Japanese Milk Bread

By on April 1, 2019

Japanese Milk Bread

The connection between the United States and Japan goes back for years. In the mid-nineties, when my writing partner, Diana Butts and I decided to tackle bread for our new topic, we came up close and personal to the international connection.

Bread  machines had just been invented – in guess where – Japan.  The first of these machines,  many of them made by Zojirushi, a 90 year old Japanese company who started out making  water bottles, then moved to rice cookers and finally to bread machines.

The recipes included with the Japanese made machines did not suit American cooks.  Flavor just wasn’t there to suit American tastes.  And that’s where Diana and I stepped in and began making breads to suit American cooks in the Japanese bread machines.

We estimate we made a thousand loaves of bread before we were satisfied with the results.

Boom.  Everything began to soar.  We also standardized the way yeast breads were made using the food processor as a proofing cabinet.  The changes that Diana and I made have become standard for American bakers.  Even Julia Child stood up in a meeting (we were not present) and announced to that group of cooking mavens that the method we had developed would change the way Americans made bread.

And so it has.  Now, some twenty five years,  Diana and I are pleased to see our methods represented in cookbooks from coast to coast.

But back to the Japanese Milk bread.  This bread  is sold in the U.S. and elsewhere, most often in Asian markets formed into the traditional loaf  or pullman shape.

One reason this bread  is so popular is because it keeps so well.

While other home made yeast bread stale in a day or so,  one loaf of Japanese Milk bread will last for several more days and remain fresh and delicious.

Why does this bread last?  As usual, technique wins out.  Baking is, in the last instance,  science.  The Japanese had their own method for making starters, and when Americans began in incorporate the Japanese style starter ,  Bingo.  A bread that was light.  Slightly sweet and quite durable.

I make a loaf of this every week.  Sometimes, I make it in the bread machine.  Yes, I still have one of these antiques in the basement.  Other times,  I make the dough in a food processor, and bake it in a traditional covered Pain De Mie pan.

Now that I live alone,  children and husbands all flew the coop years ago,  I still get great bread, for breakfast, when it makes luscious toast,  or for dinner when my friends are likely to exclaim, “Where did you get this gorgeous bread?”

And that brings me to another tidbit of knowledge you may not have known.  Panko bread crumbs were originally made from the heels of this Japanese style bread.  Of course,  now they’re made commercially but if you want the real deal,  let the heels of your bread dry out, then whiz them up in the food processor .  Voila.  Authentic Japanese style bread crumbs, good for many uses.


But regardless of the method I use,  I make the Japanese style starter to begin and that gives the results I crave. Happy baking.

Japanese Milk Bread

Makes 1 pullman or traditional loaf

For the Starter:

1/3 cup bread flour

½ cup whole milk

Combine in a small heavy pot and cook over low heat until the dough pulls away from the sides.  Set aside to cool.

For the Bread Dough:

½ cup water

½ cup whole milk

1/3 cup soft butter

1/3 cup soft butter

1/3 cup white sugar

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 .25 oz. package active dry yeast

3-3/4 cups bread flour (or all-purpose)


Make the starter and set it aside to cool. Lightly butter one loaf or pullman loaf pan and set it aside.

Combine water, milk, egg, sugar and salt in a glass measure, then heat in the microwave until warm – 1 to 2 minutes.  Pour into the bowl of the food processor OR bread maker. Add cooled starter and whiz to mix.

Now add butter, then all the flour and process until it forms a soft ball that rides the blade around.  Add flour as needed to make a soft but pliable dough.

If you’re using a bread machine, simply close the top and process on bread setting. Within about 3 hours, you will have a gorgeous loaf of bread.

If you’re using a food processor, process until the dough rides the blade around and forms a soft ball.  Move the machine to the stove top which you have preheated to 400 degrees.  Let the ball of dough rise until doubled in bulk – about 20 minutes, then open and remove the ball of dough to a lightly floured counter top.

Roll into a 12-inch circle.  Top with more soft butter then form into a loaf shape and place it in the prepared bread  loaf or Pullman pan.  Cover and let it rise until it comes up over the top. Remove the cover to bake.

Bake in preheated oven about 40 minutes. Turn out onto a cooling rack.  Cool before slicing. And save those heels for Panko crumbs.

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About Linda Eckhardt

Linda West Eckhardt, is an award winning journalist, food writer, and nutritionist. Her more than 20 cookbooks have garnered prizes including the James Beard prize for the best cookbook for a text she wrote with her daughter, Katherine West DeFoyd, entitled Entertaining 101, Doubleday. Their follow-up book, Stylish One Dish Dinners, Doubleday, was also nominated for a James Beard prize. Their next book, The High Protein Cookbook, Clarkson Potter, remains a best seller after 12 years. That book was designed to accompany low carb diet plans. Her ground-breaking book, Bread in Half The Time, Broadway Books, was named the Best Cookbook in America by the prestigious IACP, The Julia Child award. Her award winning radio work with Jennifer English, for a national show on the Food and Wine radio network, was nominated for a James Beard Prize for a show called, “I Know What You Ate Last Summer.”