Asian cooking, Baking Recipes, Yeasted breads

The surprising charms of Asian Red Bean Bread

When it comes to beans, I’m not really particular. I neither actively seek them out nor do I remove them piece by piece from my chilli. They’re just one of those things I don’t mind, you know? But there are particular moments when I’d eat them wholeheartedly, and one of them would certainly be when they make an appearance inside Asian Red Bean Bread.

I know red bean isn’t exactly for everyone, but it’s hard to just ignore how well it goes with the tangzhong-style Asian fluffy bread. In fact, I even went out of my way to acquire a bag of red bean paste from Cartimar just so I could make this bread. (You won’t use the whole 800 grams for this recipe.)

I have a thing for Asian breads. It may be such a random thing to have “a thing” for, but you could easily leave me in Asian bakeries like BreakTalk or Tous Les Jours and I’d happily spend time looking at each every bit of bread in there. As I pick out what bread I’ll buy for the day, I also feel like I’m looking through a baking exhibition.

The sheer variety of breads they’ve come up with is impressive and has really served as an inspiration for me. Every time I go in there, ideas start taking shape in my mind about what bread I want to make next. Making the dough which is the base for these breads is easy enough, but what do I fill them with? How do I shape them?

Drawing from those visits, I decided to make something a bit more fun today instead of a typically-shaped bread for this recipe. So now not only is the Asian Red Bean Bread great to munch on, shaping them this way adds a pretty look to your bread basket too!

These two shapes start out the same way: a red bean filled ball.

At first it would seem like you’re making a bun, but then you take out your rolling pin and here’s where the fun starts:

The flower shape is super easy. The full instructions are written below, but I’m going to give you the important points of the shaping part. You want a slightly fat flower so you roll out your filled ball not too flat (until about 2 inches diameter), and then you slice all around to create the petals, being careful to keep the center intact.

For the caterpillar roll, you want to flatten out the ball more until it is about 1/8 inch thin. And then you score it on top– and I repeat, SCORE it just on the top instead of slicing all the way through– until you can see the red bean filling peeking out. At this point, it’s all a matter of rolling the dough, keeping the scored part on top and the seam at the bottom.

Take a look at the lovely crumb and how the red bean runs inside the caterpillar roll:

These shapes really remind me of spring. We don’t have it here in the Philippines, but you always hanker for the things you don’t have it seems, especially when you’ve experienced it elsewhere. But at least these breads I can make anytime. 😉

Asian Red Bean Bread
Yields 8
These fluffy breads filled with sweet red bean paste are made using the Asian tangzhong technique (湯種法), so not only are they yummy they star soft for days!
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For the tangzhong (湯種)
  1. 50 grams (1/3 cup) bread flour
  2. 250mL (1 cup) water*
For the buns
  1. 230 grams bread flour
  2. 35 grams sugar
  3. 4 grams (1 teaspoon) instant yeast
  4. 3 grams (1/2 teaspoon) salt
  5. 5 grams (1 teaspoon) milk powder, optional
  6. 80 mL (1/3 cup) milk
  7. 35 grams whisked egg (about 1 large), plus more for egg wash
  8. 80 grams tangzhong
  9. 20 grams unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
  10. 240 grams red bean paste
  11. Sesame seeds, for sprinkling
Make the tangzhong (湯種)
  1. 1. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk flour into the water until completely dissolved and no lumps remain.
  2. 2. Set the pan on the stove at medium heat and begin to stir as the mixture heats up. To avoid burning, stir constantly until the mixture begins to thicken. Keep stirring until the mixture forms lines right on the path where you stir your spoon. (If using a thermometer, stir until the temperature of the mixture reaches 65 degrees Celsius.) Turn off the heat and take the mixture off the stove. Transfer immediately to another to stop the cooking process and let cool.
  3. 3. Once tangzhong has cooled (or just the tiniest bit warm), press clingfilm right on the surface to prevent the tangzhong from forming skin. Place in the fridge for several hours or overnight. Make sure to use within a few days as this does not keep well.
Make the buns
  1. 4. In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together bread flour, sugar, yeast, salt, and milk powder until well-combined.
  2. 5. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients, and add in milk and egg. Using a wooden spoon, mix to form a rough shaggy dough. Mix in tangzhong just until the dough starts coming together.
  3. 6. Using the dough hook, knead the dough just until it comes together fully, then add the butter. Switch to medium high speed and allow to knead until smooth and elastic. To check if dough is ready, do the windowpane test: Take out a piece of the dough, then gently tug it outward from the edges to stretch it. You should be able to stretch the dough into a thin membrane without it tearing apart easily.**
  4. 7. Place dough in a lightly greased bowl. Cover bowl with cling wrap, and let dough proof in room temperature for one hour, or until double in bulk.
  5. 8. Place the risen dough on a lightly floured surface and lightly knead to press out the air inside the dough. Divide the dough into 8 portions. Roll each portion into smooth rounds then leave to rest for 10 to 15 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare the red bean paste and roll into 8 equal portions as well.
  6. 9. Using a rolling pin or your palm, flatten dough rounds into a disc. Place one round of red bean paste on top then wrap the dough around it, pinching the seams tightly to seal. Turn the dough seam side down.
  7. 10A. To make a long caterpillar roll: Roll out the filled dough balls into an oval shape until about 1/8-inch thick. Make slits on the dough either following the long side or short side (depending if you want a longer roll or fatter one) but make sure not to cut all the way to the end or too deep. We just want the red bean filling to be peeking out. Roll up the edges like a Swiss roll in the direction of the slits, pinching the edges to seal.
  8. 10B. To make a flower-shaped bun: Flatten the filled dough balls with your palm or rolling pin until about 2 inches in diameter. Slice eight equal "petals" all the way around the dough, but leave the center of the dough untouched.
  9. 11. Place the rolls seam-side down, spaced two inches apart, on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Leave to rise for a second time for 45 minutes at room temperature. During the last 20 minutes of the rising time, preheat oven to 190°C (375°F).
  10. 12. Once the buns have risen, brush them with the remaining egg and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until buns are golden brown. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack. (These are best enjoyed warm, in my opinion!)
Notes
  1. *Can be replaced with milk, or half water and half milk.
  2. **The dough can be made by hand or with a bread machine as well.
  3. Inspired by Happy Home Baking's Red Bean Rolls. Dough recipe adapted from Christine's Recipes.
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