The Pillowy Magic of Milk Bread


What I love about this recipe isn’t just how delicious the finished loaf tastes; it’s also how the process of making it encourages me to turn off my brain and stop fiddling around. To make this bread, which requires two rises, each lasting an hour or more, I’ve found that I’m also making time to bathe, read, or drink wine (usually all three). For some reason, it feels like I’m extending the 24 hours of the day by an hour or two. Cho described her ideal milk bread as pancake-sweet, with a feathery texture reminiscent of cotton candy, as a result of the process. You should be able to peel back layer after wispy layer of material.

“Not every one of my loaves has that exceptional cotton candy texture,” Cho stated. kneading time and air humidity are key factors in creating the ideal loaf. In the beginning, I felt like a terrible baker whenever I couldn’t achieve the wispy, wheaten dream. Later, however, I came to realise that the magic of bread baking lies in the unpredictable nature of the process itself — the magic of allowing.

The last time I returned to Atlanta for a visit, my mother asked if I could bake her some bread so that she could give one to my brother and his wife as a thank you gift. The only difference this time was that she could have it whenever she wanted rather than having to wait for me to make it. There should be no snatching away of family recipes, even those that originate from sons rather than mothers. So we each grabbed a pot from her pantry. Bake two loaves at the same time and compare their crumbs later on.

Starting with the roux, or the Tangzhong, we made bread flour and whole milk into a mashed-potato-like consistency on the stovetop and whisked it vigorously until it was smooth and creamy. Bakers of milk bread will be familiar with this step, at least until a glistening river of maple syrup is poured in. In the end, Jean’s natural ability to knead was no surprise. In a previous life, she was a potter. A few decades ago, when she was in Seoul, she was a ceramics major who had just graduated, and I loved picturing her in her first house, a two-story brick single-family with a peach tree on the front yard, learning how to make a vase from clay that would someday sit in our living room.

I can’t guarantee that this bread will make a significant impact on your circumstances. What I do know, however, is that it has the potential to slow down time at a crucial moment.