Several comments from readers expressing amazement that the tangzhong method isn’t more widely known. If this method really does all these amazing things, why don’t more bakers in America employ it?
All I can say is that it’s a matter of aesthetics. Crusty, chewy breads with elastic, uneven crumbs have been all the rage for almost twenty years now. At least in America, where a romance for Old World peasant breads runs very deep.
That’s not true in Japan and China. Bread eaters in that part of the world place a premium on tenderness, uniformity of crumb and thin, easy-to-eat crusts. I’d speculate that the bread aesthetic is connected to a broader east Asian sensibility that emphasizes balance, harmony, simplicity and order.
Then again it could just be a simple matter of taste. For it wasn’t so long ago that Westerners also prized fine, white, soft, easy-to-eat breads. Pan de mie, also known as Pullman bread, is a good example of the breads we Westerners used to love. It uses mostly white flours, it has a tight and even crumb, it’s even made in a 6-sided pan specifically designed to create a near crustless end product. Once it was considered the height of luxury.
Up until the 1960’s white breads like that were associated with good living, especially among poor European immigrants who had zero romance for the tough, chewy, coarse, whole-grained breads of home. They considered fluffy white bread to be more nutritious, better tasting, easier to digest and just generally more pleasant to eat. It was the food of the rich, a delicacy the upper classes of Europe had traditionally denied them.
That logic flipped in the 60’s when a handful of American bread eaters decided they were the ones being denied nutrition, flavor and digestive health — by the makers of fluffy white breads. That sentiment grew all through the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s to the point that now there’s scarcely a fine dining restaurant in America that doesn’t serve chewy, coarse-grained thick-crusted peasant breads as an accompaniment to expensive 4-course meals.
I’m not complaining mind you, I like those. It’s just an interesting reversal. One that the Chinese and Japanese, as far as I’m aware, have yet to make.