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Shoku-pan: The Delightful Japanese Sweet Bread

By Kim Kahan
September 22, 2021

If you’ve ever been to Japan and checked out the bakery section, chances are you’ll have come across shoku-pan (食パン), otherwise known as Japanese milk bread or Hokkaido milk bread. Japanese milk bread is one of the most popular options in the world of Japanese bread

In the past year, gourmet shoku-pan has seen a boom in popularity, and walking down a Japanese main street, you’ll likely find at least one specialist Japanese shoku-pan shop with lines down the street. Often, appearing as just a window where people go to buy shoku-pan, inside you’ll spot young shop staff with hats on, bustling around and selling their wares from the window.

A Brief History of Milk Bread

Since Portugal introduced bread to the rice-based nation in 1543, it has increased in popularity. While much of the world calls it bread, Japan kept the Portuguese name ‘pan’, retaining its roots.

The exact origins of shoku-pan are unclear but it is widely believed to have first been made at a Yokohama Bakery in the 19th century by an English baker. Incidentally, Yokohama Bakery was also the first bakery in Japan. 

Japanese milk bread toast with kinako powder on a plate on a white table

Image via Shutterstock

There are two main shapes of Japanese shoku-pan: ‘kaku-gata’ (square-shaped) which is completely square, and ‘yama-gata’ (mountain-shaped) which has bumps like mountains, which is why ‘yama’ (mountain) is included in the name. 

Kaku-gata shoku-pan is said to have been inspired by Christopher Columbus when he went to America and decided to make a square bread that everybody could eat. The yama-gata shape is believed to have been inspired by traditional English Farmhouse bread, which rises as it bakes in the oven. 

These days, it's a quick alternative to typical Japanese breakfast foods. It can also be used for sandwiches, savory dishes, and dessert dishes.

But What Is Japanese Milk Bread?

Milk bread is a deliciously fluffy, amazingly sweet type of bread with almost no crust to speak of. It’s so soft that if you get a loaf you could squeeze it like a Japanese plushie! In fact, it’s like a snack since it’s so sweet. Imagine brioche in a loaf and then make it even lighter. 

This unique texture and angelic taste is made by adding sugar, condensed milk, and regular milk to the mix, making the sweet Japanese bread we love. Milk bread has seven times the amount of fat in it than normal white bread. If you want to adapt this recipe you can sub out the milks for sesame oil or another type of oil such as saffeed oil. 

How Do I Eat It?

With the shoku-pan boom comes shoku-pan serving suggestions. Type in ‘shokupan’ on Instagram and you’ll be greeted with a cacophony of arrangements and variations, from savory ideas, such as avocado, to sweet ideas, such as whipped cream and French toast.

If you’re going for a Japanese-style serve, try it with adzuki beans (Japanese red beans) and butter. If you’d prefer a savory Western serve – perfect for breakfast – try avocado and salmon. For those with a sweet tooth, how about honey? With a sweeter taste than regular white bread, the possible flavor combinations are endless. 

Japanese milk bread toasted and covered with ice cream next to a fork and knife and a white plate on a table

Image via Shutterstock

We suggest making a fruit sandwich, sandwiching whole slices of melon in between two fluffy slices of shoku-pan and fresh cream. Yum!

How to Make Your Own Milk Bread

We know all this shoku-pan talk has got you thinking ‘but how do I make it?!’ So allow us to introduce our ‘Super Fluffy Shoku-Pan Recipe.’ It took us a few tries to get this one right but it’s so worth it. Just think, you too can make your own convenience store sandwiches.

We experimented with the bread recipe, so that you don’t have to. Before you start baking, here are our tips for deliciously fluffy shoku-pan. 

Tips For a Fail-safe Shoku-pan

Pay attention to the season. Bread needs proving time at room temperature and chances are it’ll be left out there to brave the elements, so it’s a good idea to pay attention to the seasonal changes. For instance, in summer, we’d recommend using slightly less milk than in winter. Around 260ml for winter compared to 240ml for summer should do the trick. 

When you take the milk bread out of the oven for the last time to cool, make sure you take it out of the loaf pan, otherwise it’ll go soggy.

Experiment with the flour: if you like more of a grainy texture, we recommend you try using different types of flour. Contrary to what it might seem, the milk bread recipe is not too temperamental about what type of flour you use.

Japanese milk bread with some orange jam on it between an avocado and a book

Image via Shutterstock

Super Fluffy Shoku-pan Recipe 

Ingredients (makes 660g loaf)

  • Bread Flour…………………360g
  • Granulated Sugar……….20g
  • Salt……………………………….5g
  • Condensed Milk………….10g (You can replace this with 15g skimmed milk if you don’t have any on hand)
  • Whole Milk………………….250ml
  • Yeast……………………………5g
  • Butter………………………….45g

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 40℃ (about 105℉).
  • Lightly grease a large bowl with oil or butter.
  • Put all ingredients except butter into the bowl or kneader and knead for about 5 minutes.
  • Add the butter and knead well. Transfer to a mixer if you have one. If you are kneading with a stand mixer, we advise to set it for 20 minutes. 
  • Put the bread dough in the oven for 25 minutes to rise.
  • Take the bread out of the oven and shape into three or four equal pieces (rounds). 

    Image via Shutterstock

  • Cover rounds with plastic wrap and proof at room temperature, until they have at least doubled in size. This should be around 20 minutes. 
  • Reduce oven heat to 35℃.
  • Shape the rolls. Using a rolling pin, flatten them slightly into rectangles, enough to roll over themselves at least once. You should end up in a pain au chocolat, or chocolatine, shape. When each dough roll is finished, place them into the loaf pan, lined up. 
  • Put the tin in the oven and begin the secondary rising process. Leave them to rise, until they have risen above the top of the tin by 1cm. This should be around 40 – 50 minutes. 
  • Take the bread out of the oven, preheat the oven to 200℃ (about 390℉).
  • Bake the bread at 190℃ (about 375℉) for 35 minutes (or at least 30 minutes until it is golden brown). 
  • Take out of the oven. Don’t worry if the milk bread is hard to touch. It will soften as it cools to room temperature. 
  • Enjoy!

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Kim Kahan

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