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Sort-of Secret: These pillowy loaves of Japanese milk bread from a Roncesvalles ramen shop

By Liza Agrba| Photography by Daniel Neuhaus
Sort-of Secret: These pillowy loaves of Japanese milk bread from a Roncesvalles ramen shop

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The sort-of secret: Shokupan, loaves of fluffy Japanese milk bread (with a twist!) from Roncesvalles’ Musoshin Ramen 

You may have heard of it if: You follow Hollyhock Japanese Sweets on Instagram

But you probably haven’t tried it because: Aoi Yoshida, the chef behind the shokupan, only makes about a dozen loaves a day

One day in 2019, when Aoi Yoshida was testing recipes for Japanese milk bread, or shokupan, she rather inconveniently ran out of milk. So on a whim, she decided to try subbing in whey—the milky byproduct of cheesemaking—and found that it didn’t affect the bread’s token fluffy, springy texture, and was pleased that it added protein to the bread’s nutritional profile. It was a bit of a eureka moment, and Yoshida now uses exclusively whey for her unique shokupan, which she sells out of Musoshin, her ramen restaurant on Roncesvalles. The cube-shaped loaves are common at breakfast tables in Japan, as good with a pat of butter as a vehicle for sandwiches.

Sort-of Secret: These pillowy loaves of Japanese milk bread from a Roncesvalles ramen shop
These baby shokupan are getting tucked into their baking pans.

 

Sort-of Secret: These pillowy loaves of Japanese milk bread from a Roncesvalles ramen shop
When they’re done baking, each loaf will get marked with this here super-hot brand.

Yoshida runs an Instagram-based business called Hollyhock Japanese Sweets, selling mochi, Japanese cheesecake and other homemade goodies. She initially leaned into baking to satisfy her own sweet tooth. Having grown up in Kyoto, she found much of Toronto’s dessert scene too sweet for her liking, and wanted to create desserts more suited to her palate. In 2017, she teamed up with high school friend Shin Inaba to open a ramen restaurant in Toronto—the fourth iteration of Musoshin, a chain with three restaurants in Kyoto and Osaka. The plan was to combine Yoshida’s Japanese desserts and Inaba’s ramen—known for the relatively light consistency of its broth, since it combines vegetable and meat stock—into a single business.

Inaba lives in Kyoto, and the pandemic hit just as he was set to travel to Toronto and train staff on his ramen recipes, making the remote collaboration nearly untenable. It took countless Zoom calls and a great deal of grit, but the team got the project off the ground at the end of last year. Yoshida’s whey-based Shokupan has emerged as one of the restaurant’s star products, and she can hardly keep up with the demand.

Sort-of Secret: These pillowy loaves of Japanese milk bread from a Roncesvalles ramen shop
Here’s Aoi with a tray of fresh (un-branded) loaves.

 

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Sort-of Secret: These pillowy loaves of Japanese milk bread from a Roncesvalles ramen shop
And here they are in finished form.

“With shokupan, you want as little flour and as much liquid as possible for the fluffiest texture,” Yoshida says. The challenge is to hit the right balance while retaining the bread’s structural integrity, and to add the butter at the right time; fat coats protein strands, and so inhibits the development of the all-important gluten molecule. To get around that problem, Yoshida adds it only after kneading the remaining ingredients thoroughly.

After much testing (including the fortuitous whey incident), Yoshida has clearly hit the sweet spot—the bread is pillowy soft, but plenty sturdy enough for sandwiches. The bread undergoes the classic double rise technique, with each round taking around 40 minutes, before acquiring its final shape in a cubed pan.

Sort-of Secret: These pillowy loaves of Japanese milk bread from a Roncesvalles ramen shop
Actually, maybe this is their finished form.

Colourful varieties, where plain and flavoured dough are layered and swirled together, are also available by special order. Her hojicha and genmaicha shokupan incorporate whole tea leaves ground up and mixed with the flour for a heady, fulsome taste that’s true to the tea. (Momo Tea, the brand she uses, is also sold at Musoshin). Matcha red bean, chocolate, and black sesame are among the others on offer. Thanks to its signature texture, shokupan makes an uncannily delicious French toast—if you were looking for a way to amp up your version of the beloved breakfast classic, one of Yoshida’s specialty loaves might be the ticket.

The loaves are hard to get on a walk-in basis (early is best), but Yoshida takes pre-orders by phone. Her capacity is strictly limited to what she can reasonably hand make while juggling running Musoshin—that’s twelve loaves a day, and sometimes double that on weekends.

Sort-of Secret: These pillowy loaves of Japanese milk bread from a Roncesvalles ramen shop
Thanks for the bread, Aoi.

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