Fr. Francis and Japanese Milk Rolls


Sunday. What better day to bake and break bread than on a Sunday with one of our Benedictine  monks? That’s exactly what the students did under the guidance of Fr. Francis, newly arrived this year to the Abbey community, but bringing with him his impressive baking skills. Fr. Paschal joined the students to learn, and taste, alongside them.

On Sunday, the 21st of January, the Culinary Arts Club was hosted by the Dining Hall services at the Abbey. We learned how to bake Japanese Milk Bread with Father Francis, who resided in Japan for a long period of time, learning their culture and ways of cooking. Now an avid lover of food and exquisite baker, Father took time out of his day to teach the Portsmouth Abbey Culinary Club how to bake.

The ingredients we used in making the bread were fairly simple: garlic, water, milk, butter, yeast, salt, and a little sugar. The smell of the garlic and butter combination that we cooked off as the base for our bread was outstanding. My mouth watered as we went through the process. Even though it takes a fairly long time to complete the baking process, it was well worth the intense labor and wait. The smell of the bread coming out of the oven was so satisfying, and the first bite of the bread made my mouth tingle. I suggest eating this straight out of the oven. Overall, I found this a very fun project and something I will try to bake in the future. Thank you, Father Francis! Daniel Sliney ’18

Making the brownish gold color of melting butter was one of the most interesting but hardest jobs assigned for making Japanese Milk Bread! Putting one full and a quarter chunk of butter and divide those into half (one for melting on a pan and one for whipping in a bowl), I could already smell the sweetness and saltiness of the bread. Additional yeast, flour, water and a certain amount of salt at last led into the perfect form of dough – ready to be baked!

Father Francis was definitely a talented baker; it required significant energy to mix the dough evenly with different dry ingredients, and my group struggled to make a chewy chunk of dough. When Father Francis stood between Katherine and me, the sound of him beating the dough completely dominated the entire dining hall. With his several punches, the dough became uniform, resilient and chewy! It was on deck to be put in the oven.

Applying some butter, oil, and sea salt – the most important part – on the top of different pieces of dough, I was ready to be a gourmet. After about twenty minutes of baking, soft, oily bread was made! When I had the first bite of a warm piece, my tongue was first mesmerized with the taste of salt. Then, the rich taste of butter dominated the tongue and formed complete harmony with salt. The warmness of the bread was perfection.

When I put a piece in the microwave the day after, I could still feel the softness the same as the baking day. With the recipe from this baking session, I would like to try this back at home with my little sister! –Scarlett Shin ’18

My greatest fears were realized when we began Sunday’s culinary class: a group project. Partner work? In cooking? Wow, no thanks. I hoped this Japanese Milk Bread would understand that I had abandoned it for its own good. However, I was lucky enough to grab Tommy, and we set to work under Fr. Francis’s guidance browning some butter. After several attempts, we found ourselves with a saucepan of garlic butter and a “shaggy dough.” We floured our hands and got to work kneading, and ten minutes later we had a round ball of dough ready to rise. Within 45 minutes, we were sliding our pan into the oven and waiting not at all patiently for the timer. The second they were ready, and way too hot to eat, we dove in. They were fluffy and buttery and salty, and everything a good cheat day is made of. Thank you, Fr. Francis, for leading us to bread victory! –Sydell Bonin ’18

Not sure what to expect from a “Japanese Milk Bread” baking class, I was pleasantly surprised by these hot, buttery, salty treats. The recipe may have seemed daunting at first, but we quickly caught on to the multi-step process of browning butter, mixing multiple components, and a lot of dough kneading. Father Francis guided us through this process, a seasoned milk bread baker himself (yet another surprise from one of our newest monks) who has become a large presence on the campus in just a few months. The garlic butter-greased baking sheets were lined with the little buns that would soon rise into a conjoined sheet of golden brown morsels. With seven groups preparing their own mounds of dough, we were left with plenty of buns to enjoy. I even experimented with a sweet and savory combination, spreading some marmalade on one. Even though the smell of peeled garlic and butter lingered on my fingers for the rest of the day, I came out of this experience as a slightly more enlightened baker, although yeast still kind of weirds me out.–Tommy Teravainen ’18

I never imagined putting garlic into “Japanese milk bread” at first: it just sounded gross. Kneading the dough was even grosser; the egg mixture blends with the starch to create a sticky substance. However, when Father Francis punched down the dough by smashing it on the table, that just made my day. Our monolithic dough was then left to double, and we then divided into pieces. Father put the pebbles in the oven, taking the pan out from time to time to brush the garlic mixture and sprinkle salt on the breads. Twenty minutes later, the bread came out in one piece with a golden color. No longer smelling garlic, I took a bite and started to appreciate the garlic recipe. The bread convinced me, and next time I will definitely try putting garlic into my dish again.–Peter Liu ’19

I never thought I would have the chance of stepping into Stillman Dining Hall except when given the chance to cook for International Food Night, so when I heard about baking in Stillman, I was beyond excited. I knew that Father Francis spent years in Japan learning about its culture and religions, what I didn’t know was his passion about baking.

At first I thought the milk bread we were making would be sweet and soft, but when I saw salt and garlic on the ingredient list, I knew that they are going to add a different taste to the bread. The part that I enjoyed the most was mixing all dry and the wet ingredients together and kneading the dough. Although it took us a long time to make a perfect dough, the process of punching down and smashing the dough was a lot of fun.

I would definitely try this recipe at home, and I hope to impress my family and friends with the milk bread at parties.–Katherine Wang ’18

For our last culinary club meeting, we did something a bit closer to home. Instead of our usual long bus rides, we went up to the dining hall kitchen. Father Francis had planned to teach us how to make Japanese milk bread. As soon as we arrived, we were met with a warm kitchen and a long recipe that we were instructed to read very, very carefully.

We broke up into pairs to make our dough. I paired with India which was nice because she knew what she was doing. However, neither of us knew what butter was supposed to look like when it was browned, which was our first challenge. However, Mrs. Bonin and Fr. Francis looked over our shoulders while we were browning and helped us. Luckily, we didn’t burn our butter (like some people). The kitchen was already smelling good, even though tensions were running a bit high.

The rest of our prep process went pretty smoothly, although there was a lot of running around the kitchen since everyone kept moving all the ingredients. It got more exciting as we started to combine the dough and as Fr. Francis showed us how to properly get the air out of it and strengthen the gluten in it. This gave me a new appreciation for the people on the Great British Baking Show because I hadn’t realized how hard kneading dough is. After we kneaded our dough we left it to proof, which takes a pretty long time. We were then given Fr. Francis’s risen dough, which was huge! We then formed this into balls and put our garlic butter on top, then baked those. Soon, we got to enjoy the fresh milk bread. We later got to eat the ones that we made. I was really proud to have made them, because they’re different than what I usually make and tasted really good.–Ella Souvannavong ’18

This past Sunday we were welcomed into the Stillman kitchen, a whole part of our dining hall that I have never been before. Fr. Francis introduced us to Japanese milk bread, or Hokkaido milk bread, which is where the bread originates. Making bread on our own was a great way to directly learn about what we were doing. Adding grated garlic to the bread was an interesting addition I was not expecting but the taste worked really well. Seeing yeast raise bread will always be something that simply amazes me, how the size of the dough triples. Once we waited the long twenty minutes for the bread we baked, the result was completely worth it. There was an entire pan of soft buttery fragrant pieces of bread. The bread was much more savory than I expected for something called “milk bread” but it was very good.–India Roemlein ’19

I love bread! This was my exact reaction this past Sunday when the club, along with Father Francis, gathered in the dining hall for a rather new experience of baking bread. There, Father began to explain both the cultural importance and history behind making Japanese Milk Bread, a skill he acquired while living in Japan for ten years. Following this was the actual process of preparing the bread with my partner, Megan.

The instructions called for basic ingredients, such as milk, bread flour, eggs, butter (lots of butter). However, the actual baking was anything but basic. Admittedly, I was a little too confident about my baking skills after watching every season of Cupcake Wars and Cake Boss on TV and underestimated the amount of concentration required for this process. Thus, to no one’s surprise but my own, I burnt the butter two times, and Megan and I had to start over. Nevertheless, I soon got the gist of what the instructions were asking for. After a half hour, all the groups produced a thick, mashed-potato-like dough that had to chill and expand for around an hour. Thankfully, Fr.Francis had already made some earlier that we got to roll out and slam on the table— my favorite part of this day. After this, we separated them into around 12 rolls and put them into the oven. Again, thankfully, Fr. Francis had already done this step previous to our arrival so all the groups got to taste some rolls while our own were baking. Although not sampling any, they certainly smelled great, and from the look on everyone’s faces, they must have been absolutely delicious.

Overall, this hands-on experience truly put my knowledge of how to read directions, work as a team member, and bake to the test. I am very grateful for Father Francis’ guidance and friendliness that made this event very enjoyable. Just as Mrs. Bonin assured, this event was tasty, educational, and fun, but also… a little messy. Sorry, Megan!–Michael Griffin ’18

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Usually, going to the dining hall is not exactly an in depth experience. You get in line, pick whatever looks appealing to you, and sit down to eat. All in all there is minimal interaction with the food you are eating. This was not the case on Sunday, when Father Francis and the dining hall staff hosted the Culinary Arts Club to a demonstration on how to make traditional Japanese milk bread. We went behind the area where you just grab your food, and into the kitchen where it is made. We were given an in depth, step by step guide to making the bread, including preparing the milk, mixing the dough, and making the seasoning. After what felt like an eternity, the finished delicacies were removed from the oven, cooled on the counter, and then enjoyed in all their savory goodness.

This experience was a stark difference from the typical Abbey meal, in that I was involved in the production of the food I ate. I was immersed in the process of making my food, which made the end result that much more delicious.–Arthur Shipman ’18