Ch. 15: Ain’t no Japanese Mountain Bread high enough

Lockdown has seemed to bring out the resourcefulness in all of us. Just about everyone’s feed is flooded with friends who are getting in the kitchen (likely for the first time) and making things (again for the first time). I mean heck, this whole series is about me trying recipes out that I haven’t made before. Given the looming paranoia of it all, my family and I have done our best to limit how frequently we go out, especially to now crowded places like grocery stores. As a result, many “fresh” items that we used to pick up weekly now only make sporadic appearances in our kitchen. One of which is sandwich bread- which has become either hard to come by due to limited stock or rarely seen because of our infrequent shopping times. Then came the age old question: “Why don’t I just make it myself?” At this point, I was set on redeeming myself from the Focaccia Fiasco (see Chapter 1). In choosing recipes, I wanted to go with an authentic Japanese style white bread as it’s our favorite kind to eat. Whenever we visit or even do a layover in Japan, we always make a pit stop to Lawson’s- a great 7/11 type convenience store for all our snack food needs. We love their little sandwiches which are all made with that Japanese style white bread or Shokupan as it’s called. I ended up finding a recipe from Kitchen Princess Bamboo: Japanese Everyday Food who gave me all the tips and tricks for an authentic style loaf. 

The recipe starts off by placing all of the dry ingredients into the bowl of a stand mixer. The secret to good bread is the use of bread flour which has a higher protein content than All Purpose. The extra protein allows for better gluten formation which is what creates tall loaves with soft and chewy interiors. The bread flour is combined with a little bit of sugar, some salt and active dry yeast before lukewarm water is added. It goes without saying that if the water is too hot for you to touch it, then it’s too hot for the dough as it’ll kill the yeast- these are living things after all! After some kneading with our dough hook, the softened butter is added to enrich the dough and give it great moisture and flavor. It’s then left in a warm, dry spot for its first rise which for me is inside my oven with the proof setting on. It can also sit in your oven with just the light turned on, or out on the counter if it’s warm enough. After about 45 minutes, I then punch down the dough to release the gas and do a series of folds by taking the edges and folding them into the center- further developing the gluten. Then it goes for its second rise (I didn’t say this would be quick). Once the dough has puffed some more it can then be divided in two and shaped. Essentially, we’re rolling them into logs, making sure that we place them into our loaf pan with the spirals spinning out so they can rise evenly. I was happy to be able to finally use the Pullman-style loaf pan I had bought- specifically made for this kind of bread. You’re then given the option of two loaves: the square shaped loaf or the mountain loaf. The difference lies with the third rise and when you place the lid on. Mine ended up growing faster than anticipated, so Mountain style it was. One key reminder when making bread is not to rely too much on the time the recipe states. Rising varies, so the rising time is often just a guide- so don’t worry if it takes a little longer than stated. 

The puffy loaf is then baked at a high oven for over 35 minutes. Around halfway, you’ll be tinting the loaf with foil once you get that desired brown color before letting it finish off. Once the time is up, you’ll immediately remove it from the pan as it’ll start to steam before liberally brushing the top with butter for that shiny finish. Believe me when I say that this is probably one of the best breads I’ve ever eaten. It has a great exterior crunch on the crust while the inside is so pillowy-soft. It’s pretty neutral so it goes great with whatever sweet spreads you want or makes a really great sandwich. Our personal favorite is eating it warm with a pad of butter. Bread is always best the same day, but this can last you about a week- though don’t expect it to go untouched for that long! I’ve now made this four times and each time was just as perfect as the last- really cementing this recipe as perfect. 

My Adapted Recipe for a Single Mountain Loaf
312 g (2 ¼ cups) of Bread Flour
15 g (3 teaspoons) of Granulated Sugar
6 g (1 teaspoon) of Salt
4 g (1 teaspoon) of Active Dry Yeast
225 ml (1 scant cup) of Lukewarm Water (100F)
18 g (1½ tablespoons) of Unsalted Butter at room temperature, plus more for brushing.
All purpose Flour for dusting

*I recommend using the weight measurements if you have a scale as it’ll make for a more consistent loaf every time.

            In the bowl of a stand mixer, add in the salt, flour, sugar and yeast. Mix on medium speed with the dough hook attachment. Slowly pour in the lukewarm water and continue to knead on medium high speed for 7 minutes. Add in the soft butter and knead on medium high speed for 4 minutes, scraping down as necessary. (If kneading by hand, combine dry and wet ingredients in a large bowl. Work the dough until it comes together with some shaggy pieces. Turn out onto a work surface and knead for 6-7 minutes. Add in the butter and continue to knead for 5-6 minutes. Stop when dough is smooth and elastic). Grease another large bowl with nonstick spray and place the dough inside. Flip over to oil the top and cover with plastic wrap. Set in a cool, dry oven with the light on for 45 minutes. When dough has doubled in size, punch down and fold the edges into the center. Flip over and form into a ball. Set back into the bowl, cover with plastic and return to the cold oven to proof for 30 minutes.

Grease your loaf pan with nonstick spray and grease a sheet of plastic wrap with non-stick spray. Once dough has doubled in size, remove from the bowl and place on a lightly floured worksurface. Evenly divide in two. Take one portion of dough and roll out into a ½” thick rectangle. Fold one third of the rectangle, followed by the other third, like a letter. Roll up into a log from the short side and pinch the edges to seal- log should be as wide as the loaf pan. Repeat with second dough. Place logs into the loaf pan, ensuring that the logs spiral out from the center to the edges, mirroring each other so they rise evenly. Cover with the greased plastic wrap and place in the cold oven Proof for 30 minutes. Remove the loaf and set on counter while oven preheats. Preheat oven to 390. Place the uncovered loaf in the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Cover with aluminum foil to prevent burning and continue to bake for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and immediately take out of the pan. Set on a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container.

Full Recipe | Method from Kitchen Princess Bamboo: Japanese Everyday Food

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