Black Sesame Tangzhong Milk Bread Babka

Black Sesame Tangzhong Milk Bread Babka | bettysliu.comI grew up eating Asian bakery bread. Have you had it before? It’s my childhood snack. Soft, pillow soft cotton soft bread that lasts longer and can be filled with so many flavors. Cheesy ones. Pork stuffed ones. Custard filled. Taro. Green tea. Hot dogs. Gah, the nostalgia! Whenever we needed a snack (for hiking, road trips, flights), we’d stop by the Asian bakery and load up on these beautiful breads. It’s not just me either. Just this past summer Alex and I shot a wedding where the couple had a tea ceremony, and provided BREAD for everyone afterwards!!!! It turns out the trick to these breads is the water roux, the 汤种 tangzhong method. It’s a roux made up of water and bread flour, warmed on the stove into a thick paste that is incorporated into bread dough. Butter is slowly incorporated into the dough and creates a super silky smooth dough (if you’re doing this by hand, you can palpably feel the dough changing texture, becoming more silky). I’ve since made most of my breads using this – like hot cross buns, taro rolls, and now, this black sesame tangzhong milk bread babka.

ALSO, continuing with the spirit of holiday giveways to thank you as being a part of this amazing community and reading my humble blog, I’m giving away two Shun Cutlery Kanso knives!!! These are literally the knives I use almost everyday in my kitchen – super sharp, beautiful, and so functional. I’m giving away a 7″ Kanso Asian Utility knife and a 3.5″ Kanso paring knife. See below for details.

Black Sesame Tangzhong Milk Bread Babka |

black-sesame-milk-bread-babka-bettysliu-27black-sesame-milk-bread-babka-bettysliu-12Black Sesame Tangzhong Milk Bread Babka | bettysliu.comIt’s no secret that black sesame is a favorite flavor of mine (see ice cream, matcha rolls with black sesame filling, vertical cake roll, black sesame tart shells), but I’m particularly fond of it in this babka, because of the subtle flavor that permeates with every bite of this bread (just the bread, even), Also, that gray. I’m fond of gray, and this soft gray tint to the flesh of this bread makes me irrationally happy. I’m making these into just dinner rolls at home in California next week – my parents aren’t too fond of sweets, so I’ll omit the babka filling, but my dad loves bread. I know he’s going to like this one, because it has that characteristic Asian bakery softness!!!! But also, black sesame is a classic not-too-sweet, nutty flavor that is universally enjoyed (so I like to think).

Black Sesame Tangzhong Milk Bread Babka | bettysliu.comBlack Sesame Tangzhong Milk Bread Babka |

Black Sesame Tangzhong Milk Bread Babka |

Black Sesame Tangzhong Milk Bread Babka |

I always find that shaping the babka is my favorite part – I love slicing up the rolled up dough to reveal all the edges, and then criss crossing it together. Another way to shape babka is to roll it up, and then just twist a few times to create those overlaps. There’s something satisfying about slicing that dough open though.

Black Sesame Tangzhong Milk Bread Babka |

The cinnamon sesame filling wasn’t actually my first choice – I feel like I should be honest and let you know that the first filling I tested was a white chocolate matcha filling, and I thought it was a bit too sweet – a dark chocolate matcha might work better, but I found that the white chocolate matcha overwhelmed the black sesame flavor. Alex and my sister Lucy, though, were my guinea pigs and LOVED the white chocolate matcha filling! I much preferred this quieter, cinnamon sesame filling to let the black sesame dough shine, but this did give me some pause for thought. I’ll need to tweak the white chocolate matcha filling, and I don’t think the black sesame dough is the right fit for that (because you couldn’t taste it AT ALL), but expect some other sort of babka sometime in the near future :).

Black Sesame Tangzhong Milk Bread Babka |

Black Sesame Tangzhong Milk Bread Babka | bettysliu.comBlack Sesame Tangzhong Milk Bread Babka |

Black Sesame Tangzhong Milk Bread Babka |

Black Sesame Tangzhong Milk Bread Babka |

GIVEAWAY:  7″ Kanso Asian Utility knife and a 3.5″ Kanso paring knife!!!!!

UPDATE: Giveaway now closed! Thank you for entering and for your sweet words. Congrats to Janice for winning these knives!



  • You can also make this by hand, quite easily – kneading the butter in gradually, you can feel the texture of the dough become more supple and smooth – it’s a very soothing experience. Follow instructions from this post. 

RECIPE: Black Sesame Tangzhong Milk Bread Babka
(makes 1 loaf)
Milk bread adapted from here and various other sources.

(you only need half of this – if you’re making 1 batch, use half of the ingredients here)
50g bread flour (about 1/3 cup)
1 cup water

Mix flour with water until smooth. Cook over medium low heat in a saucepan and stir with a wooden spoon, until thick. When swirling wooden spoon around pan, you should be able to see visibly the echoes of the swirl. Transfer to a clean bowl. Take a piece of plastic wrap and gently press it against the surface of the tangzhong. Let cool.

Black Sesame Dough
350g bread flour (around 2.5 cups)
45g ground black sesame seeds (3 tbsp)
½ cup whole milk
65g sugar (1/4 cup sugar)
1 egg beaten
30g butter
½ tsp salt
2 tsp active dry yeast
120 g tangzhong

1 egg + splash of water, beaten

Heat milk slightly until lukewarm. Add in yeast and proof for 5-10 minutes. You should see a thick layer of foam, indicating the yeast is active.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, sift in bread flour, black sesame, salt, and sugar. Add in foamy yeast/milk mixture, tangzhong, beaten egg. Mix on medium-high. Add in chunks of butter until smooth. Continue mixing on medium-high for about 15-20 minutes, until elastic, supple, and super smooth. Turn out onto a greased bowl, and cover with a towel. Let rise until doubled in size, around 1-2 hours, depending on how warm your kitchen is. Alternatively chill in refrigerator overnight.

Cinnamon Sesame filling
5 tbsp butter, softed
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 tbsp honey
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1  tsp ground black sesame

Mix all ingredients together until smooth.

Turn onto a lightly floured surface. Punch dough down (fun times!). Roll into a large rectangle. Spread cinnamon filling evenly over dough, and then roll dough up, starting from the short edge. Use a sharp knife and slice through the middle down the length of the dough. Twist two halves over each other, and place in a parchment-lined loaf pan. Cover with plastic and let rise for another 30 minutes-40 minutes. Preheat oven to 350F.

After rising, brush loaf with egg wash. Bake for 20-30 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool and then serve warm.

Black Sesame Tangzhong Milk Bread Babka |

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  • Oh how much I love babka.. These photos and these flavors make me want to stop what I need to do today, go to the kitchen and make this babka.
    So beautifully photographed my friend.
    And those GIFs… Breathtaking as always.
    Much love,

  • Gorgeous bake Betty, look at this texture and softness of the crumb, definitely trying out this method :)
    Gif is just perfect!ReplyCancel

  • I have never heard of that roux technique before! So interesting. And your loaf is simply stunning!ReplyCancel

  • I was thinking about making a babka for the holidays – it would be my first – and yours looks just perfect and so flavorful! The tangzhong technique sounds really interesting ^_^ReplyCancel

  • I was so excited to see this recipe pop up in the inbox this morning. It brings back memories of visiting the Chinese market with my grandpa and getting to pick some bao and the fluffiest, custardy bread from the bakery. Thanks Betty!ReplyCancel

  • To be honest, I’m actually ashamed of saying that I have never tried babka before! Well, I guess admission is the first step, right?ReplyCancel

  • Carly

    This looks phenomenal! When you say to “mix” in the stand mixer, which attachment should be used? The dough hook? I am new to the stand mixer and using it isn’t quite intuitive for me yet. Thanks!ReplyCancel

  • This looks so so so amazing. It’s bread recipes like this that make me wish so much I had eaten babka, challah, milk bread, etc etc etc before I couldn’t eat gluten anymore. So beautiful!ReplyCancel

  • This bread looks so delicious. I had read a lot about the tangzhong bread method and I still need to try it.

    I think this loaf may make me get my act in gear.

    Great giveaway too, wish I was in the US!ReplyCancel

  • I’m so intrigued by that roux and can’t wait to try it! This bread is stunning…I love the flavor of black sesame, too…and gray. :) Lovely post and beautiful images…as always.ReplyCancel

  • Black sesame is one of my favorite flavors as well! The shaping part is actually the part that intimidates me so I love that you did a video on it (and you said it was your favorite part which made me think I need to stop being such a wimp and just try it).ReplyCancel

  • One of the reasons I love reading your blog Betty is the introduction of so many new-to-me foods. Like asian bakery bread! Our backgrounds are so different, and I love that.ReplyCancel

  • It’s been on my mind to make some sort of black sesame loaf ever since my travels to Hong Kong this past summer… I’m pinning this one for inspiration! Black sesame is one of my favorites too. I still want to try your black sesame milk sometime. You always have such gorgeous photography- so warm and inviting.ReplyCancel

  • I just made this and I’m so thrilled! This was my first tangzhoung bread and wow! Thanks for the recipe!! I followed along except used 1/3rd whole wheat flour and added a touch of vanilla and dark cocoa powder to filling 😛 Thank you!!ReplyCancel

    • Oh WOW!!! I’m so happy – thank you so much for giving it a try! The vanilla and cocoa powder addition sounds amaaaazing. Cheers!ReplyCancel

  • Betty, these photos slay. You’re so talented, I can’t even form the words to describe it! The textures you captured look absolutely insane, I want to sleep on this babka, and take bites from it each time I wake up. Loving all of the creative twists you take on asian bakery bread!ReplyCancel

  • I think I will spend all of the holidays trying different babka recipes, including this gorgeous looking loaf. My babka obsession thanks you!ReplyCancel

  • Mimi

    Yum! Looks great! I have a quick question though. Where do you get your black sesame seeds and how do you grind yours?ReplyCancel

  • Linh

    This recipe is really great! I made it yesterday but made it into little rolls instead of one big loaf.

    Also, at what point did you add the sesame to the dough. I was reading the direction step by step and totally forgot about the sesame until the last few minutes of kneading the dough.ReplyCancel

    • Thank you for noting that! It’s meant to go in with the dry ingredients. Changed :)ReplyCancel

  • Jackie

    Lovely pictures!! I tried this recipe today but the babka came out gigantic and very top heavy. What size loaf pan did you use? Also are we supposed to use the entire tangzhong? )(50g bread flour (about 1/3 cup) + 1 cup water) or do you measure out 120 g of it?ReplyCancel

  • Omg this recipe is such a game-changer!! I’ve made it twice now, and both times the result has been fluffier, softer, more hygge-y than any babka I’ve ever had before! I never want to try it without the tangzhong method again, which is also super easy and not as daunting as it sounds. I cannot praise this recipe enough!

    And it’s quite versatile too! The first time I made it, I substituted black sesame for vanilla bean paste in the dough, and my grandmother’s traditional dark chocolate filling instead of the cinnamon paste. And the second time, I used matcha in the dough and a mix of milk-chocolate and butter as the filling – so you can try it with whatever flavour fillings you fancy.

    And my one wee tip is that I struggled to get a nice neat cut with my knives (probably because they’re just a bit cheap and nasty haha). But halfway through the second babka, I used a pair of kitchen scissors (like the ones you use for cutting spring onions) and I got a really neat cut down the middle! So might be worth trying!ReplyCancel

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