This recipe uses a technique that I haven’t written about before: tangzhong. It goes by several other names, such as hot water bread (or water roux bread), Hokkaido or Japanese milk bread and 65 degree bread (because you cook the roux to 65 degrees Celsius).

The technique supposedly originated in Japan, but its popularity is widely attributed to Yvonne Chen, who wrote about it in a Chinese-language book. You’ll probably be familiar with the bread, if not the technique, because it’s what many Hong Kong bakeries use to make those fluffy, slightly sweet rolls and loaves that stay soft for several days, instead of going hard quickly, thanks to the water roux (or, with this recipe, a milk roux) that helps the bread retain moisture.

Piment d’espelette butter and aged comte cheese rolls

This dough can be mixed and baked the same day, or refrigerated overnight, whichever is more convenient. The rolls are delicious on their own, but are even better when warmed then spread with even more butter.

For the tangzhong:
35 grams bread flour

175ml whole milk

For the dough:
495 grams bread flour

25 grams sugar

5 grams instant yeast

5 grams fine-grained sea salt

The tangzhong

175ml whole milk

2 large eggs, at room temperature

200 grams piment d’espelette butter, slightly softened, divided

150 grams aged comte (or a mix of aged comte and parmesan)

Make the tangzhong. Put the flour and milk in a saucepan, whisk until smooth then place the pan over a low-medium flame. Whisk constantly until an instant-read thermometer registers 65 degrees Celsius. Immediately remove the pan from the heat and set it aside to cool.

Make the dough. Heat the milk until you can see steam rising from the surface, either in a cup in the microwave or in a small saucepan on the stovetop. Cool until tepid. Divide the butter into two portions: put 50 grams of the butter into a small pan (or a microwaveable cup) and set it aside. Cut the remaining butter into 1.5cm chunks. Grate the cheese on a fine-toothed rasp-type grater (such as a Microplane).

Put the bread flour and sugar into the bowl of a stand-type electric mixer and use a hand whisk to mix thoroughly. Add the yeast and whisk it in. Put the tangzhong, milk and eggs into the bowl and immediately start mixing, using the dough hook. Mix on medium speed until the dough forms into a rough ball around the dough hook. Start adding the butter a chunk or two at a time, mixing until the butter is almost fully incorporated into the dough before adding more. The dough will be smooth but sticky. Turn the mixer speed to medium-high and beat for about five minutes, or until it passes the windowpane test: pull off a small lump of dough and roll it between the palms of your hands into a ball. Stretch the dough into a rectangle with your fingertips and thumbs.

If it stretches so thin you can see light through it, it’s been kneaded enough; if the dough breaks and forms holes, continue to mix it. When the dough is ready, add 50 grams of the cheese and mix it until it’s just incorporated. Put the dough in a medium-sized bowl, cover with cling film and let it rise at room temperature until doubled. Remove the cling film and give the dough a firm punch with your fist to deflate it. Turn the dough over in the bowl, cover with cling film then refrigerate the dough until firm (about three hours, or you can refrigerate it overnight).

Melt the 50 grams of butter, either in a microwave or on the stovetop.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll the dough into a 50cm x 35cm rectangle, dusting the dough as needed with flour so it doesn’t stick to the work surface or rolling pin.

Use the rolling pin to thin out one of the long sides of the rectangle. Use a pastry brush to dust away any excess flour on the surface of the dough. Brush some of the melted butter (not all of it) over the dough rectangle, but not the part that’s been thinned out. Sprinkle about 60 grams of the grated cheese over the butter. Starting at the long end of the rectangle, roll the dough into a tight cylinder until you reach the thinned-out end. Lightly dampen that end of the rectangle with water and finish rolling the cylinder.

Pinch the seam to seal it. Run your hands along the entire cylinder to stretch out the thicker parts and to make it as even as possible.

Measure the length of the cylinder, then cut it into 20 even pieces. Use pan-coating to spray large muffin tins (for indivi­dual rolls) or cake pans (for pull-apart bread). Place the rolls with a cut-side up in the muffin tins or the cake pans (with the latter, leave 1cm between the pieces, so they have room to rise). Leave at room temperature until the pieces feel puffy.

While the rolls are rising, preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Brush the tops of the dough with the remaining melted butter and sprinkle with the remaining cheese.

Bake at 180 degrees for about 40 minutes, or until fragrant, medium-golden and firm to the touch. Serve the rolls warm or at room temperature. Store leftovers in an air-tight container. If you want to keep the rolls for longer than three days, store them in the freezer. They can be reheated (thawed, if frozen) in a 180 degree oven for about five minutes.

Cinnamon roll variation

The same dough – with a few tweaks – makes a delicious sweet roll for breakfast or tea time.

The dough recipe from above, made with 200 grams plain, unsalted butter in place of the piment d’espelette butter, and leaving out the cheese.

150 grams granulated sugar
½ tsp ground cinnamon

Make the dough as in the first recipe, letting it rise at room temperature, then a second time in the fridge.

Mix the sugar with the cinnamon. Use pan-coating to spray 20 large muffin tins. Put about a tablespoon of the cinnamon-sugar into each muffin tin. Tilt and swirl the tins so the interior is lightly but evenly coated with cinnamon-sugar. Invert the tins (over a sink) and bang them lightly to knock out the excess cinnamon-sugar.

Roll out the dough as in the first recipe. When the dough is a 50cm x 35cm rectangle (with one thinned-out long end), dust off the excess flour from the surface. Brush the dough with some of the melted butter then sprinkle lightly but evenly with some of the cinnamon sugar. Roll the dough into a tight cylinder as in the first recipe, again, dampening the thinned-out edge and pinching the seam.

Cut the dough into 20 pieces and place them with a cut-side up in the prepared muffin tins. Let them rise until puffy, then brush with the remainder of the melted butter and sprinkle with some of the cinnamon-sugar (you might not need all of it). Bake in a pre-heated 180 degree oven for about 40 minutes, or until fragrant, medium-golden and firm to the touch. Serve warm or at room temperature.