This is the best soft milk buns recipe ever. There are plenty of recipes for Japanese soft milk buns or bread rolls online. The ingredients I use are identical to that of popular You Tube channel Cook Kafemaru’s recipe for soft and fluffy milk bread. However, I make mine in either a bread machine (my preference as it’s a time saver) or a kitchen stand mixer. If you plan on making milk buns by hand, please refer to the Cook Kafemaru recipe.
Both recipes call for ingredients that you’re likely to already have in your kitchen. And if you have a bread machine, the dough for these soft milk buns takes absolutely no effort to put together. It takes the guess work out of bread making if you’re new to it. I just remove the ball of dough after its first proofing and roll it into 16 smaller balls. The second proofing happens in loaf pans before they’re baked in the oven.
I started off trying to master making small, pale, fluffy buns because I was trying to create lunch box stuffers inspired by Kokoma’s adorable creations. These little soft milk buns are perfectly portioned for children and make fabulous buns for sliders (shape them a little larger to yield 12 buns for this purpose). My kids love eating them with cocktail sausages in the morning (yes, processed meat) and scoops of ice cream after dinner. The remarkably tender crumb of these soft milk buns reminds me of the sweet buns and breads I grew up eating (the rest of the world calls these Asian-style breads). They’re perfect with a generous wodge of cold salted butter and a slathering of kaya. I bet they’d be awesome stuffed with a slice of pan fried luncheon meat, too.
I’ve included instructions for making these soft milk buns using a kitchen stand mixer if you don’t have a bread machine. They can also be made by hand, but you’ll need to be prepared to invest a good deal of elbow grease and patience to do this. This high hydration dough is very sticky. I haven’t attempted it myself, but this dough can probably be made in your food processor or blender if you are already familiar with making doughs in your machine.
Watch this video to understand the visual clues that indicate when a high hydration dough is ready to be portioned and how it needs to be handled. Resist the urge to dust it with more flour. The video demonstrates the technique with large boules, but at the final shaping of these soft milk buns, I flatten the dough in a similar manner, perform the business letter/envelope fold and roll the dough up again before I tuck it into a ball. This Chef Steps video offers a good visual explanation for how the bun should be tucked into a ball at the final step before you proof it for the second time. Also check out the Instagram Stories Highlights for Soft Buns FAQs over at @mummy.3xplorers. She has shared some great videos and tips specific to this recipe.
- Maintaining the percentage of hydration in this recipe is vital. Avoid adding more flour to reduce stickiness as this will not yield light fluffy buns.
- Try to make these soft milk buns in a cool kitchen. I tend to prepare them at night or in an air-conditioned space.
- Also avoid making them on an extremely humid day. I suspect that making this in an outdoor tropical kitchen will present issues. I know that when I make them on a warm, humid afternoon here in Singapore, the texture is affected. If you work in an air-conditioned space, then this isn’t an issue.
- If you prefer to eyeball your ingredients, this isn’t the recipe for you. Precise measurements are what ensures consistent results with this specific recipe. I use a weighing scale that is accurate to 0.1g because the percentage of liquids in this recipe is finely balanced. When I have been less conscientious and let a couple of extra grams of milk find their way into the dough, I’ve noticed that the texture of the dough gets thrown off and can become impossible to work with.
- This is a mom tip from Instagrammer @mummy.3xplorers. Once you work out how to make these buns (and especially if you’re doing this by hand or with a kitchen stand mixer), it helps to note down the amount of time it takes for you to mix and knead the dough. It increases your chances of reproducing the buns with your equipment and in your kitchen every single time. Plus, if you’re using a stand mixer, it frees you up to tackle another task. But don’t leave your machine unattended.
If the yield of 16 buns is too large for your family, bake just half the dough balls and hold the second half tightly wrapped in cling wrap in the refrigerator. Refer to my note below for more details on how you can do this.
I tend to gravitate towards efficient recipes that yield tasty results that I know will appeal to most of my family members. My schedule doesn’t allow for protracted active time in the kitchen and these days I tend to only cook to nourish rather than to entertain. This is the season of life I am in. To achieve predictable outcomes every time I attempt to make these soft milk buns, I count on precise measurements (and reliable equipment). This is why my recipes are tiresomely detailed.
Once you understand the necessary steps, preparing these soft milk buns become incredibly easy. I weigh the ingredients and pop them into the bread machine before my children’s bedtime. The rest of the baking process happens in-between the work and housework I tend to toggle between at night. It’s uplifting to work to the scent of freshly baked bread in the air.
Soft milk buns
Makes 16 small buns
250g bread flour
30g castor sugar
3g fine salt
3g instant dry yeast
20g unsalted butter, softened
185g cold whole milk
Bread machine dough setting method
Place all the dry ingredients in the bread machine bowl. Whisk to combine. Add the butter and milk. Activate the dough kneading function.
Kitchen stand mixer method
Place bread flour, sugar, salt and instant dry yeast in the bowl of your stand mixer. Whisk to combine.
Add milk. Combine using the dough hook on low until dough starts to come together (this will take no more than a few minutes). It will be a scraggly ball. Resist the urge to add more flour.
Make a well in the ball of dough. Insert butter and wrap it up so that the butter is encased in dough. Continue working it using the dough hook on medium speed, scraping down the sides of the bowl regularly, until it becomes a smooth ball (be patient, it’ll take at least 12 minutes). You’ll know you’re on the right track when the pool of sticky dough at the base of the bowl eventually gets incorporated and the dough starts slapping the sides of bowl. Do not add more flour. You’re done when your dough passes the windowpane test.
Note: Food processor/blender short-cut. If you are familiar with preparing bread doughs in your food processor or blender, you can probably use it to get you up to this step.
Shape dough into a smooth ball (the dough will still be slightly tacky, but smooth and elastic). I like using the gather up technique illustrated at the end of this post to shape the dough. Drizzle the same mixer bowl with a touch of oil. Set the dough inside the bowl. Cover with a damp towel or cling wrap. Set aside in a warm place until the dough doubles in size (around 1 hour).
Second proofing (same for both methods)
Transfer the dough onto a clean surface (do not dust with flour) and gently flatten the dough with your fingertips to deflate. Divide into 16 equal pieces using a pastry cutter (weighing the dough ensures that they’re the same size). Shape into taut balls (explanation of technique here). Use the pastry cutter to lift the dough cleanly off your work surface if necessary. Resist dusting with flour. If need be, dust your fingers with a little flour.
Cover with a damp cloth or cling wrap and set aside for 15 minutes. Bakers do this to give the gluten time to relax, making the dough easier to roll out and shape after. In the meantime, line two loaf tins or one square baking pan with baking paper.
Flatten each ball into a disc to release trapped gas (I use a small rolling pin. You’ll hear squeaks as the gas is released). Then reshape the dough into a taut ball. Pinch to seal. Line up eight balls in two rows of four balls in each loaf tin or place them in a four-by-four grid in a square baking pan.
Cover with a damp cloth or cling wrap and set aside until the dough balls double in size (approximately an hour). If you oven has a dough proofing function, this time can be reduced significantly.
Note: Bake it later. At the 40 minute mark, you can opt to wrap the pan/s in cling wrap and pop them into the fridge for baking at another time (I’ve only ever held them this way for about 12 hours). Just bring them back to room temperature before baking. They will look like they’ve collapsed into themselves. Once they’ve reached room temperature, they should regain their original smooth domes.
Preheat the oven to 150 degrees Celsius using the convection setting.
You can gently brush the tops of the dough with your preferred bread wash. I keep mine bare because I want aim for the palest crust. My kids like to draw faces on these buns using a food marker.
If your oven has a moisture function for bread baking, activate it at the start of the baking process to inject a burst of steam into the oven cavity. This enhances the dough’s final rise in the oven.
Bake for 17min. The tops of the buns should only just begin to brown a little.
Cool in baking pan placed on a rack for 15 minutes. Remove and place directly on a wire rack to cool further. Gently pull buns apart and enjoy.