Red Bean Swirl Milk Bread


After my cream puff adventure I had extra red bean paste left over, and decided to use it in a recipe I’ve been meaning to try for ages– Hokkaido milk bread. It’s a soft, sweet, tender bread that’s made using the tangzhong method– which basically means that you make a roux out of some of the flour, then mix it into the dough. The theory is that the roux acts to lock up some of the moisture from the water, plus locking up some of the flour so that it can’t create gluten when kneaded, making the bread softer and more tender.

I decided to roll the dough up with a layer of red bean paste to add interest, kind of like cinnamon swirl bread. The experiment was a success, and just like cinnamon bread, this also makes fabulous toast.

Red Bean Swirl Milk Bread (adapted from Dessert First Girl)


  • 25 g bread flour
  • 100 ml water

Bread Dough:

  • 150 ml milk, lukewarm (about 105 degrees F, no more than 110)*
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons active dry or instant yeast
  • 350 g bread flour
  • 60 g sugar
  • 1 teaspoon (5 g) salt
  • 1 large egg, plus another for egg wash
  • 30 g unsalted butter, room temperature

*The original recipe called for only 125 ml, but as I will discuss further in the Notes section, I’m not sure this is enough.


 To make tangzhong:
1. Whisk flour and water together in a small saucepan and cook over medium-low heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens into a pudding-like consistency and you can leave lines in the mixture, about 5 minutes.
2. Let the tangzhong cool to room temperature before using. You can also store in the refrigerator for a couple days and bring to room temperature before using. If you see grayish spots in the tangzhong, discard it and make a fresh batch.
To make bread:
1. Combine yeast and milk and 2 teaspoons of the sugar in a small bowl and let stand for about 5-8 minutes until yeast is bubbly.
2. Combine flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add in the yeast mixture, room temperature tangzhong, and egg. Mix with a dough hook attachment about 10 minutes to form a soft dough.
3. Add in the butter and mix to incorporate, about another 10 minutes until dough is smooth, elastic, and passes the windowpane test.
4. Remove the dough into an oiled container and cover with plastic wrap. Let sit at warm room temperature about 40 minutes, or until doubled in size.
5. Once dough has doubled, roll it out flat into a rectangle about 3/4″ thick.
6. Spread a thin (1/8″) layer of red bean paste over the dough, leaving at least 1″ border empty.
7. Bring the short ends of the dough to the center and pinch closed. Pinch all sides together to seal in the bean paste.
8. Turn 90 degrees and roll out the dough again to roughly its original size, then fold in thirds like a letter.
9. Turn 90 degrees and roll out again, then fold in thirds again.
10. Gently roll out the dough so the layers just stick together. At this point your dough should be a few inches longer than your loaf pan.
11. Using a sharp knife, slice your dough into three segments, held together at one end.
12. Braid dough with layered sides facing out. Pinch ends together and settle into parchment-lined loaf pan.
13. Let dough rise for another 40 minutes to an hour.
14.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
15. Brush the risen loaf with beaten egg and bake for about 40 minutes,  until a deep golden brown.
16. Remove from oven and cool in the pan about 5 minutes before lifting out and cooling on a wire rack.
I really love the design that this braiding technique makes on the inside of the bread. The one problem with it is that while it’s beautiful (I kind of wanted to call this “zebra milk bread”), it does make the slices fall apart rather easily. This might not happen if you used a different filling, maybe the egg white/cinnamon/sugar filling I used for my cinnamon babka, but with red bean paste it didn’t hold together very well. Still gorgeous, though.
1. The tangzhong is really easy to make– just don’t walk away from it, because it thickens up very quickly.
2. One trick I used for warming the milk to the correct temperature was to measure out about 3/4 of the milk and microwave it for 35 seconds. Then, because it was too hot, I added cold milk until I reached the right temperature. If I had too much I just poured off the rest. It’s easier than trying to estimate how long it’ll take to get just the right temperature in the microwave.
3. Like I mentioned above, I don’t think that 125 ml of milk is enough, despite two different but near-identical recipes telling me it was. I made this recipe the first time with 125 ml and the dough wasn’t anything like the “soft and sticky” or “shaggy” descriptors in the recipe–instead it was stiff, dense, and not stretchy at all, and I worried enough about it that I added about 50 ml of extra milk just before letting it rise (which was probably too much). I tried it a second time with 125 ml, just to make sure I hadn’t made a mistake the first time, and it was still stiff, so I added an extra 25 ml of milk right near the beginning and kneaded it in well. That made the dough much more manageable through the whole process, and it was actually soft and stretchy by the time the butter got kneaded in.
4. Oddly enough, despite all the recipes online telling me that this bread stays soft and delicious for ages, mine dried out pretty quickly. Like, I cut a slice and a few hours later the remaining cut side was getting pretty hard. Not sure why, but just keep in mind that this bread won’t stay moist forever. It does freeze well, though. I cut mine in slices before freezing and just warm them up in the toaster.
5. I am absolutely going to start using the letter-fold technique for future loaves requiring multiple layers of filling. I know it’s just a standard laminated dough technique, but somehow I’d never thought of it before. So much easier than, say, spreading multiple thin layers of nutella over dough for that “nutella star bread” you see everywhere these days.

5 thoughts on “Red Bean Swirl Milk Bread

  1. Pingback: Fast and Easy No-Knead Bread | It's All Frosting...

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