Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Sourdough milk bread with Tang Zhong

Sourdough milk bread with Tang Zhong

Even when I am super busy, or not in my kitchen or without my tools - and currently I am at the same time in all of the mentioned conditions - I still love to make bread. Baking my own bread is for me a very relaxing activity - and definitely much less expensive than shopping - and makes me feel as I were at home.
As I said in my previous post, at the moment I am in a temporary accommodation - and so I will be for a while, probably even without an Internet connection for few weeks - where cooking is not as easy and pleasant as it can be in a fully furnished kitchen, with any kind of tool and utensil. This doesn't mean that I order from take-out places or buy ready to eat dishes; but of course I cannot make any sort of recipe, like those requiring a mixer or a blender (I'm missing hummus for example) or particular pans or pots.

But bread, probably because is one of the most basic and fundamental foods, can be made anywhere and requires few simple tools (some bowls, a fork or whisk, a baking tray or a loaf pan) and a oven.
To be totally honest though, I am somehow "forced" (by myself) to bake as I want to keep my sourdough starter alive and kicking.
In any case I am not experimenting a lot: I use to make only tested and simple recipes like rustic sourdough bread and pita.
But last week I wanted to make something more complicated, using the so called Tang Zhong technique: a soft milk bread which is perfect to make sandwiches and toasts - after all bread with jam is my son's favorite breakfast (after crostata).
To be more precise this is not a recipe difficult to make, it just requires time and a bit of organization, like the majority of breads indeed. But it gives a great satisfaction and will make you forget any store-bought sandwich loaf.
Sourdough milk bread with Tang Zhong

This bread is a quintessential example of an Asian baking technique called the Tang Zhong method. This method refers to adding a roux made of 1 part of flour and 5 parts of water (or milk) by weight to the dough, which helps make a soft, light and fluffy bread. And the even more interesting part is that the bread stays fluffy and soft for few days after baking: simply reheat a slice or a piece of your loaf  in the microwave for 10 to 15 seconds, and you’ll have a warm, soft and fluffy bread on hand, just like it’s fresh out of the oven.

It is thought that the Tang Zhong method originated in Japan, but it became widely known to home cooks, especially in China, after the publication of "65°C Bread Doctor", a cookbook written in Chinese by Yvonne Chen in 2007. The 65°C refers to the fact that 65 degrees Celsius (149 degrees Fahrenheit) is the temperature at which the starches in the flour gelatinize and the Tang Zhong comes together into a pudding-like roux.
Well, for a scientific explanation of how and why the Tang Zhong works in order to make soft and fluffy bread which keeps well for long, I would refer you to the Internet where you can find a lot of food-nerd information.
For a quick and dirty explanation I just can say that the water roux is basically a gel made out of a portion of the flour and liquid that goes into any bread. This gel basically locks in the liquid throughout the entire rest of the mixing and baking process, so it doesn’t evaporate. At the same time the flour in the roux is also sealed away and will not develop gluten during the kneading process. As a result, the baked bread has a higher moisture content, and lower gluten development, which means it’s softer, lighter and fluffier  – and also keeps this way for longer - than bread made the traditional way.

In theory any normal bread recipe can be converted into the Tang Zhong method, in order to have a softer result.
To do it in practice (but personally I haven't converted any traditional recipe yet) you should take out about 11-12 percent bread flour from the original recipe to make Tang Zhong adding water at a ratio of 1 (flour) to 5 (liquid). This mixture, cooled down, has then to be added to the dough along with the other ingredients.

With regard to the following recipe, I made it several times and loved it. I also changed part of the flour with less refined ones, always with good results.
Powdered milk is optional in the recipe, but helps to have an even softer bread, so I would recommend to use it if possible.

The dough is not difficult to handle so you can do all the mixing and kneading by hand (as I do most of the times); an electric mixer can be of help but absolutely not necessary.
Sourdough milk bread with Tang Zhong

Sourdough milk bread with Tang Zhong
for a 28 cm (1 kg) loaf pan
For the Tang Zhong
25 g flour (all purpose)
125 g water
For the dough
all the Tang Zhong prepared
300 g flour (all purpose)
100 g strong bread flour
120 g sourdough starter (50% - 60% hydration), mature at room temperature
1 tsp barley malt (or honey)
110 g milk (full fat or skimmed)
100 g water
1 tsp powdered milk (optional)
10 to 20 g sugar (depending on the desired sweetness)
20 g extra-virgin olive oil (or vegetable oil for a more neutral taste)
6 to 8 g sea salt
About the sourdough starter
In case you use a 100% hydration sourdough starter, reduce the quantity to 80 g and add 40 g more flour to the dough. Tang Zhong is the same.
In case you use yeast, use 8 g if fresh or 2,5 g if dry, but reduce the milk to 100 g and water to 80 g.  Tang Zhong is the same. Let the dough rise for two hours before shaping and, before baking, wait until it is doubled in size.
Make the Tang Zhong (water roux) first: put 25 g flour in a small saucepan and gradually add the water, mixing with a whisk until smooth. Place on a low heat and mix just a few minutes until you have a thick, gel-like consistency.
If you have a thermometer, it is ready when the temperature will be 65°C.
Remove from the heat and transfer it to a small, clean bowl. Let it cool to room temperature.
You can also prepare it in advance and keep it in the fridge for up to two days covered with cling film touching the surface.

Place the sourdough, broken into pieces, in a large bowl (or in the bowl of a standing mixer, if using), add the milk, water and barley malt and mix until the starter is dissolved (if using a mixer use the paddle attachment, by hand a whisk or a fork).
Add the powdered milk (if using), the cooled Tang Zhong, half of the flour and mix at low speed to amalgamate. Add the sugar and the remaining flour, and salt at the end.
If using an electric mixer, change the attachment and use the hook from now, mixing on low speed until you have a smooth and firm dough.
This is a quite easy dough, so you can do the mixing easily by hand, adding the ingredients in the same order.
Add the oil, a little at a time, waiting to add more until it is well mixed in the dough. You must end with a smooth dough, but quite soft and sticky. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place it in the fridge for at least half an hour.

After the rest, transfer the dough onto a floured surface and work it using the stretch and fold technique: using your fingertips, flatten the dough into a rectangle then fold one third of the dough toward the center, do the same with the other third, as you were folding a tissue or a napkin (after the folding you end up with three layers of dough). Then turn the dough 90° and repeat. Check this link for pictures of the technique.
Repeat the whole stretch and fold operation two times with 40 - 45 minutes intervals between one folding and the other, covering the dough with a bowl while resting.
After the second folding, round a bit the dough and let it rest covered with the bowl for about 30 minutes.
In the meantime oil or butter or line with baking paper a 1 kg loaf pan.
On a floured working surface, divide the risen dough into 6 even pieces (weighing is recommended).
Lightly flatten each piece with your fingertips (don't use rolling pin) to form a rough thick rectangle, fold the upper corners, then roll lengthwise and place in the prepared pan.
Cover with oiled cling film and let proof until the dough is doubled in size and reaches the edges of the pan (depending on the room temperature and the strength of your starter, it will take from 3 to 6 hours). It is recommended to let the dough proof in a place at constant temperature, repaired from air.

When the dough seems ready, test it by pressing it gently with one finger; when the indentation bounces back slowly but remains lightly visible, the dough is ready to bake.
When the dough is almost ready, preheat the oven to 180°C and gently brush the top of the dough with milk. You can sprinkle some sesame seeds or other seeds of your choice on the top.
Bake for about 30 - 35 minutes until the top is golden brown and the loaf sounds hollow when thumped with a wooden spoon.
If it becomes too brown, cover the top with aluminum foil.
Remove from the oven, let cool for few minutes, then remove from the pan and let cool on a rack in the oven with the door open.
Let it cool completely before slicing.

This keeps well for few days at room temperature in a plastic bag and frozen for few months.

Instead of 6 rolls you can make 12 even balls and place them in the pan creating three rows made of two balls put side by side.


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