The red bean in Asian desserts is like chocolate to American desserts: it’s a popular ingredient and commonly found on restaurant menus. Better known as hong-dou in Chinese, azuki in Japanese or pat in Korean, the red-brown beans are usually ground into a sweet paste prior to use or boiled whole for a dessert soup. The red bean in Asian desserts is like chocolate to American desserts: it’s a popular ingredient and commonly found on restaurant menus. Better known as “hong-dou” in Chinese, “azuki” in Japanese or “pat” in Korean, the red-brown beans are usually ground into a sweet paste prior to use or boiled whole for a dessert soup. The fusion recipe for this month combines these sweet red beans with vanilla pudding to serve as the filling for a twist on the classic cream puff. And there you have it: Red Bean Cream Puffs.
Widely grown throughout East Asia and the Himalayas, the beans were first cultivated in China and Korea before 1000 BC. It later traveled to Japan, where it is currently the second most popular legume after the soybean.
In Asian cuisine, particularly Chinese, Korean and Japanese, the red bean is most frequently eaten sweet. It is boiled with sugar and mashed to create a thick red bean paste used to fill breads or cakes, accompany fruits or jellies, add flavor to sticky rice and etc. However, you can get a canned version at Asian markets that is delicious, inexpensive and a time saver if a recipe asks for red bean paste.
Here’s a break down of what dishes you’re likely to find the red beans in:
tangyuan (“round balls in soup”): Glutinous rice balls usually filled with red bean, black sesame seed or peanut paste; they are served in a warm sugar soup. Traditionally enjoyed during the Yuanxiao festival or Lantern Festival, nowadays it is prepared for and eaten during the Chinese New Year and the Dongzhi Festival (celebration of the balance and harmony in the cosmos).
zongzi (rice dumplings): Sticky rice enrobes red bean paste and the whole ensemble is sculpted into a tetrahedral shape and wrapped with bamboo leaves. They are customarily eaten during the Dragon Boat Festival in commemoration of the drowning of the famous Chinese poet, Qu Yuan. According to legend, these rice dumplings were thrown into the river to prevent fish from eating his body.
mooncakes: A baked, cake-like pastry with a filling; it usually has an elaborate, glossy design at the top. These are primarily enjoyed during the Mood Festival, a.k.a. Mid-Autumn Festival in respect for the Moon Goddess of Immortality. A mooncake with red bean paste is one of its most popular kinds.
baozi (bun): Steamed leavened bread filled with red beans and red bean paste normally eaten for breakfast.
hong dou bing (“red bean ice”): A popular summer dessert that consists of finely shaved ice drizzled with condensed milk and sweetened, boiled whole red beans. Shops that normally offer this dessert are set up almost like a “salad bar,” where you can pick and choose your toppings, but instead of lettuce or vegetables, it’s shaved ice with options that range from fruit and tapioca pearls to puddings and jellies.
nian gao (“Year cake”): Also made of glutinous rice, nian gao is primarily consumed during the new year though it is available year round. Oftentimes red beans or red bean paste is incorporated into the “cake” base; the mixture is coated in egg and then fried like French toast. Chewy, sweet and slightly crispy on the outside, nian gao is eaten to bring good luck for the coming year because the pronunciation also sounds like “high year.”
red bean soup: Red beans are boiled with sugar, lotus seeds and dried orange/tangerine peel to make a soup. The preserved peel is used to dispel “dampness’. It has been said that those suffering from swollen feet due to water retention can eat congee with red beans to avoid reoccurring symptoms.
anmitsu: A dessert made of cubes of a white translucent jelly served in a bowl with sweet red bean paste and an assortment of fruits like peaches, pineapples and cherries. Anmitsu customarily comes with a small vial of sugar syrup, which is poured over the jelly before eating. There are other variations, including Cream Anmitsu – ”the jelly paired with ice cream.
taiyaki (“baked sea bream”): A fish-shaped cake made of pancake or waffle batter stuffed with sweetened red beans. Custard, chocolate, sausage or cheese versions are sometimes available. See below for the Korean bungeoppang.
dorayaki: Red bean paste sandwiched between two small pancakes made from sponge cake. It originally consisted of one patty until the current version was created in 1914.
sekiban: Japanese sweet rice, soy sauce, red beans, salt and sesame seeds are cooked together to make a festive-looking rice dish. Sekiban is also referred to as Red-Cooked Festival Rice as it is traditionally made for weddings, birthdays and major festivals.
wagashi (Japanese confections): The main ingredients to make wagashi are grains like rice flour and wheat as well as beans – ”specifically red beans, kidney beans and soy beans. There are countless types of wagashi as they are broadly categorized according to the method of preparation and ingredients based on its inventor’s ideas. Wagashi can be considered as edible art as many pieces reflect nature, people, animals and important symbols. They are made with all-natural ingredients, and are rich in vegetable protein but low in animal fat.
daifuku: Essentially mochi (chewy disks made of sweetened glutinous rice) filled with the red bean paste.
yokan: Red bean jelly eaten in slices. In its simplest form, yokan contains red bean paste, agar agar (a thickening agent extracted from seaweed) and sugar. Other additions can be added like figs, chestnuts, persimmons, nuts or honey.
bungeoppang (“Asian carp cake”): A fish-shaped pastry encasing red bean paste and then toasted like a waffle. Served golden-brown, the cake-like confection was introduced to Korea in the 1930s during the Imperial Japanese rule. See above for taiyaki.
papingsu: Shaved ice with sweetened red beans, this is similar to the Chinese hong dou bing, but is commonly topped with ice cream or frozen yogurt, sweetened condensed milk, fruit syrups, various fruits such as strawberries, kiwis, and bananas, and even jelly, tapioca pearls or cereal like Fruity Pebbles. Papingsu is sometimes flavored with green tea or cappuccino.
Red beans are a great source of vitamin b, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, copper and thiamin. Low-fat and low-calorie, red beans may help prevent chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and kidney and bladder problems due to their abundance of vital nutrients. Since they are also a low-sodium food, red beans can reduce blood pressure. Lastly, like most beans, red beans are rich in soluble fiber, the type of fiber that provides bulk to the stool and binds to toxins and cholesterol aiding in easy elimination from the body.
about 1 cup (boiled)
Total Fat: 0.23g
Folic acid: 278mcg
If you like cream puffs, then you’ll like this recipe as it is based off instructions on how to make the classic cream puff. I recommend that you first take a ½ cup of the vanilla pudding mix and test it out by adding red bean paste according to your own preference. You can save the rest of the vanilla pudding to use so guests have a choice between two flavors. Some people love it with the red bean profile at the forefront, while others prefer a lighter note. But you’ll find that these treats are elegant, simple to make and will easily please. The shells are airy and the filling light, creamy and smooth. Cream puffs fall apart when not eaten soon – ”the “puff” gets stales easily and starts to absorb the moisture from the cream so it is not advised to prepare them too in advanced. Also, if your “cream” filling is too thick, don’t be afraid to add some milk to thin it out to a silky consistency. Be adventurous and throw in some whole, boiled red beans for extra texture.
Red Bean Cream Puffs
Yields about 20-25 puffs
- 2 (3.4 ounce) packages instant vanilla pudding mix
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1 cup milk
- 1 can of sweetened red bean paste
- 1/2 cup butter
- 1 cup water
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 4 eggs
- Mix together vanilla instant pudding mix, cream and milk. Cover and refrigerate to set. For every half cup of pudding, mix in 1/3 cup red bean paste. This will give you a very light red bean flavor. Add more paste for bolder red bean flavor.
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
- In a large pot, boil the water and butter. Turn off heat and stir in flour and salt until it looks like dough (forms a ball). Transfer the dough to a large mixing bowl. Using a wooden spoon or mixer, crack all the eggs in and beat quickly, making sure they are well incorporated. Drop one tablespoon after another onto an un-greased baking sheet.
- Bake for 20 to 25 minutes in the preheated oven, or until golden brown.
- Use a toothpick as you would to test if a cake or cupcakes are ready: the centers should be dry and the shell should be crispy to the touch.
- When the shells have cooled, either cut off the tops to fill them with the pudding mixture, or use a pastry bag to pipe the pudding into the shells at the bottom.
- Sprinkle cream puffs with powdered sugar and serve with a good tea!