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I knew when we went to Japan that I would fall desperately in love with the food, but I didn’t anticipate that one of the foods would be bread.

Our first meal in Japan (not counting the late-night convenience store onigiri we had when we first arrived) was espresso and toast from a little cafe in Asakusa, Tokyo, called February Cafe. Nathan and I were on the hunt for the first (of many, we soon discovered) good cup of coffee of our trip, and I was excited to see they had food on the menu, too.

toast and coffee at February Cafe

Toast!, I thought. How unique!

What we soon figured out, however, is that toast was not so unique; it is everywhere in Japan. And it’s a specific kind of toast: fluffy, enriched but not brioche-esque, as thick as Texas toast, and topped with anything from butter and jam (delicious!) to more adventurous offerings like omelette (also delicious!) to anchovy butter (probably delicious, but didn’t try). I got hooked on my first toast (with just butter) in Asakusa, and after that I couldn’t get enough.

Shortly after becoming toast-obsessed, the owner of the guesthouse we stayed at in Tokyo told us that February Cafe, the place where we got our first (and perhaps best) toast, sourced their bread from a bakery just down the street called Pelican Bakery. We didn’t manage to get to the bakery before we left Tokyo to head for Kyoto and beyond, but on the final leg of our trip we had one final day back in Tokyo, during which I forced Nathan to make a stop with me at Pelican.

Pelican Bakery, Asakusa, Japan

The bakery was very much not a cute-little-cafe kind of bakery; it was a spartan-looking commercial bakery. I read in reviews that they often refuse to sell to the general public, and I figured that with our obvious gaijin appearances and lack of Japanese skills that they probably weren’t going to sell to us. But I was feeling bold, so I walked in (Nathan trailing behind) and somehow walked out with a loaf of bread.

Combined with several other baked goods from another bakery (yes, I admit to my bread obsession), our carry-on luggage was a bit, uh, puffy, but we somehow managed to transport the loaf from Tokyo to Arkansas. Once we were home, we enjoyed Japanese toast (along with Japanese coffee) for a few days until we ran out.

After that, bereft of my Japanese toast, I was determined to figure out how to make it myself.

Some Google searches for Japanese bread turned up recipes for Hokkaido milk bread, which, I discovered, is delicious, but a bit more sweet and brioche-like than the all-purpose toast I was searching for. I finally realized that what it was that we had in Japan was shokupan, a word which literally translates to “eating bread,” which is the most perfect description ever.

shokupan loaves in pan

I found a great recipe for shokupan from a blog that has a lot of other great Japanese recipes, but after making it few times I began to change things here and there. What resulted is my master shokupan recipe, a recipe that only takes a few hours from start to finish and is one I make more often than I probably should. It makes two loaves, so you can eat one immediately and freeze one for later (it freezes incredibly well). To be honest, I’ve only eaten it lightly toasted with butter and jam, though I’ve been meaning to try more adventurous toppings. When something is so perfect as it is, though, it’s so hard to try anything different.

shokupan toast with butter

shokupan (japanese milk bread)

adapted from Dreams of Dashi

makes 2 loaves

You’re welcome to make both the tangzhong and the bread dough with either water or milk; I’ve found it really doesn’t make too much of a difference. Regardless of which liquid you use, make sure you don’t leave out the dry milk powder!

for the tangzhong:

  • 5 tablespoons (1 ½ ounces) bread flour
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) milk or water


for the bread:

  • 5 ½ cups (23 ⅜ ounces) bread flour
  • ¼ cup (1 ¾ ounce) granulated sugar
  • Scant ¼ cup (1 ounce) dry milk
  • 2 ½ teaspoons salt
  • 2 ¼ teaspoons (one packet) instant yeast
  • ¾ cup (6 ounces) milk or water
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 3 tablespoons (1 ½ ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature

make the tangzhong:

In a small saucepan, whisk together the milk (or water) and the bread flour. Set over medium heat, and continue to whisk until the mixture bubbles, thickens, and forms a paste. Set aside to cool to room temperature. Once cool, you should be able to scrape the bottom of the pan and the mixture won’t run to fill the space you scraped. If you didn’t cook it enough, just set it over medium heat again and simmer for a few more minutes.


make the bread:

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook or a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, dry milk, salt, and yeast until combined. Make a well in the center and add the cooled tangzhong, milk (or water), and eggs. Mix on low speed (or with a big spoon) to combine, then increase to medium speed and knead for 5 minutes (or knead on the counter for five minutes). Add the butter, one tablespoon at a time, to the dough, and knead until incorporated. Then, knead for another 5-10 minutes (by machine or hand) until the dough is smooth, elastic, and only slightly tacky.

Form the dough into a ball, place in a greased bowl, and proof, covered, for about one hour, until the dough is doubled in size. This make take a bit longer in a cold kitchen and be a bit faster in a warm one.

Divide the dough into four equal pieces, form each piece into a ball, and proof, covered, for about 20 minutes. Grease two 8½” x 4½” loaf pans and set aside.

Once proofed, prepare a lightly floured surface and, one ball of dough at a time, roll the dough into a long ellipse. Fold the dough like you would an envelope, then turn the dough 90 degrees and roll out again into another ellipse. (The width you’re going for is about equal to or a little less than the width of the pan you’re using.) Pinch the ends of the dough to form a roll and place the dough, pinched side down, on one side of the loaf pan, with the visible rolled edges facing the long side of the pan. Repeat with the other three pieces of dough, putting two pieces of dough in each pan.

Cover the loaves and proof for 45 minutes to an hour, until the dough has filled out the bottom pan and is peeking over the top. Midway through the final proofing, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Place the two loaves in the oven and bake for 35 minutes, turning the pans midway through. Once done, the tops should be golden brown and the loaves should register at least 200 degrees F with a thermometer.

Let the loaves cool in the pan for about 5 minutes, then remove the loaves from their pans and let cool to room temperature before slicing.

These loaves keep at room temperature, stored however you like to store your bread, for five days or so, and they freeze remarkably well. When I make this recipe, I usually keep one loaf out and put the other in the freezer after it cools to enjoy in the future.