The Best Sweet Bread Dough Recipe + Pretzel Cinnamon Rolls & Red BeanBuns

Amazingly soft and deliciously bread, and in 2 different ways - a pretzel cinnamon roll one, filled with buttery sweet cinnamon, brushed with a baking soda mixture and sprinkled with coarse sea salt to yield a crisp, crunchy, salty top. And a classic Japanese red bean bun, filled with delicious red bean paste and topped with sesame seeds and poppy seeds. 

There's no doubt about it- I love my bread. My holidays are filled with days to bakeries to ogle at the beautiful loaves on display and then running home to copy ideas in my notebook. It's a bit of an obsession, really. 

And recently I've been making trips to the library to borrow cookbooks and of course, books about baking bread, both European crusty hearth breads and the soft Taiwanese and Japanese types. I've tried recipes for both- the crusty French loaves, baked in a Dutch oven and with long fermentation periods, yield a crisp crust and a chewy interior with lots of big pockets of air inside, perfect for dunking into creamy chicken soup and stews. I find they're best eaten fresh though, keep a day of two and the crust loses the crisp, crackly crust and it becomes too chewy and hard. Not that finishing it in a day is a problem at all :) 

The Asian style bread is softer, fluffier and keeps better with a variety of fillings. Well I guess it's also a little unhealthier because it contains more ingredients than the flour salt water yeast European loaves. Maybe it's also because it's the kind of bread I grew up eating (and still eat now), and the kind of bread that my family is used to. Anyhow, I hope to share with you how you can master this sweet bread dough recipe and 2 ways you can use this sweet bread dough to make delicious buns and rolls! 

This sweet bread dough recipe is really like the classic bread dough recipe- you don't need to fiddle with preferments or weird funky ingredients, and you can definitely finish making the bread in one afternoon. Play around with different fillings and toppings, using whatever ingredients you have around hand to make this bread your very own. But here are some rules you must keep in mind with this recipes to make it as soft and fluffy as it should: 

1) Follow the ratio of flours in this recipe 
A combination of low protein flour (eg. Cake flour, top flour, Hong Kong flour) and high protein flour (bread flour) makes this bread soft, fluffy and just chewy enough. High protein flour is able to form stronger gluten strands that gives the bread more structure and elasticity, and the low protein flour helps to keep the bread soft, moist and light, as it does for cakes. If you would like to replace some of the flour with wholemeal flour, you can replace up to half the low protein flour and high protein flour with wholemeal flour, adding a little extra water (as wholemeal flour tends to absorb more water). If you would like to try out the wholemeal flour version, I suggest you try the base recipe at least once to familiarise yourself with the texture of the dough so you would know roughly how much more water you dough needs in the wholemeal flour version. After all, baking gets better with experience :) 

2) Knead it long enough 
Like all other soft, fluffy Asian style bread doughs, you need to knead the dough till it reaches the windowpane stage. This dough is very wet and sticky to start with, but the higher water content is what makes this dough extra soft and fluffy. You want to knead this dough till it no longer sticks to your finger, without adding extra flour. This may take quite long, maybe 15-20 minutes in a stand mixer or 30-45 minutes by hand. Don't rush it- enjoy feeling your fingers in that sticky dough and watch it transform to a smooth and elastic dough. Your dough is kneaded enough when a small piece can be stretched out so thin you can see right through it. 

3) Proof it just right.
I've always proofed my dough following the specific times stated in recipes. But the truth is that proofing times vary because of many factors- the ambient temperature, the temperature of the ingredients you used, and the temperature of the dough before proofing. The time given for the first rise (aka the bulk fermentation) can vary a little, but the time given for the 2nd rise (the final rise) needs to be a little more precise. A dough can turn from perfectly proofed to over proofed in 10-15 mintues. Your dough is done when your press a finger in it, it slowly springs back up and leaves a small dent. If the dough springs back quickly, it's underproofed. If it doesn't spring back at all, then it's overproofed. Underproofed and overproofed doughs won't get their maximum rise in the oven, and you can see that especially in larger loaves where the bottom part of the loaf seems to have a tighter crumb than the top part of the loaf. My dough usually needs only about 45 minutes at Singapore's warm and humid room temperature, in the kitchen. 

Happy baking! 

Sweet Bread Dough 
Makes 11 buns 
Recipe adapted from 東京パン屋

175g bread flour 
75g cake  flour 
50g sugar 
4g salt 
5g milk powder 
50g egg 
3g instant dry yeast 
108g water 
20g butter 

Combine flours, sugar, salt, milk powder, egg, yeast and water. Knead till a smooth, elastic dough that no longer sticks to your fingers. The dough will be quite wet, but keep folding and kneading. 
Knead in the butter, till the dough is glossy and passes the window pane test. 
Let the dough rest for 1 hour. 
Divide the dough into 11 portions, about 45g each. Wrap with your chosen filling (eg. About 40g red bean paste). 
Let the buns rest for 40-50 minutes, or until doubled in size. Brush the risen buns with egg wash and sprinkle with sesame seeds and poppy seeds. 
Bake in a preheated 210 degrees Celsius oven for 7 min till lightly golden on top. 

Pretzel Cinnamon Rolls
Recipe adapted from Top With Cinnamon cookbook 

Cinnamon filing:
1 x quantity sweet bread dough 
100g dark brown sugar 
3 tbsp ground cinnamon 
75g unsalted butter, softened 
1 tbsp baking soda 
Kosher salt, for sprinkling 

Roll the bread dough (after bulk fermentation, aka the first rise) into a large rectangle. Spread the softened butter over the dough and sprinkle with brown sugar and cinnamon. 
Roll the dough up into a log, cut into 12 even pieces. 
Arrange, cut side up, in a large, greased baking dish. Let rise for 40-50 minutes. Preheat oven to 210 degrees Celsius.
Right before baking, stir together the baking soda and 3 tbsp hot water. Liberally brush over the rolls and sprinkle with salt. Bake for 7 minutes. 

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