How do you make breads, rolls, and buns moister, fluffier, and longer-lasting in one simple step? Use the baking technique known as tangzhong that was popularized by Taiwanese pastry chef Yvonne Chen in the early 2000s but actually originated in Japan in the 1800s. Thanks to Chen, the technique is commonly called by its Chinese name, tangzhong.
The term, which loosely translates as “hot-water roux,” refers to a pudding‑like mixture made by cooking a small amount of flour in water until the two form a gel. Mixing that gel into the rest of the dough ingredients enables the baker to add a high proportion of water without making the dough unworkably soft and sticky, because some of the water is effectively “locked away” in the gel. When the baked good hits the oven, that abundance of water turns to steam and inflates the dough, making it light and soft. The gel also extends the shelf life of baked goods, so they remain moist for days.
Tangzhong in Our Recipes
We first used the technique in our Fluffy Dinner Rolls recipe to produce rolls with a particularly moist, airy, feathery crumb that stayed fresh and soft longer than conventional rolls. Next, we incorporated tangzhong into our Sticky Buns for an easy-to-work-with dough that produced light, moist treats without too much richness. And it was really useful in Easy-Braid Challah, because stickiness is a detriment when braiding the dough. We’ve also had great success using the technique in Oatmeal Dinner Rolls as well as in Kanelbullar (Swedish Cinnamon Buns).
How to Make and Use Tangzhong
In many recipes that employ the tangzhong method, the paste is about 5 parts liquid to 1 part flour and makes up 15 to 20 percent of the total dough weight. Here's the basic process.
1. Whisk the water and and the flour together in a small bowl until no lumps remain.
2. Microwave the mixture, whisking every 20 seconds, until it thickens to stiff, smooth, pudding-like consistency that forms a mound when dropped from the end of the whisk into a bowl.
3. Combine the tangzhong with the remaining ingredients to create the dough.
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