The biggest challenge of making whole wheat bread is to get the soft, and fluffy texture with good volume.

In this article, I want to share with you how do we make our whole wheat loaf in our cafe, by using the TangZhong method similar for the Japanese milk buns, one the most fluffy and souffle-like texture oriental buns.

We went through a series of experiments and ongoing modification, which finally settled with the stable method which we are using today.

Since most of the Asian preferred soft buns over hard rolls but yet prefer a healthy diet, whole wheat, and multigrain loaves are now available in most of the Asian bakeries.  However, since Asian prefer soft buns, most of the whole wheat bread in Asia do not include more than fifty percent of whole wheat flour.

This recipe consists of 33% of whole wheat flour with the addition of the starter called TangZhong 湯種.

This recipe shows you how to make whole wheat bread (wholemeal bread) that is soft and fluffy by using an Asian method. Another secret: I do not knead the dough. How: Use the food processor.

Note: If you have never made bread before, please read this article which covers all the aspects of basic bread making.

How to make whole wheat bread that is soft and moist

The following sections explain how do we prepare our oriental version of the whole wheat loaf by using the starter called tangzhong.

1. Prepare the tangzhong

Tangzhong is the secret weapon in this recipe that makes the bread soft, tender and has a close crumb texture. This is the same method to make buns in China and the Hokkaido Milk Buns.

Here are the steps:

  • Measure 25g of white flour in a small pot.
  • Add 125ml of cold water and stir constantly to avoid forming lumps.
  • Place over low heat and slowly heat it up until 65°C/150°F. If you do not have a kitchen thermometer, heat it up until the starch turns semi-translucent and thicken.
  • Remove from heat. Let it cools before adding to the dough.

What is Tangzhong

According to Harold McGee’s book On Food and Cooking, Tangzhong mainly consists of gelatinized starch.

During baking, the starch granules absorb water, swell and form a rigid structure surround the carbon dioxide. As the expansion of the bubbles stops, the water inside the bubbles will evaporate, creating a network of connecting holes.

In the case of Tangzhong, the starch is already gelatinized (The Conversion of solid starch into a starch-water gel) during cooking with water before adding to the dough. They do not need to be hydrated again. This plump starch granules perforated the gluten network and contributed to the spongy, light and close crumb structure.

2. Scale the yeast, sugar, and flour

Here are the steps:

  • Scale the water required into the mixing bowl.
  • Add the active dry yeast into the water.
  • Add the brown sugar.
  • Combine all the ingredients with a spatula to make sure the yeast is fully hydrated.
  • Leave aside for five minutes.
  • Add the white flour and whole wheat flour to the yeast mixture.
  • Combine the flour and the yeast mixture with a wooden spatula.

Use more water for whole wheat flour loaf

If you substitute any amount of white flour with whole wheat flour of any bread recipe without adjustment, the bread will likely turn out dry,


White flour is made up almost entirely of the endosperm of the wheat kernel. It consists mainly of starch and proteins. Therefore they do not require additional water to keep it hydrated.

However, whole wheat flour is not a refined grain, which contains germ, bran and the endosperm. Brans and germs soak up water, which will make the loaf hard and dry. That is why we need to use more water to ensure the whole wheat loaf is tender and soft.

I use 63ml of water for every 100g of white flour to make my regular bread. I have increased the water amount to 70ml of water for 100g flour in this recipe to get the loaf that is soft and moist.

3. Autolyse for two hours

Autolyse refers to the resting process after combining the flour with water.

During this resting process, the enzyme of the flour will break down the starch. At the same time, the proteins called gliadin and glutenin in the flour will start to hydrate and untangled into shorter pieces, developing strands of gluten ready for kneading and folding in the following step.

Autolyze is the crucial step to develop gluten which gives the whole wheat bread the much-needed strength. You may skip this process for dough that is made only with white flour. However, the gluten is much harder to form with whole wheat flour without autolyze first to untangle the protein pieces.

4. Kneading (with a food processor!)

The kneading process we use is different from many other recipes

Knead the dough will help to form gluten, but excessive kneading of whole wheat flour dough is counter-effective as the bran inside the flour can cut through and destroy the gluten. Hence, it has to be a controlled kneading, and the autolyze process is advantageous to develop the gluten first, which means we can shorten the kneading process and avoid the problem of over-kneading.

Our preferred way to ‘knead’ the dough is to use the food processor, not the mixer + dough hook.

This method seems a bit of unconventional, but the same approach has been discussed and tested by The result is astonishingly fast and successful.

Here are the steps:

  • Add the autolyzed dough into the food processor.
  • Add the salt and butter. 
  • Process the dough for slightly over one minutes, with occasional ‘pulse’.   It is able to achieve the amount of gluten which enables to form the typical ‘windowpane’ while stretching the dough.

Cold butter is added at this stage, instead of adding the melted butter to the yeast mixture earlier on. According to one explanation that I have read, cold butter will presence between the gluten strands and make the loaf lighter.  As for melted butter, it will absorb into the flour which makes the loaf heavy.

Fats and oils if added earlier, will bond to the hydrophobic amino acids along the protein chains and preventing them from bonding to each other, which will hinder gluten formation.

Another advantage of using the food processor is that this wet dough is very sticky and make it difficult to knead by hand. So why not let the machine to do all the hard work?

How the food processor helps to form gluten

I believe this is because the blade of the food processor is sharp and the spin action is fast. As long as it does not cut the dough and able to drag the dough in a circular motion, it will act as a quick kneading process.

The only downside is if we are making a much larger batch, we have to process the dough in batches with the small food processor. Therefore, we decided to use the conventional mixer attached with the dough hook to knead the dough for the large batch. It needs about ten minutes to achieve the desired elasticity.

However, the result by using a food processor for the small batch is better.

Note that I am using 30% whole wheat flour and 70% white flour in this recipe. If you increase the ratio of whole wheat flour to 50% or more, you will not expect to get the elasticity that can stretch the dough to paper thin. In that case, the endpoint is when you find that there is no further improvement of the elasticity even with more kneading.

5. Bulk fermentation (first rise)

Remove the dough from the food processor and keep it in a large bowl and cover with damp cloth or cling wrap. Let it ferment at room temperature until it doubles its size. It will take 45 minutes to one hour, depends on the strength of the yeast and the temperature.

The flavor will further develop during the fermentation process. It is ready when it doubles in size. If you poke deep into the dough with your floured finger, a dent will remain.

6. Pre-shape the whole wheat flour loaf

  • Press the dough gently to remove the gas. Do it gently as not to damage the gluten strands.
  • Remove the dough onto a floured working table.
  • Divide the dough to the desired amount for each loaf. Flattened each portion to form a circle, either by your hand or a rolling pin.
  • Fold the four corners towards the center, resemble making an envelope.
  • Turn the dough over with the stretched side up. Hold the dough with your palm and rubs against the countertop in a circular motion. This rounding process helps to stretch the surface further and strengthen the gluten.
  • Let it rest for another fifteen minutes before doing the final shaping.

7. Final shaping and proofing (second rise)

  • Press to remove the gas in the dough.
  • Roll out the dough and then shape into loaves or buns.
  • Cover the dough with a damp cloth.
  • Let it rise at room temperature until it doubles its size.

8. Baking

  • Preheat the oven until it reaches 175°C/350°F.
  • Brush the loaf with egg wash or water before baking.
  • Bake the bread for thirty-five minutes or until the top turns golden brown. The actual baking time depends on the size of the loaf.
  • Remove the loaf from the oven and let it cools for twenty minutes before cutting. Cooling is crucial as it allows the moisture in the bread to escape and make it easier to slice.
This recipe shows you how to make whole wheat bread (wholemeal bread) that is soft and fluffy by using an Asian method. Another secret: I do not knead the dough. How: Use the food processor.

Three most essential points to deliver a soft, moist wholemeal bread with good volume.

1. Use more water.

Not adding extra water is the primary reason why the whole wheat bread turns out hard and dry.

The baker’s percentage should be at least seventy percent or more. It is possible to use a 1:0.75 ratio of water to flour if you use whole wheat flour alone.

2. Use the starter Tangzhong as the softener of the bread

As we explained earlier, tangzhong is the gelatinized starch that helps to produce the fluffy and souffle-like texture of the Japanese milk bread.  It helps to make the whole wheat loaf soft the tender.

3. Autolyze before kneading the bread dough

In general, whole wheat bread does not rise as much as bread makes with white flour only.

The lack of volume is because development of gluten is harder with whole wheat flour as it consists of bran and germ. Bran and germ soak up water, and hence make the dough dryer.

Also, it is our natural reaction to knead the dough longer if we do not feel the gluten development is sufficient, which will tend to over-knead the dough. What happens is that the flakes of bran are acting as tiny blades slice through the gluten strands which will damage the structure of the dough and make it difficult to rise.

Therefore, autolyze is essential to make it easier to form gluten strands during kneading.

4. Proofing problem for bread with whole wheat flour

Finally,  Since the whole wheat bread contains brans and germs that is heavy, it takes more time for it to gain volume. However, there is a limit to this. When it reaches the maximum volume that the structure can support, the loaf will collapse if the dough is over-proofed.

The whole wheat bread recipe

Yield: 2 loaves

Whole wheat bread - How to make with tangzhong method

Whole wheat bread - How to make with tangzhong method

The biggest challenge of making whole wheat bread is to get the soft, and fluffy texture with good volume.

I want to share with you how do we make our whole wheat loaf in our cafe, by using the TangZhong method similar to the Japanese milk buns.

This method may not be the textbook way, but I hope you will find it interesting! Best of all, it works very well.

Prep Time 3 hours
Cook Time 35 minutes
Total Time 3 hours 35 minutes



  • 25g high gluten flour
  • 125g water

Main dough:


(Please refer to the article for detailed explanation)

For the tangzhong:

  1. Measure the white flour in a small pot.
  2. Add cold water and place over low heat and heat it until the starch to turn semi-translucent and thicken.
  3. Remove from heat. Let it cools before adding to the dough.

For the main dough

  1. Scale the water required into the mixing bowl. Let it autolyze at room temperature for two hours. (optional).
  2. Add the active dry yeast, brown sugar. Combine.
  3. Add the high gluten flour and whole wheat flour and combine.
  4. Add the tangzhong, salt, and butter. Use the food processor to blend it for one minute.
  5. Let it ferment at room temperature until it doubles its size.
  6. Divide the dough to the desired amount for each loaf. Rest for fifteen minutes.
  7. Roll out the dough and then shape into loaves or buns.
  8. Let it rise at room temperature until it doubles its size.
  9. Brush the loaf with egg wash or water before baking.
  10. Bake the bread at 175°C/350°F.for thirty-five minutes or until the top turns golden brown.


If you encounter any audio / visual problem of viewing this video, you can view it from YouTube by clicking this link, which will open in a new tab.

Nutrition Information:



Serving Size:

2 loaves

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 1132Total Fat: 16gSaturated Fat: 8gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 6gCholesterol: 32mgSodium: 2053mgCarbohydrates: 217gFiber: 15gSugar: 15gProtein: 32g

This data was provided and calculated by Nutritionix on 3/28/201

References and further reading:

Below is a list of references we use in developing this recipe.  Please refer to this article for further information.

  1. What Makes Whole-Grain Bread So Hard to Bake?
  2. Baking Bread with Whole Wheat Flour
  3. The Food Lab: The Science of No-Knead Dough
  4. How to Make 100% Whole Wheat Bread
  5. Wholemeal Bread – what tips/techniques do you have?
  6. How does tangzhong (water roux) make bread softer? 
  7. 100% Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread Recipe
  8. Harold McGee’s book On Food and Cooking

    39 replies to "Whole wheat bread – How to make it soft, fluffy (Asian method)"

    • KP Kwan

      Hi, this is KP Kwan. I am happy to see you in this comment area, as you have read through my recipe. I am glad to reply to any questions and comments as soon as possible.

      • Zee

        Hi Chef Kwan,
        I’m thrilled to let you know that I have made this whole wheat bread recipe yesterday. I was blown away by the results. It was one of the best bread recipes I’ve ever tried. I added walnuts after completing the kneading process (because I wanted more texture) and shaped them into buns. They turned out soft, moist, flavourful with a wonderful yeasty aroma. This recipe is a keeper. Thank you very much!

        • KP Kwan

          Hi Zee,
          I am delighted to know that it works! The walnuts are certainly a welcome addition.
          KP Kwan

    • Moi

      Hi KP,
      I’ve tried this recipe and method. The whole meal bread turned out soft and fluffy! Thanks. However, we find it a little bit salty. Is it ok to cut down the amount of salt? Will that affect the outcome? If it is ok to reduce the salt content, then what is the minimum amount or proportion of salt to add ? Look forward to your advice and whip out another round of wholeMeal bread 🙂

      • KP Kwan

        Hi Moi,
        The total amount of flour in this recipe is 535g. I agree the amount of salt is a little too much as the standard amount of salt is 1% of the flour. Therefore, in this case, 1% should be 5g. I have made the changes in the recipe.
        Thank you so much for pointing out so that I can make it even better.

        KP Kwan

    • WM Lau

      Hi, looking for the Cantonese raisin bread recipe, wondering if you have tried it and if you would share it. Thank you, love your recipes and posts.

    • Irene

      Hi Kwan
      can I use instant dry yeast instead of active dry yeast?

      • KP Kwan

        Hi Irene,
        You can use instant or active dry yeast. Use the same quantity whichever you choose.
        KP Kwan

        • Irene

          Hi Kwan, If I use only bread flour, how much water should I use?

          • KP Kwan

            Hi Irene,
            If you convert all the whole wheat flour in this recipe to the regular bread flour, the total will be 25+350+160 = 535g.
            Since bread flour requires less water than whole wheat flour, I suggest using 62% of water. That means 535g x 62% = 332g (or ml) of water.
            KP Kwan

    • Irene

      Hi Kwan, is it possiblele use 160gram of wholegrain flour instead of whole wheat flour, how much water should I used ?

      • KP Kwan

        Hi Irene,
        I have not tried that before, but since whole wheat flour is a type of the whole grain flour, I do not see there is any difference in the making process, by using the same amount of water.
        KP Kwan

    • Pearlyn Lim

      Hi KP

      So glad seeing this posting, I am just started my home baking Journey, prefer a healthier bread for kids, but my whole wheat bread always turns out hard …may I know if possible to replace butter with Bran oil? If so, what is the quantity of oil and water needed?


      • KP Kwan

        Hi Lim,
        I have not to use bran oil for baking. However, I have used olive oil to replace butter before with the same amount. You may want to substitute the butter with bran oil with the same amount, which I think it should work well.
        KP Kwan

    • Ann

      Hi, I want to ask is that any non-gluten flour can REPLACE high gluten flour.

      • KP Kwan

        Hi Ann,
        I am not familiar with non-gluten bread. However, the texture of the bread will be very different without the presence of gluten.
        Best regards
        KP Kwan

    • sandy


      If I want to add chia seeds, pumpkin, almond, walnut or flax seeds or chocolate chips, any modifications to the recipe? Do I add more water n which stage should I add them? Thanks

      Best regards

      • KP Kwan

        Hi Sandy,
        Nuts should be added after salt and butter, i.e., as the last items. Ther is no need to adjust the amount of water unless you add a large amount.
        KP Kwan

    • Leh Kah

      Hi, i am using wholewheat high protein flour to replace wholewheat flour. Any changes i need for the recipe. I use 7g instant dry yeast instead. The bread collapse while baking in the bread machine.

      How can i prevent it from collapsing?

      • KP Kwan

        Hi Leh Kah,
        1. There is no change in the quantity if you use wholewheat high protein flour.
        2. As for the collapse, I do not fully understand your description. The amount of yeast does not relate to whether the bread collapse.
        3. So I am trying to make some wild guess in the situation. If it rises during the bulk fermentation and then collapses, it is mainly caused by the duration is too long. The volume has grown too big, which eventually unable to support itself and collapse. In this case, it does not matter as you will still need to reshape it again. However, it is not a good practice, as the gluten can be overstretched and elasticity of the bread may reduce.
        4. If the bread dough collapse after proofing, (means after reshape and waiting to rise and bake), it is most likely due to over-proofed. Try to reduce the duration.
        I hope this info is useful.
        KP Kwan

    • Estee


      Can I check what’s the hydration of your recipe? I calculated and you have 51.4% hydration, using only total flour in comparison with total water, have I miscalculated something?

      • KP Kwan

        Hi Estee,
        My calculation:
        Total of flour: 25g from tangzhong + 350g high gluten flour + 160g whole wheat flour = 535g
        Total of water: 125g form tangzhong + 250g from the dough = 375g
        375 devided by 535 = 0.7 (70%)

        KP Kwan

      • Veen


        Thanks for your recipe. It’s easy to follow with the video. U mentioned that I can use 1:1 ratio of water if I use whole wheat flour alone. So meaning for 150g whole wheat high protein flour, I can use about 500g of water? Can I also substitute water with milk?

        • KP Kwan

          Hi Veen,
          Thank you for your comment, and I spot a mistake. It should be 1:0.75 in the text, which I have amended.
          That means if you use 100g flour (total of tangzhong and the main dough), then use 75ml of water (again total of tangzhong and the main dough). You can go up to 1:0.8 (80% hydration), but it will become to0 wet and sticky to form a proper loaf, instead, you can make it as ciabatta without the bread loaf tin.
          You can substitute part of the water with milk to improve the flavor.
          KP Kwan

    • Ying


      Thanks for your detailed explanation about the making of whole wheat bread. I’ve learnt a lot!
      I had halved the recipe and made 10 little buns. My problem was, after pulsing the dough with butter for 60 seconds, the dough turned more wet and sticky (some were even still sticking to the side of my food processor bowl), and couldn’t achieve “window pane” stage Of course. Then I ended up kneading by hand for about half an hour. Was it because the butter was not cold enough? As I noticed that it had softened a bit when I put it into food processor.. But luckily my buns still turned out soft.

      • KP Kwan

        May I suggest to knead the dough without the butter slightly longer? When the dough has become more stretchy than only add the butter. Butter hinders the formation of gluten, so it should be added at the latest stage. You may be likely to use hand to finish off the final step to combine the butter as the mixer may not do a good job. From what I have experienced, it does not need half an hour if you have done the mixing without the butter. I mean, you can imagine making bread of a recipe without butter first, then only include butter as the additional ingredients.
        I hope this information is useful.
        KP Kwan

    • Herbert Forsberg

      Dear KP,
      I haven’t tried this yet but it sounds intriguing. Do you think it would work as hamburger buns?
      Thand you1

      • KP Kwan

        Hi Herbert,
        It can be used to form into any shape. Give it a try, and I hope you will like it.
        KP Kwan

    • Susan


      I don’t have bread machine….. so do you knead at all during the autolyse process ? Or basically you just mix everything then leave it for autolyze for 2 hours? Will the dough rise during this process? After the autolyse, can I knead the dough by hand ? If so, roughly how long ?

      What is the proportion of TangZhong to the main dough ? If I just want to use total 400g bread flour (with 50:50 ratio of white flour and wholemeal flour), how much TangZhong do I have to prepare ?

      Thank you !
      Thank you !

      • KP Kwan

        Hi Susan,
        1. You do not need to knead the dough during the autolyze stage.
        2. After autolyze, you can knead it by hand, but it can be quite tiring. It is best if you knead it until the dough is stretchy and elastic and will not tear when you stretch it paper-thin. That is the end-point, which may need different during depends on how fast you knead it. If you do not have a bread machine, you can use the mixer with a dough hook.
        3. I use 5g of flour to make the tangzhong for every 100g flour for the main dough. If you use 400g of flour for the main dough, then 400×0.05=20g of flour for the tangzhong.
        All the best in making the bread 🙂
        KP Kwan

    • Almira William

      Hi!. I just want to correct you about autolyze. You said, ” Autolyse refers to the resting process after combining the flour with the yeast mixture.” This is wrong as autolyzing is combining flour and water then letting it rest for few minutes or so BEFORE adding the other ingredients. In this process also, yeast should NOT be added because once you do, the fermentation will begin. Anyways, I like the idea of adding tangzhong, I will definitely try it with my 100% whole wheat bread experiment as I really like to omit any white flour into it.

      • KP Kwan

        Hi Almira,
        Thank you for correcting the mistake and enriching my knowledge. I will surely amend my article.
        Best regards,
        KP Kwan

    • Liz Q

      Hi KP,
      Came across this recipe but in your instructions it does not mention when to add the Tangzhong into the dough. Would love to try out your recipe soon.

      Liz Q

      • KP Kwan

        Hi Liz Q,
        Thank you for pointing out the confusion. I have amended the instruction. It now reads:
        3. Add the high gluten flour and whole wheat flour and combine.
        4. Add the tangzhong, salt, and butter. Use the food processor to blend it for one minute.
        KP Kwan

    • Chua Sock Hwee

      Instead of brown sugar, can I use caster sugar?

      • KP Kwan

        Hi Chua,
        You can use any sugar to substitute the brown sugar.
        KP Kwan

    • Mamta

      Hi chef KP Kwan
      This is the best recipe I ever tried. Love the aroma of freshly baked bread.. You explained very well. I have multi grain flour & all purpose flour at my home, so I used the same instead of whole wheat flour. What is high gluten flour? I don’t have food processor.. Kneading took approx 1/2 an hour by hand instead of 10 minutes as you described in the recipe.
      Thank you for a good recipe
      When gluten free breads are made, why breads made with whole wheat flour are not soft & light in texture .
      Thanks again

      • KP Kwan

        Hi Mamta,
        Bread flour contains 12% to 14% gluten, which is an essential ingredient for a good bread structure. Any flour that with this percentage of gluten is called high gluten flour. Since it is suitable to make bread, it is also called bread flour.

        Gluten is the composite of the protein called glutenin and gliadin. Glutenin is hydrophilic (meaning attract water) and able to hold more water in the structure of the bread. Therefore, glutenin contributes to the elasticity and springy property of the dough.

        Gliadin is hydrophobic (water-repelling) and therefore counteracts the elasticity of gluten and contributes to extensibility to the dough.

        That is why the bread is soft, elastic, and springy. Gluten-free bread does not have glutenin and gliadin, and hence it is harder.

        KP Kwan

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