Purple Cow Milk Bread Recipe

It needed to be done. I had been meaning to make a Japanese (Hokkaido) milk bread for some time. And then thenerdiebaker posted this cow-patterned milk bread on Instagram.

As a graduate of Williams College (in Williamstown, Massachusetts), where our mascot was the purple cow, I knew what I had to do. I had to make purple cow-patterned bread. And it would be the reddit 52 weeks of baking challenge – week 12: signature bake.

slices of bread in a purple cow pattern.

This is going to be a long post, but it took several attempts for me to do it right.


The base recipe is adapted from this New York Times Japanese milk bread recipe, and I used the pattern from the bakenista to guide my purple cow bread. But it turns out that making animal patterns with milk bread is not novel (and I apologize that I couldn’t figure out who was first). I particularly like the leopard print, but I’m sticking with my purple cow.

First attempt

My first attempt was in a standard loaf pan, and I used only purple sweet potato powder for coloring. I was hoping that I could sub it for the cocoa in the recipe and not have to add food coloring, but it turned out not quite purple enough.

the starter in a glass measuring cup.
balls of white and purple bread dough rising in bowls.
a funny looking attempt at purple cow milk bread.

Second attempt

For my second attempt I purchased a Pullman loaf pan (in order to get the square shape) and added a few drops of pink, blue, and black concentrated food coloring. Good shape, closer color, but it’s more blue-purple giraffe than cow.

I think part of my mistake was in the rolling and wrapping. I formed my purple dough into logs but didn’t roll them into coils before wrapping. And that’s why my patches were circular.

three slices of a purple cow Japanese milk bread looking sort of like a cow print.


Third time was the charm. I think the main difference was the way I rolled out the purple dough.

a strand of purple and a strand of white bread dough.
wrapping the white dough around the strand of purple dough.
encasing the purple dough with the white dough.

Tips and tricks for this recipe

Part of the challenge anytime you are combining two doughs is getting them to be the same-ish consistency so they rise together and don’t form holes in your bread where the two doughs meet at a seam. This is true for other breads like marble ryes.

Weighing flour and other ingredients for baking is critical. There is so much variability in how we all get flour into a cup measure. If you don’t have one already, please get a kitchen scale.

FAQs about this purple cow milk bread

Can you taste the purple sweet potato powder?

I find that natural food colorings some times have a vegetal quality that is off-putting in baked goods, but honestly I don’t notice the taste of this sweet potato powder in this bread.

Can I make this in a standard loaf pan?

If you don’t have a Pullman loaf pan, you can make the half loaf (i.e. the white loaf) in a standard bread pan. There are many ways to shape Japanese milk bread. Or you could make the purple cow bread, but you might need to reduce the volume for it not to overflow a 9″x5″ loaf pan (or it might look like attempt #1). The easiest time to reduce is probably at the shaping stage. You could take one of your segments of each color, roll each out into a log, and twist them around each other. Then spiral the combo into the bottom of a greased, mini (4″?) cake pan. Let it rise, etc.. for a swirled, bread roll. I might have to try that.

Isn’t there a poem about a purple cow?

Yes, it’s called The Purple Cow, by Gelett Burgess
I never saw a purple cow bread. I never hope to see one. But I can tell you, anyhow, I’d rather see than be one!

a dinosaur cookie jar eating a slice of purple cow milk bread.

Related recipes

Check out other breads for sandwiches like this rainbow-colored milk bread, semolina bread, this sweet Portugese bread, or these challah buns.

Want more purple? Make mashed purple sweet potatoes. For dessert, enjoy a purple velvet cake or Earl Grey lavender cake or turn these rainbow cookies purple and gold. Don’t forget the purple cocktail like the lavender gimlet or Lady Bridgerton Empress gin cocktail!


Purple Cow Milk Bread

5 from 1 vote
Category: Bread
Cuisine: Unspecified
Prep Time: 2 hours
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Rising Times: 5 hours
Total Time: 7 hours 40 minutes
Servings: 30 slices
Calories: 126kcal
A cow pattern and purple food coloring turn this soft and sweet Japanese milk bread into a unique purple cow bread. Have fun with your food!
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  • Stand mixer


Tangzhong (roux starter)

  • cup (45 grams) bread flour
  • ½ cup (120 milliliters) whole milk
  • ½ cup water

Dough (white)

  • 2⅓ cup (300 grams) bread flour more as needed
  • ¼ cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
  • teaspoons instant yeast (or half of a 2¼ teaspoon packet)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons (30 milliliters) whole milk more as needed
  • ½ cup roux starter
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened and cut into cubes

Dough (purple)

  • 2⅓ cup (300 grams) bread flour plus more as needed
  • ¼ cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
  • teaspoon instant yeast (or 1⅙ teaspoons if using a 2¼ teaspoon packet)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons purple sweet potato powder
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons (30 milliliters) whole milk more as needed
  • ½ cup roux starter
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened and cut into cubes
  • pink (7 drops), black (3 drops), blue (2 drops), and red (1 drop) concentrated food coloring adjust as needed based on your food coloring


  • 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).
    ⅓ cup (45 grams) bread flour, ½ cup (120 milliliters) whole milk, ½ cup water
  • 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. Let cool.
  • When the roux has cooled, make the doughs, starting with the white to avoid having to clean the mixing bowl in between.
  • 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.
    2⅓ cup (300 grams) bread flour, ¼ cup (50 grams) granulated sugar, 1¼ teaspoons instant yeast, 1 teaspoon salt
  • Add the egg, milk, and half of the starter (½ cup). Mix on low speed. When it comes together, add the butter cubes.
    1 egg, 2 tablespoons (30 milliliters) whole milk, ½ cup roux starter, 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened and cut into cubes
  • When the dough starts to come together, switch to the dough hook. (If the dough doesn't come together, add an additional tablespoon 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.
  • Shape the white dough into a ball and place into a buttered bowl. Cover with plastic wrap.
  • Make the purple dough, repeating the above steps with the following additions. Add the purple sweet potato powder with the initial dry ingredients (flour, sugar, and yeast). Add the food coloring during the kneading time, a few drops at a time until you achieve the desired color.
    2⅓ cup (300 grams) bread flour, ¼ cup (50 grams) granulated sugar, 1¼ teaspoon instant yeast, 1 teaspoon salt, 2 tablespoons purple sweet potato powder, 1 egg, 2 tablespoons (30 milliliters) whole milk, ½ cup roux starter, pink (7 drops), black (3 drops), blue (2 drops), and red (1 drop) concentrated food coloring, 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened and cut into cubes
  • As with the white dough, shape the purple dough into a ball, place it into a buttered bowl, and cover it with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise until doubled in size, about 60 minutes.
  • Lightly butter a 13 inch by 4 inch by 4 inch Pullman loaf pan, including the lid.
  • To make a bread with six "patches," divide the white dough relatively equally into six and the purple dough into eight uneven segments. The white dough will be used to wrap the purple dough in uneven ways.
  • Create two large purple patches at each side of the bottom of the bread. Take a purple section and roll it into a long log the length of the pan. Flatten it out using a rolling pin as thin as possible, and then roll it along the long side to make a thin long coiled log. Repeat the same with a second purple section. Take a white segment, roll it into a long log and flatten it like with the purple sections. Now place the two purple logs side by side in the middle of the flattened white log and wrap the white dough around the two purple doughs. Place this large log of dough lengthwise, seam down along one of the corners of the pan. Repeat this with two more purple segments and one more white segment and place that log lengthwise, seam down along the other side of the pan.
  • There should be four segments of each color remaining. Repeat this procedure of taking the purple dough, forming a long log, flattening it, rolling it up in a coil, and wrapping a segment of white dough around it (this time around only one purple segment to make smaller patches). Lay this seam down in the pan and repeat with the remaining segments.
  • Put the lid on the pan and let the dough rise until it is nearly up to the lid.
  • Thirty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 350°F.
  • Bake for 35 to 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.


Calories: 126kcal | Carbohydrates: 19g | Protein: 3g | Fat: 4g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.3g | Monounsaturated Fat: 1g | Trans Fat: 0.1g | Cholesterol: 20mg | Sodium: 163mg | Potassium: 45mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 4g | Vitamin A: 119IU | Vitamin C: 0.003mg | Calcium: 14mg | Iron: 0.3mg
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What’s next

If you make this purple cow milk bread recipe (go Williams College Ephs!), please comment here or share a pic with me on Instagram. You might also like the grilled honey bun recipe shared courtesy of Williams College dining.

You’re an adventurous home cook looking for inspiration in your weeknight meals and weekend baking. Get that inspiration here:

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