Pantry Basics: Soft milk buns

Fluffy Asian style pull apart buns
Fluffy Asian style pull apart buns
Irresistibly fluffy soft milk buns.

This is the simplest 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.

These buns 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 in the bread machine and roll it into 16 smaller balls. The second proofing happens in loaf pans before they’re baked in the oven.

Ingredients for soft, fluffy Asian-style milk buns.
Ingredients for soft milk buns.

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.

The dough after the first proof.
The dough after the first proof.

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 (@rosalindsk has a great series of videos on her IG Stories Highlights on bread kneading. She talks specifically about hand kneading soft milk buns). 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 for pre-shaping 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. If you’re new to baking bread, @mummy.3xplorers also has a series of handy posts to help you understand some of the variables that may affect your results. 

Some considerations

  1. 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 oiling your fingers and rolling pin instead.
  2. Try to make these soft milk buns in a cool kitchen. I tend to prepare them at night or in an air-conditioned space.
  3. 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. 
  4. 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.
  5. This is a mom tip from @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 which I know will appeal to most of my family members. My schedule doesn’t allow for protracted active time in the kitchen, so these days I tend to only cook to nourish rather than to entertain.  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.

Leave dough balls to double in size.
Leave dough balls to double in size.
Activate the steam function if your oven has one.
Activate the moisture function for bread baking if your oven has one.

About Su-Lyn Tan

Su-Lyn is Aun's better half and for many years, the secret Editor behind this blog known to readers simply as S. Su-Lyn is an obsessive cook and critical eater whose two favourite pastimes are spending time with her three kids and spending time in the kitchen. She looks forward to combining the two in the years to come.