Let me answer the question which is probably on the tip of your tongue. What is Tang Zhong? Tang zhong, my friends, is a cooked mixture of water and flour, which is added to bread dough, resulting in an incredibly light, fluffy and tender loaf. The method is used in both China and Japan to create beautifully soft loaves, which are often quite sweet. So that’s awesome, right?
The method traps and binds water molecules to the flour, resulting in a dough that doesn’t dry out, and maintains a wonderful structure. Don’t worry, the process is really as simple as whisking together some flour and water and cooking it over a low heat until it thickens. Then you just proceed as normal with a regular dough.
What you end up with is tender as all get out, buttery bread. And since I had babka on the brain, I swirled mine with rich chocolate filling and topped it with crunchy streusel – and with Kanye West levels of humility, created the ultimate babka.
At this point, I have to say, shout out to Cindy of Two Red Bowls! Her recipe for Hokkaido Milk Bread over on Food 52 is what inspired me to try this method, and it really panned out. No more dry and crumbly loaves, or very rich brioche-style creations which are impossible to shape, and bake out disappointingly. No more leaden, unrisen tins of sadness which hang around, uneaten on the countertop for a few days, before heading straight to the bin. THIS is THE DOUGH. It is tender, soft, easy to make, very friendly to the baker, and dare I say impossible to screw up.
I took my inspiration from Cindy’s recipe, but I tweaked it because I am nothing if not lazy and determined to cut out steps from almost any recipe. I also added a little extra butter, to take this bread fully into dessert-bread territory, and of course, I took the whole thing on down to babka town. From me to you – you need to make this.
- 90ml (6tbsp) water
- 20g (2 tbsp) plain flour
- 2½ cups (375g) plain flour
- 1 tsp salt
- ¼ cup (50g) caster sugar
- 1½ tsp dried yeast
- ½ cup (125ml) milk
- 2 eggs
- ½ stick (55g) butter, softened (or grated)
- 2 oz (60g) chocolate
- 2 oz (60g) butter
- ¼ cup (50g) caster sugar
- 2 tbsp cocoa powder
- ½ cup (75g) icing sugar
- ½ stick (55g) butter, soft
- ⅓ cup (50g) plain flour
- OPTIONAL: 1 egg, to glaze
- First, make the tang zhong. Place the water and flour into a small saucepan or frying pan and whisk together. Place over a medium heat, and cool just until the mixture thickens to a gel. Remove from the heat and leave to cool.
- For the dough, place the flour, salt, sugar and yeast into the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with the dough hook.
- Whisk the milk into the tang zhong, and add that to the dry ingredients, along with the eggs, and then turn on the mixer and work until the dough comes together - it will seem a little dry.
- With the mixer on low, add the butter a little at a time, and knead until it's completely incorporated - about 5-10 minutes. Cover the bowl with plastic, and set aside to rise until doubled in size OR place in the fridge overnight. I reccomend the overnight method, as chilled dough is easier to work with.
- Meanwhile, melt the butter for the filling in a small saucepan over a low heat. Turn off the heat and add the chocolate, and stir until melted and combined, and finally, stir in the sugar and cocoa powder. Set aside.
- Roll the dough out into a large rectangle, about 9 inches (23cm) wide, and 15 inches (40cm) long. Spread the filling evenly over the dough, and then roll the dough up, starting from the short edge, like a swiss roll. Holding each end of the rolled log, twist a few times in opposite directions, as though you're 'tightening' the dough, and then place into a 9x4inch (23x8cm) loaf pan. Cover with plastic and leave to rise for a further 40mins, or until the dough has risen over the edge of the tin. Preheat the oven to 350F/180C.
- To make the streusel, cream together the sugar and butter, add the flour and work until the mixture is crumbly and clumping together.
- When the loaf has risen, whisk the egg (is using) and paint a thin layer on top of the dough. Scatter over the streusel and then place on a middle shelf of the oven and bake for 35-40 mins, or until golden, risen and springing back when pressed.
- Remove the loaf from the tin, and place on a wire rack to cool - it should sound hollow when tapped. Cool at least 20 minutes, before slicing and devouring.