The Tangzhong Method

If you want soft bread then you can use the tangzhong method to make lovely, soft, fluffy bread that stays fresher for longer.

The Tangzhong method

This requires cooking a small percentage of the flour from the recipe in some of the water, much like you cook a roux, then letting it cool, prior to adding the rest of the ingredients.

Heating the flour and water mixture causes the starches in the flour to burst and absorb the water, gelatinising the flour. When the flour and water mixture reaches 65C the starches burst allowing the water to be absorbed and the starches gelatinise turning the mixture into a viscous paste.

Once the starches have absorbed the water that water cannot leach out again; it stays locked within the flour. This has the effect of tenderising the crumb and the additional water content means that the staling process is slowed. The proteins in the flour are hardened in the heat and are incapable of making gluten and so contribute to the close crumbed, tender texture of the bread. The starches also release maltose when exposed to the heat providing a source of food for the yeast, This means that there will be more residual sugars in the final bread making the bread taste sweeter than a loaf made without pre-gelatinised starches. The bread should also rise more in oven spring as a result of the additional steam from the additional water content.

Using the tzanghong method is useful for recreating soft fluffy white bread, tender soft dinner rolls and sweet buns such as cinnamon rolls. Bakeries often employ the tangzhong method to prolong the shelf life of their baked goods and to reduce the amount of butter and sugar needed in their sweet breads.

How to use the tangzhong method

To use the tangzhong method take 5-10% of the flour that is in your recipe and add five times as much water (from the amount in the recipe). Place in a small pan and stir well over a medium heat. If you have a probe thermometer now is the time to use it as you want the mixture to reach 65C. If you don’t have a thermometer then keep stirring until the flour and water become viscous and looks a bit like wallpaper paste. Allow the tzanghing paste to cool fully. You can pop it in the fridge overnight if you like.

You now need to consider adding a little extra water to your final dough. The water that you used in the tangzhong is now fully absorbed in that flour so it will not contribute much to the hydration of the remaining flour. According to the King Arthur Flour website their rule of thumb when using the tangzhong method is to up the hydration to 75%. This means if your flour weight is 1kg you will need to add in total 750g water. But remember to subtract the amount you used in the tangzhong.

An example recipe using the tangzhong method is to convert my Simple White Bread recipe as below.

Original Recipe
500g strong (aka bread) white flour
5g easy bake yeast (or 1 sachet for ease) or 15g fresh yeast
5-10g fine sea salt
Approx 320-340g water

In the original recipe the hydration is at 64% if using 320g water and 68% if using 340g water. To make it 75% hydration you will need to use 375g water in total.

How to convert to tangzhong

To use the tangzhong method you take 25g of the flour and add 125g water and heat in a small pan over a medium heat until it gelatinises. Allow to cool. When ready to make the rest of the dough place the remaining 475g bread flour, the yeast and salt and then add 250g water (this will be 375g of water in total which is 75% hydration) and add the cooled tangzhong paste. Mix well.

The dough will have a similar texture in terms of hydration to the usual dough for the original recipe except it will feel stickier due to the gelatinised starches that you are incorporating into the dough.

Treat the dough in the same way you normally would using the stretch and fold method or kneading and bake as normal. Bakerpedia suggest that the internal temperature of the fully baked bread should reach 95C, which is higher than the usual 88C.

tangzhong dough
The dough after the initial mix

Using tangzhong in sweet doughs

Tangzhong is often used for sweet dough recipes as the technique makes lovely, tender baked buns that stay fresher tasting for longer. The conversion of a sweet dough recipe to using tangzhong can get a bit complicated when trying to recalculate the hydration percentage. Some bakers count only milk and water towards the hydration of the dough, whilst others count in the water content of the other liquid ingredients including the eggs, butter and honey.

To calculate the water content of these other ingredients you will need to take these percentages into account:
Milk is 87% water
Egg is 74% water
Butter is 20% water
Honey is 17% water
Oil is 0% water

You can see how this calculation can start to become complicated.

Take my sweet dough recipe as an example:

Original recipe:
300g strong white flour
250g plain white flour
1 sachet of easy bake/instant yeast or 10-15g fresh yeast 
10g fine sea salt
50g caster sugar
150g whole milk
150g water
50g unsalted butter
1 egg

So to calculate the hydration percentage of this: Milk would be 150×87%=130g, Water is 150g, butter is 150×20%= 30g, the egg weighs roughly 50g so 50×74%=37g. In total the hydration amount would be 130+150+30+37=347g so 347/550=63% hydration. That is a complicated sum to make. What I normally do is take the milk, water and the egg as the main contributors to hydration in this recipe and discount the butter. If you add those these up, assuming that the egg weighs 50g, you get 350/300=64%.

Assuming we need to up the hydration to 75%. The tangzhong recipe will be calculated as 550 x 75%= 412.5 (rounded down to 400g to make life easier, you can add a splash more liquid if you think it needs it). So you need 400g of liquid ingredients in total.

You would then make the tangzhong using 5% of the flour – 27.5g rounded up to 30g to make life easier and using 5 times the amount of water so 150g.

30g strong white flour
150g water

Remaining dough ingredients:
270g strong white flour
250g plain white flour
1 sachet of easy bake/instant yeast or 10-15g fresh yeast 
10g fine sea salt
50g caster sugar
175g whole milk
25g water
50g unsalted butter
1 egg

If your sweet dough recipe uses all milk then tangzhong can be made just as easily with milk as it can with water.

I hope that you will try the tangzhong method next time you want to make tender, fluffy bread. Let me know how you get on if you do. As always, I am here if you have a question.

You can find more information about tangzhong on Bakerpedia, The Perfect Loaf and King Arthur Flour.

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