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Low sodium pull-apart Japanese milk rolls

Updated: Nov 10, 2020

This low sodium version of King Arthur Baking's Japanese milk bread rolls are my favorite soft bread. They are slightly sweet and so, so light and fluffy. The rolls start with a special roux called tangzhong which requires an extra step, but it's worth it. Shape these into pull-apart rolls, buns, or a loaf.

Servings: 9 large rolls, or 16 small rolls

Sodium: 18 mg per large roll, 10 mg per small roll

Time: 30 minutes active, 3 hours rising/baking time

Starter (Tangzhong) ingredients:

2 tablespoons (28 g) water

3 tablespoons (43 g) whole or 2% milk

2 tablespoons (14g) bread flour

Dough ingredients:

298 g (2 1/2 cups) bread flour

1/4 cup (50 g) sugar

1 tablespoon instant yeast

113 g (1/2 cup) whole or 2% milk

1 large egg

4 tablespoons (57 g) unsalted butter, melted

Optional: 1/4 cup milk or egg wash (1 egg plus 1 tablespoon water) for brushing on the buns before baking

1) Make the tangzhong - combine all the tangzhong ingredients in a small saucepan and whisk until no lumps remain. Then transfer the saucepan to the stove and cook the mixture over low heat until thick, whisking frequently, about 2-5 minutes. Immediately pour the tangzhong out of the saucepan and into a small bowl and let cool to room temperature. See TIPS below for making this in the microwave.

2) Make the dough - once the tangzhong has cooled to room temperature, combine it with the dough ingredients in a large bowl and let rest, covered, for 20-25 minutes at room temperature. Here's the dough right after it's been mixed.

3) Knead the dough until a smooth, elastic dough forms. I knead by hand on a lightly oiled surface for about 10-15 minutes. At first the dough may stick to your hands but resist the urge to add more flour, just scrape the dough off your hands with a plastic dough scraper and keep going. It should get easier to knead as you go.

Here's the dough after 10 minutes of kneading.

4) Shape the dough into a ball and let it rest in a lightly greased bowl, covered, for about 50-90 minutes, until about doubled in volume.

5) Lightly grease a 9x9 inch square cake pan. I also like to line the bottom of my pan with parchment paper, cut to fit just inside the pan.

6) Deflate the dough and divide into 9 equal pieces (or 16 for smaller rolls). Shape each piece into a ball. I do this by cupping each piece of dough with my hand and applying very gentle pressure while I roll the dough in circles on my worksurface. Arrange the rolls in the pan and cover with lightly oiled plastic wrap. Let rest about 40-50 minutes until puffy.

Here's what "puffy" dough looks like. These have proofed for 40 minutes and they're ready for a milk or egg wash, and then they'll go in the oven.

7) Preheat oven to 350°F. When the rolls are ready to bake, brush with milk and bake for 18-22 minutes until golden brown on top.

8) Remove the rolls from the oven. Allow them to cool in the pan for 10 minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.


-Use a scale to measure the ingredients whenever possible, especially flour. If you don't have a scale, King Arthur Baking has this great video on how to measure flour accurately.

-A note on kneading. Dough is tricky and there are so many variables that affect how your dough turns out. If you find the dough is too sticky to knead, flour your hands and work surface with 1 tablespoon of flour to knead it. The dough will get dryer and easier to handle as you continue kneading, so resist the urge to keep adding more flour or you'll end up with a very dry, dense bun. The dough is properly kneaded if it springs back after you poke it, and it doesn't tear when you pull on it. Here's another helpful video from King Arthur Baking.

-You can also make the tangzhong in the microwave. Combine all the tangzhong ingredients in a microwave-safe bowl and whisk until no lumps remain. Microwave for 10 seconds, then whisk, and repeat 3-4 more times until the tangzhong is thick.

-This recipe also works for buns or a loaf! For buns, shape the dough into balls, gently flatten, and space about 2 inches apart out on a parchment lined baking sheet. For 12-15 buns, bake 10-15 minutes.

-To make a loaf: After the dough's initial rise, divide it into four equal pieces. Flatten each piece into a rectangle, then fold the short ends in towards one another like a letter. Flatten the folded pieces into rectangles again and, starting with a short end, roll them each into a log. Place the logs in a row of four — seam side down and side by side — in a lightly greased 9" x 5" loaf pan. Cover the loaf and allow it to rest/rise for 40 to 50 minutes, until puffy. Brush the loaf with milk and bake at 350°F for about 30 minutes, until golden brown on top. Remove the loaf from the oven, and cool it on a rack.

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