Tangzhong cat buns recipe by Kim-Joy Hewlett

  • 9 buns

These sweet little cat buns are bound to lift your mood!

Tangzhou cat buns recipe by Kim-Joy Hewlett

These rolls are not just cute, they are the softest, fluffiest bread you can find, and that’s thanks to the ‘tangzhong’ technique. This is credited as being a Japanese method, but became popular with home cooks and in Chinese bakeries after a Chinese woman called Yvonne Chen wrote a book about it. You might hear this kind of bread referred to as hokkaido milk bread, Asian milk bread or shokupan.

Tangzhong is simply about making a roux with some of the flour and water, which is then cooled and added to the dough mixture. This roux essentially locks in the liquid, and helps to give the final bread a higher moisture content. The resulting bread is soft, cloud-like and stays fresher for longer. Making the roux takes just 5 minutes of your time, but completely transforms this bread.



To make the tangzhou paste

  • Strong white bread flour 25g, plus extra for dusting
  • Water 100ml

To make the dough

  • Whole milk 125ml, plus extra for brushing
  • Unsalted butter 30g
  • Oil for oiling
  • Caster or granulated sugar 10g
  • Salt 1 tsp
  • Large egg 1
  • Strong white bread flour 350g
  • Fast-action dried yeast 7g


  • Egg 1, lightly beaten, for brushing
  • Brown food dye
  • Vodka
  • Black edible pen or black royal icing to decorate


  • Step 1

    First, make the tangzhong paste. Using a balloon whisk, mix the flour and water together in a pan until smooth. Place the pan over a low-medium heat and stir constantly with a spatula until thickened to a pudding-like consistency. If you have a thermometer the paste should reach 65°C [149°F] before you take it off the heat. Transfer the tangzhong to a small bowl, cover with plastic wrap (making sure this touches the surface of the tangzhong) and chill in the freezer for 10 minutes.

  • Step 2

    Meanwhile, for the dough, warm the milk in the microwave. It should be warm but not hot. Melt the butter, too. Lightly oil a large bowl and grease a 20-cm [8-in] square baking tin, then set aside.

  • Step 3

    Place the milk and butter in a large bowl and add the sugar and salt. Add the chilled tangzhong to the bowl along with the egg and whisk together.

  • Step 4

    Add the flour and yeast to the mixture. If using a stand mixer, just allow the machine to knead for 10 minutes with the dough hook attachment. If working by hand, use a wooden spoon to combine everything into a shaggy ball of dough, then turn out onto a floured surface.

  • Step 5

    Knead by hand for about 10–15 minutes. The dough will be sticky to start with, but avoid adding too much flour – it will gradually become less sticky as you knead it. If the dough sticks to the surface, use a dough scraper to scrape it off. Keep kneading until the dough is smooth; it will still be a little tacky, but that is normal.

  • Step 6

    Place the dough in the oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Leave to rise in a warm place until doubled in size. This takes about 1 hour, but it depends on the temperature of your kitchen.

  • Step 7

    When the dough has doubled in size, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knock back. Form into 9 balls, weighing 65g [2¼oz] each. Shape them by tucking the dough under to create a smooth surface. There will be leftover dough – this is to shape the ears and paws.

  • Step 8

    Shape the small balls of dough into ears and paws for the cats. You can brush on a little milk to help them stick. Shape a tail for one of the buns – this will look like the cat has turned around. Work fast to avoid the dough forming a skin.

  • Step 9

    Place the dough balls in the prepared square tin. Cover with lightly oiled plastic wrap and leave to prove in a warm place until roughly doubled in size. The time this takes varies depending on the temperature of your kitchen, but won’t be as long as the first rise. You are looking for the dough to have nearly doubled in size and spring back halfway when lightly pressed with a finger.

  • Step 10

    About 15 minutes before the end of the proving time, preheat the oven to 180°C [350°F/Gas mark 4].

  • Step 11

    Brush the beaten egg on top of the buns just before baking. Bake for 20 minutes until lightly golden brown. You will need to cover the buns with foil after 5–10 minutes, just to prevent them browning too much.

  • Step 12

    Transfer to a rack and leave to cool completely.

  • Step 13

    Paint coloured patches on the cold buns using a little brown food dye mixed with a tiny bit of vodka. When dry, use black edible pen or royal icing dyed black to add cute facial features and details to the paws.

Baking With Kim-Joy cover

Baking with Kim Joy: Cute and creative bakes to make you smile (Hardie Grant, £18) is out now. Photography by Ellis Parrinder.