I just returned from a trip to Japan. While you would expect me to come back laden with sushi and ramen recipes tucked away for experimentation, I was most intrigued by the bread.
Our first morning in Tokyo, our traveling quatrain (my mother, mother-in-law, daughter, and I) ventured to a small shop—Café Rico. Here, we hoped to get some much needed coffee. With everything written in Japanese, we somehow ferreted out coffee/café, and four cups emerged about 2/3’s full for a whopping $3 a cup. We settled in to sip our brew and sat at a bar looking out the window—the only seating in this place.
Moments later, in came a little old lady. Now, I say this with all due respect. After all, our party contained two octogenarians and me (rambunctiously close to 60). The shopkeeper made some gesticulations and amazingly was able to tell us that this lovely patron was 95. Seemed like she came here every day. The shop keeping lady quickly prepared for her some toast, a warm hardboiled egg, and a cup of Joe. Well . . . this got us interested. We promptly ordered what she had just served to this lady. Surprisingly, the toast and egg were just $1.50 more.
When the proprietor pulled out the loaf to slice off a piece for each of us, we were quite impressed with the size, sturdiness and crumb of the loaf. A good one inch slice toasted with butter for each of us, then a warm somewhat hardboiled egg, served in the shell in a pretty egg cup, were quickly presented. The simplicity of this dish, among all the other delicacies in Japan, stands out. During our trip to Japan, it became clear right away that it did not matter what the item, it would be prepared with care—and it would be good. . . even a humble piece of toast with egg.
As travelers staying in an AirBnB, we became very fond of the local convenience stores. All had meticulously packaged bread in big Texas slices, just like at our coffee shop. We got accustomed to buying a four-pack and having it for breakfast with brie, fruit and yogurt—along with instant coffee.
Returning home, I must have been pining for that humble, tasty, big bread. I remembered a post I had seen for milk bread. Seems like this was all the rage. In my internet searching, I discovered that said popular American milk bread utilized a Japanese method called tangzhong to make a roux prior to starting the process. Aha! After a bit of tinkering and some recipe substitutions, I think I have a pretty close approximation to my lovely Café Rico humble, tasty, big bread. Enjoy!
This makes two loaves.
- 5 1/3 C flour
- 1 C water
- 1 C buttermilk
- 1/3 C honey (warmed to pourable)
- 2 T yeast
- 2 t kosher salt
- 3 eggs
- 5 T softened butter
- Cooking spray
- Salt to sprinkle on top
Combine 1/3 C flour with 1 C water and cook in saucepan until it forms a roux. Add buttermilk and warm honey. Stir to combine and thicken. This is the tangzhong part.
Transfer to Kitchen Aid with bread hook. When cool enough, stir and add two eggs (reserve one for later), yeast, flour, and salt. When combined, drop butter in by dollops one by one–each becoming incorporated–with mixer stirring. Continue until smooth and well combined.
Remove and shape into a ball. Put in a bowl that is coated with oil. Cover in a warmish location and let rise ‘til doubled (about an hour).
For two loaves: divide into 12 pieces. Place 6 pieces into each greased bread pan. Cover in a warmish location and let rise ‘til doubled (about an hour).
Preheat oven to 375.
Whisk last egg with 1 T water and brush over tops. Sprinkle with salt.
Bake at 375 for 30-50 minutes until browned. (If you have a convection oven, these will be done closer to 30 minutes.) Remove and let cool slightly, then unmold and enjoy.
These make great French toast and sandwich bread.