I am so excited to share this recipe which has been in the works for months. When King Arthur Baking announced that its recipe of the year for 2021 is Perfectly Pillowy Cinnamon Rolls, I jumped right on board. The secret to their “perfectly pillowy” rolls is tangzhong, which we will get to in just a moment. I loved the pillowy-ness of that dough so much, having never made a tangzhong dough. I then became obsessed — I mean, obsessed — with converting my Challah recipe to a Tangzhong Challah.
What is Tangzhong?
Tangzhong is an Asian technique, often used in milk bread, whereby a small portion of the recipe’s flour is cooked with some of the liquid (usually milk and/or water) to create a paste. The cooking process generally takes 1-3 minutes. From a technical standpoint, the cooked concoction gelatinizes the starches in the flour. The result is that the starches can absorb more liquid, creating a moister bread. The tangzhong method can also make the dough rise a bit more and cause the baked bread to stay fresh longer.
Why Tangzhong Challah?
One of the first tangzhong challah recipes out there is by America’s Test Kitchen. I honestly have never made their recipe because I love the flavor of my Challah recipe (loaded with egg yolks and honey) which I became obsessed with converting to tangzhong! That said, America’s Test Kitchen tangzhong challah looks so pretty, and they provide helpful braiding tips.
The Challenge to Convert Challah to Tangzhong Challah
King Arthur Baking has a great article on How to Convert a Bread Recipe to Tangzhong. If you’re interested in the science and math behind converting a recipe to tangzhong, this is the place to start. As mentioned in that article, the recipe generally needs to contain a somewhat high hydration for the tangzhong to work. The problem I encountered is that challah dough generally is low hydration. I suspect that this is the reason why there are not too many tangzhong challah recipes out there. After many tries, I found that I could get the dough to come together even with the addition of more water to the recipe.
For me, I loved the challenge of bringing tangzhong to a low-hydration dough like challah. The key step I took away from America’s Test Kitchen was to allow the flour to autolyse with all the liquid (including the tangzhong) in the recipe. Autolyse simply means allowing the flour and the liquid to rest, after just being mixed, for a period of time, usually 20 minutes. The autolyse allows the flour to absorb the liquid which makes kneading the dough much easier and helps to create a stronger dough.
The end result of my challenge, after many attempts, is a fluffy, delicious challah that has an extended shelf-life. This Tangzhong Challah has now become my go-to challah recipe. I have not yet done so, but I suspect that it will be phenomenal to use this Tangzhong Challah dough to make Onion Rolls.
How to Make Tangzhong
Tangzhong is actually incredibly simple and easy to make. All we are doing is cooking a small portion of the recipe’s flour with five times that amount (by weight) of water.
So, for this recipe, we are using 40 grams of bread flour and 200 grams of water. Whisk the two together in a saucepan so that the flour is fully hydrated. Over a medium-low flame, cook the mixture. Initially, just whisk occasionally. As it starts to heat up, start whisking constantly. It should only take approximately 1-3 minutes to cook. (You can also make tangzhong in the microwave. In a microwave safe bowl, whisk the flour with the water to hydrate the flour. Microwave for 30 seconds. Whisk the flour mixture. Microwave for 15 seconds. Whisk again and keep repeating until the paste is formed.)
Technically, you want to cook it to 149° F. I recommend taking the temperature of the mixture the first time you make it so you know when it is done. A Thermapen thermometer is perfect for this! Once you know how it will look and feel, you do not need to be so precise in the future. The tangzhong mixture is at its best when cooked to 149° F or so. It is fine it if gets hotter than that, but try to keep it less than 175° F. Apart from temperature, you will know it is done once it thickens up. Avoid cooking it further after it has thickened.
How to Make Tangzhong Challah
Making Tangzhong Challah is really no different than making traditional challah. The only change is that we are allowing the tangzhong, the rest of the flour, and the rest of the liquids to rest for 20 minutes before adding the sugar, honey, and salt and fully kneading the dough.
Although I provide cup measurements for this recipe, I very strongly urge you to weigh the ingredients. There is too much fluctuation when measuring cups of flour and liquids, so you may not end up with the desired result unless you weigh the ingredients.
1. Prepare the Tangzhong
Once you cook the tangzhong, spread it thinly on the bottom of your mixing bowl. Spreading it out will help it cool a little faster. You do not want it too hot because you want to avoid scrambled yolks and killing the yeast when you add them in the next step.
Once the tangzhong has cooled a bit (lukewarm is fine), add the water (which should be room temperature or lukewarm), yolks, oil, bread flour and yeast. Mix it all together so that the flour is fully hydrated. You can do this by hand or use the paddle attachment to your mixer. Cover the bowl and allow it to rest for 20 minutes.
3. Knead the Tangzhong Challah
After the 20 minute rest, add the sugar and honey. With the dough hook attachment, knead the dough, You may need to stop the mixer to scrape down the sides of the bowl a few times. These are my go-to bowl scrapers. Do not panic if the dough seems very wet. It will all come together. Allow the dough to knead at medium-high until it is cleaning the sides of the bowl. Then, lower the mixer speed and slowly add the salt as the dough continues to knead. Knead for several more minutes until the dough passes the windowpane test. That means that, if you take a small piece of dough and stretch it with both your hands, it should become very thin and translucent without ripping.
4. Bulk Rise the Tangzhong Challah
Cover the dough and allow it to bulk rise until it has doubled in size. This generally takes approximately three hours. This may seem long, but this dough is rich in egg yolks and honey, both of which contribute to slowing down fermentation.
5. Shape the Tangzhong Challahs
Divide the dough in half, preferably by weight. Make as many ropes for braiding as you desire. If the dough is slightly sticky or tacky, lightly flour the countertop and the pieces of dough.
The video included with this post demonstrates how to make a 4-strand challah braid. Cover the challahs and allow them to rise for 1½ hours.
6. Egg Wash the Tangzhong Challahs
For a lighter egg wash, mix 1 egg together with 1 teaspoon of water. If you prefer a slightly darker challah, use just 1 egg and no water. For a deeper, darker hue, use just the yolk for your egg wash. Be sure to spread the egg wash all the way to the bottom of the loafs.
7. Bake the Tangzhong Challahs
Bake the challahs for 30-35 minutes. For a darker crust, lean toward the 35 minute mark. The internal temperature of the challah should be 200° F. Again, Thermapen thermometer is also perfect for this!
Looking for other challah recipes? Check out:
Frequently Asked Questions About Making Tangzhong Challah
Do I have to weigh the ingredients to make Tangzhong Challah?
I highly recommend weighing the ingredients. Everyone measures cups of flour differently, so you may not end up with the desired dough texture.
How should I store Tangzhong Challah?
One of the benefits of tangzhong is that it extends the shelf life of bread. Tangzhong Challah will stay fresh, wrapped in plastic wrap, at room temperature, for at least 5 days.
Can I freeze Tangzhong Challah?
Absolutely. Wrap the challah in plastic wrap and store in the freezer for up to 3 months. Defrost it at room temperature. If you like to serve it warm, wrap it in aluminum foil and place it in a 350° F oven for 10-15 minutes.
- 40 grams bread flour (⅓ cup)
- 200 grams warm water (¾ cup plus 2 teaspoons)
- All the tangzhong (90°F-110°F)
- 113 grams water (½ cup)
- 72 grams neutral oil such as vegetable, canola, sunflower, safflower, or grapeseed (⅓ cup)
- 5 egg yolks at room temperature
- 590 grams bread flour (4¾ cups plus 2 Tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons)
- 7 grams instant yeast* (2¼ teaspoons)
- 50 grams sugar (¼ cup)
- 113 grams honey (⅓ cup)
- 12 grams salt (2 teaspoons)
- Tangzhong. In a small to medium saucepan, whisk together the bread flour and the water until fully combined. Place pan on a medium-low heat, whisking occasionally. Once the mixture starts to simmer, whisk constantly until it is thickened to a paste consistency. The temperature should be 149° F. Remove from heat and pour tangzhong into bowl of an electric mixer. Spread the tangzhong thinly on the bottom of the bowl to allow it to cool quicker. Set aside while gathering the rest of the ingredients.
- Dough. Add the water, oil, egg yolks, bread flour and yeast to the tangzhong. Use a wood spoon or the paddle attachment of an electric mixer to combine all the ingredients just until the flour is fully absorbed. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rest for 20 minutes.
- Add the sugar and honey. Using a dough hook attachment to the electric mixer, knead the dough for approximately 4-5 minutes. You may need to stop the mixer several times to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Knead until the dough cleans the sides of the bowl. Lower the mixer speed and slowly add the salt. Knead for 2-3 additional minutes until the dough passes the windowpane test. (That means that, if you take a small piece of dough and stretch it with both your hands, it should become very thin and translucent without ripping.)
- Shape dough into a ball and place back in mixing bowl. Cover with plastic wrap or a tea towel and allow to rise in a warm area on the counter for approximately 3 hours. The dough should double in size.
- Deflate the dough by pulling a piece from the bottom and folding it over itself, turning the bowl so you can do four similar folds. Remove the dough from the bowl and give it several kneads on the counter.
- Weigh the dough and divide into two or three equal portions, depending on how many challahs you are making.
- Further divide each portion into the number of strands you will be making for each braid.
- Shape each portion into a ball. If the dough is slightly sticky, lightly flour your countertop and the balls of dough.
- Press down each ball into an oval. Fold the top third of the oval over itself towards you. Fold the top part again over the rest of the dough. Using the palms of both hands, roll the dough against the countertop to create your strands. If the dough starts pulling back, place it aside and allow it to rest for 5-10 minutes. Braid and shape as desired.
- Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise 1½ hours.
- Towards the end of the rising time, preheat oven to 350° F.
- Apply egg wash. Sprinkle challah with any toppings, if using. Bake 25-30 minutes until golden brown on top and sides.
- You can also make tangzhong in the microwave. In a microwave safe bowl, whisk the flour with the water to hydrate the flour. Microwave for 30 seconds. Whisk the flour mixture. Microwave for 15 seconds. Whisk again and keep repeating until the paste is formed.
- For the egg wash, beat 1 large egg. For a darker crust, beat just the egg yolk.
- Add any desired seeds (poppyseeds, sesame seeds, Everything Seasoning, etc.) after applying the egg wash.
- If making an entire batch with raisins, once the dough passes the windowpane test, add 219 g. (1½ cups) raisins and knead until fully incorporated. If dividing into two loaves and you want to make one of them with raisins, knead in 110 grams or ¾ cup of raisins at Step 6.