A rainbow bread recipe for Japanese milk bread

A rainbow bread recipe for Japanese milk bread

A few months ago, I joined a group of bakers who were planning a collaboration to celebrate Pride. It took me only a few minutes of thinking about what I might bake before I came to the conclusion that I had no choice. I would make a rainbow bread recipe adaptation of my purple cow Japanese milk bread.

A loaf of purple cow print milk bread and three slices and a bread knife

How to make rainbow bread

I used a technique and recipe that were nearly identical to my purple cow bread (go Ephs!).

First I made a tangzhong and let it cool.

A tangzhong cooling in a glass measuring cup, covered in clear plastic wrap

For the purple cow recipe, I needed to divide the dough into half white and half purple. For this rainbow bread I kept half of the dough white and then divided the remaining dough into sixths. I did nothing special with each part (i.e. I didn’t roll them and wrap them around each other like I did with the purple cow). Instead I rolled each part out into a log about the length of my Pullman loaf pan.

The bottom layer was four white logs to form the base of the rainbow. To get an arc of color, I created a middle layer that was the red log, then two white logs, and ended with purple. The final top layer laid orange on top of the red, then yellow, blue and green.

I crossed my fingers and waited for my bread to rise.

The bottom of a Pullman pan filled with four logs of the white bread dough of this rainbow bread
The same Pullman loaf pan with a second layer of red dough, then white dough logs, then purple.
The Pullman loaf pan with all of the rainbow bread dough logs arranged from red to purple like a rainbow.

You can see the rainbow. The colors are bright and didn’t fade. As a Japanese milk bread, it is a soft, slightly sweet loaf perfect for a rainbow grilled cheese sandwich. And if I look at a slice closely, I can imagine the outline of a heart in the middle.

I couldn’t have asked for a better start to the month.

The end of a baked loaf of rainbow bread

FAQs about this rainbow bread recipe

Why did you leave any dough uncolored?

Most other rainbow bread recipes have you swirl the colored doughs around each other in a spiral. I wanted my recipe to give you the arc of a rainbow.

How do you store this rainbow bread?

The milk bread method results in a bread that is fresh at room temperature for longer. We just keep the loaf in a plastic bag on the countertop, and it lasts a week (which is how long it takes us to eat a loaf of bread). If you wanted to enjoy it over a longer period of time, I would recommend slicing it and freezing it in a freezer bag with all of the air squeezed out.

What is a Pullman loaf pan and do I need one?

A Pullman loaf pan or pain de mie pan gives this bread its nice square shape, but it is not critical for this bake.
If you don’t have a Pullman loaf pan, you can make this recipe in two standard bread loaf pans.

Could I make this bread using only natural colors instead of artificial food coloring?

Yes, although in my experience with the cow print bread, I wasn’t able to get a vibrant color using only purple sweet potato powder. But you can definitely get natural dyes in the colors of the rainbow.

Can you make a gluten-free bread with these patterns?

I have that on my to-do list, I promise.

What is an Eph?

An Eph is the mascot of Williams College in Williamstown, MA, the #1 liberal arts college in the United States.

A pan with six balls of dough in the colors of the rainbow

Rainbow bread recipe

Servings 1 large loaf
Author uglyducklingbakery


Tangzhong (roux starter)

  • cup (45g) bread flour
  • ½ cup (120mL) whole milk
  • ½ cup (120mL) water


  • 4 ⅔ cup (600g) bread flour plus more as needed
  • ½ cup (100g) granulated sugar
  • 2 ¼ tsp instant yeast
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • ¼ cup (60mL) whole milk plus more as needed
  • roux starter
  • ½ cup (8 tbsp/4oz) unsalted butter, softened and cut into cubes plus more for greasing the loaf pan
  • food coloring


Tangzhong (roux starter)

  • Make the roux starter (tangzhong). In a small pot, combine the flour, milk, and water. Over low heat, whisk until smooth and continue stirring until the whisk leaves a clear track at the bottom of the pot (as if you were making a bechamel).
  • Remove from heat, scrape into a glass measuring cup, and cover it with plastic wrap, pressing down the wrap onto the surface of the roux to prevent a skin from forming (see photo). Let cool.


  • In the bowl of a mixer, use the paddle to combine the flour, sugar, and yeast and mix on low speed briefly. Add the salt and mix for about 10 seconds.
  • Add the egg, milk, and the starter. Mix on low speed. When it comes together, add the butter cubes.
  • When the dough starts to come together, switch to the dough hook. (If the dough doesn't come together, add an additional tbsp of milk at a time). Increase the speed to medium and knead for 10 minutes, adding flour as necessary if the dough sticks to the bottom of the mixer. At the end of kneading, the dough should be soft and tacky but not sticky.
  • Divide the dough in half, and place one half into a greased bowl and cover it with plastic.
  • Divide the remaining dough into sixths. Because the amount of dough is so small, it is easiest to work the food coloring in by hand (although you may want to wear a glove to prevent the coloring from getting on your hands).
  • I used Wilton color right concentrated food coloring in the following amounts. If you are using a different food coloring, you will need different amounts to get the desired colors.
    Red: 4 drops red. Orange: 2 drops orange, 2 drops yellow. Yellow: 4 drops yellow. Green: 3 drops yellow. One drop blue. Blue: 4 drops blue. Purple: 4 drops pink. 1 drop blue. 1 drop red.
  • Once you've worked all of the color in as evenly as possible, form the dough into a ball. Leave the rainbow colored balls on a tray or plate and cover with plastic wrap to rise until doubled in size, about 60 minutes.
  • Lightly butter a 13"x4"x4" pullman loaf pan, including the lid.
  • To create the same pattern as I did, divide the white dough into six equal parts. Roll each part into a log the length of the pan, and lay four logs into the bottom.
  • Create a second layer with a red log, two white logs, and the purple log.
  • The final layer should lay the orange log on top of the red log, then the yellow, green, and blue on top of the purple (see photos).
  • Put the lid on the pan and let the dough rise in a warm, draft-free location until it is nearly up to the lid, ~2 hours.
  • Thirty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 350°F.
  • Bake for 35-40 minutes until the internal temperature is 190°F.
  • Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes, and then cool on a rack completely before slicing.

What next?

If you make this rainbow bread recipe or have questions about how to make it, please leave a comment and/or share a pic. Happy Pride Month!

Check out other uglyducklingbakery bread recipes.

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three slices of rainbow bread on a cutting board

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