the balls tight, then cover with a damp towel or paper towel and let that rest for about 15 minutes.
- After 15 minutes, place one dough ball onto a floured surface. Using your rolling pin, gently roll it into a log, pressing out all the air bubbles. Get it smooth and flat, into about an 8” x 4” rectangle (roughly). Fold the two ends over and onto each other. Turn the dough 90 degrees, and roll out again (you are creating layers by doing this). Shape your log into 4 inches wide now. While rolling and tucking, roll into a 4 inch long log.
- Butter an 8 ½ x 4 ½ loaf pan, and place the first log, seam side down, into it.
- Repeat the same for the other 3 balls, placing side by side in the loaf pan.
- Cover again with a damp towel and allow to rise for about 45 minutes until the dough crowns the top of the loaf pan.
- You can also begin preheating your oven to 350°F/180°C within the last 15 minutes so it’s ready when they’re done rising.
- In a small bowl, mix together the ingredients for the vegan egg wash – the extra milk, agave/maple syrup and mustard. Brush your “humps” generously with the mixture.
- Bake your bread for 30-35 minutes in the middle of the oven. Remove from the oven. If they begin to brown too quickly, cover with foil in the last 5-10 minutes.
- Remove the from the oven and brush immediately with melted butter or a simple syrup if you want it sweet. After 10 minutes, remove from the pan and let it cool completely on a wire rack before pulling the 4 pieces apart. You can also slice into slices. Enjoy!
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