Say hello to milk bread! This is a fabulous recipe for the iconic soft and fluffy bread that can be made into loaves, pull-apart bread, rolls, or split-top buns. You seriously won’t be able to stop eating this!
Have you ever had milk bread?
I honestly had never heard of it until I saw a Food52 video on Facebook a couple of months ago, and I was immediately sucked in with the promise that it was “the most addictive bread you will ever eat”. Challenge accepted.
The origin of this recipe comes from the Kindred restaurant in Davidson, North Carolina. Apparently, this bread is served as mini pull-apart loaves warm from the oven in lieu of a bread basket, and has a total cult following. The restaurant uses the same dough recipe for its burger buns, split-top rolls, and sandwich bread.
I was totally sold on making the bread, and after a couple of small tweaks, I can confirm that this is, indeed, a hopelessly addicting bread. Grab your favorite butter and let’s get rolling!
What is Milk Bread?
On the surface, milk bread is an utterly fantastic soft and fluffy bread that totally melts in your mouth.
It’s rich, much like challah, but lighter and airier, making it perfect for pull-apart loaves that you just slather with butter.
What Makes the Bread Soft and Fluffy?
So what keeps an enriched dough that uses eggs, butter, cream and honey so soft and fluffy?
This style of bread dates back to 19th century Japan, and utilizes a Chinese technique called tangzhong, which is to first cook a small amount of the flour with water to create a paste that is almost like a roux. Once that is made, you add the rest of the ingredients and and proceed with your bread. Doing this creates a bread with a soft, springy texture that has tiny air bubbles throughout the crumb.
As you can see below, the mixture is a little looser than a roux, yet still thick. The heavy cream and honey get added to the paste, and warmed until the honey has completely dissolved.
Can You Use This Recipe to Make Rolls?
Yes! In fact, you can use it to make all sorts of great bread variations. I made two simple loaves of bread, but you could also make any of the following:
Rolls (dinner roll size or larger)
Split-top rolls (for hot dogs, po boys or lobster rolls!)
I’ve included instructions in the recipe notes on how to make the variations above.
The first time that I made this bread, I had two major issue:
#1 – The dough took FOR-EV-ER to rise both times. As in, like HOURS (3+) for each rise, and even at that, it never got as high and fluffy as I think it should have.
#2 – The bread was super, insanely salty. I’m usually not one to be too bothered by excess salt, but this was like borderline I couldn’t even eat it. My husband actually thought it was pretzel bread because it was so salty.
I made two easy fixes and the next round turned out absolutely phenomenal! First, I swapped the active dry yeast that was in the original recipe for instant yeast. Given that the dough has so much fat between the eggs, cream, and butter, as well as a healthy dose of sugar with the honey, I thought it needed a boost to get going, and the instant yeast provided just that. It rose beautifully with the instant yeast and the resulting bread was super light and fluffy.
As for the salt, I simply cut it in half and it was perfect. It balanced out the rich sweetness but wasn’t overpowering.
If you’ve never tried milk bread before, you HAVE to give this recipe a try! It’s easy and the bread totally melts in your mouth. I made one loaf as a sandwich loaf, and the other one to pull apart. I could NOT stop ripping big chunks off and slathering them with butter. It lasted less than a day, and I would have loved it if three more would have appeared in my kitchen, ha!
The sandwich loaf was equally as delicious, and made absolutely phenomenal sandwiches!
Combine ⅓ cup of the flour and the water in a small saucepan and place over medium heat, whisking constantly, until a thick paste forms (it should be a little looser than a roux), about 3 to 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, add the heavy cream and honey and whisk until honey dissolves. Remove from the heat.
Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook and add the milk powder, yeast, kosher salt, eggs, and 5 remaining cups flour. Knead on medium speed until dough is smooth, about 5 minutes. Add butter, a piece at a time, fully incorporating into dough before adding the next piece, until dough is smooth, shiny, and elastic, about 4 minutes (the dough may look loose and separated at first, but it will come together, just keep kneading).
Coat a large bowl with nonstick cooking spray and transfer dough to bowl, turning to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
Coat two 9- by 5-inch loaf pans with nonstick cooking spray. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and divide into 12 pieces. Nestle the pieces side-by-side to create 2 rows down length of each pan. Cover with a clean dish towel.
Let the dough rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in size (dough should be just puffing over top of pan), about 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and water for the egg wash. Brush top of the dough with egg wash. Sprinkle with flaky sea salt, if desired. Bake, rotating pans halfway through, until bread is deep golden brown and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center registers 190 degrees F, about 30 minutes. Let the bread cool in the pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes before turning them out, then let cool completely before slicing.
To make rolls, divide the dough into 12 equal pieces, shape into rolls, and place in greased 9x13-inch pan. Cover with clean dish cloth and let raise until doubled in size. Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with flaky sea salt, if desired. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden brown brown and instant read thermometer registers 190 degrees F.
To make split-top rolls, lightly coat two 9x13-inch baking dishes with nonstick cooking spray. Divide dough into 12 pieces and shape each into a 4-inch long log. Place 6 logs in a row down length of each dish. Cover with clean dish cloth and let raise until doubled in size. Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with flaky sea salt, if desired. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until golden brown brown and instant read thermometer registers 190 degrees F.