Monday, November 2, 2015

whole wheat sweet red bean buns

I've been feeling quite a bit of pressure lately, with college app deadlines creeping up and essay prompts untouched. While the best course of action here is probably getting some work done, I find that gifting myself a few hours to focus on something outside the realm of school!school!school! can do wonders for my productivity when I finally do sit down and write. In recent months, the kitchen has become my peaceful little refuge, where I can roll up my sleeves and move around and use my hands for something other than tapping on my keyboard. (Which, by the way, they are doing right now– do we need more muffins?
I'll be back.)

Though this recipe is rather lengthy and involved, it isn't difficult at all, and there is something very soothing/grounding about working with fresh yeast dough and getting your hands sticky and floury. I always knead by hand, despite having a mixer and an old bread machine my parents bought. I think it is important to feel the dough out each time– with the risk of sounding like a crazy bread lady, every batch has its own temperament, whether due to different proportions, weather conditions, or ingredients, so I will often end up adding some extra water or flour during the kneading process. That said, I don't understand the terror with which some people approach yeasted recipes, as if they expect the ball of dough to jump them as soon as they make a wrong move. If you are one of these people, don't fret; this recipe is simple and forgiving. I make it a little differently every time, and it always comes out wonderfully.

As for the red bean paste, I used Nami's recipe for Tsubuan, which is a style in which the red beans remain mostly whole within the paste.  I reduced the sugar significantly, which was perfect for me– I would recommend using about half the sugar as directed and then adding more in increments until the paste is sweet enough for your tastes. The end result was sweet, chunky, and just thick enough to hold together. I prefer Tsubuan for its added texture, but you could also strain the paste afterward to make smooth Anko (She provides a separate recipe for Anko on the same page). I used about a pound of dry adzuki beans, and had plenty of paste left over, which I happily ate plain by the spoonful. Thank you Nami!

Each of these buns is a puffy, adorable little prepackaged breakfast in itself. The crumb is springy and fluffy, enveloped in that thin, stretchy-chewy skin characteristic of steamed goods, and the buns pull apart to reveal dark, creamy and starchy red bean interiors. These would be a wonderful Sunday morning project, and I imagine kids would have a blast pinching the dumplings into funny shapes. They reheat well in the steamer, and with their high fiber content any leftovers would be perfect for mornings over the rest of the week.

Whole Wheat Red Bean Buns

There is one ingredient, vital wheat gluten, which I understand not everybody will have– particularly for whole wheat doughs, in which the naturally occurring gluten has trouble developing because it gets shredded by the coarse bran, added gluten can do wonders for the texture of the final product. However, it is very much optional and the recipe will still be delicious if you choose not to include it.

2 cups white whole wheat flour (not sponsored, but King Arthur is the bomb!)
1 cup all purpose flour
2 tablespoons vital wheat gluten
2 tablespoons sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 1/4 cups warm water

1 recipe (600 grams) of Nami's tsubuan

The dough:

Dissolve the yeast in the warm water and let sit for a few minutes. Add the sugar.

Use a fork or whisk to mix the flours and wheat gluten very well. Add the flour mixture into the yeast mixture and stir until the whole thing forms a soft dough. 

Flour your hands, turn the dough out onto a floured surface, and knead until it feels smooth and elastic, around 10 minutes or so. Add extra flour if the dough feels too sticky, though it should still remain quite soft.

Put the dough into a greased bowl and let rise until doubled, approximately 1-2 hours. Punch the air out of the dough (very satisfying) and turn it out onto your floured surface once again. 

Give the dough a few gentle kneads to get it back into a nice, smooth mass and roll it out into a long snake about 2 inches in diameter. If the dough isn't cooperating with you, remain calm and let it sit for 15 minutes so the gluten (and you) has a chance to relax. 

The assembly:

Slice your roll up into 3/4 inch thick sections. Set your prepared, cooled red bean paste out on the counter.

Flour both sides of a dough piece, squash it into a rough circle with your palm and roll it into a circle using a rolling pin. To do this, use one hand to roll from the center to the edge, turn the dough with your other hand and repeat the process until you have a nice circle. Use less pressure in the center– you want the end result to have a thicker middle, since it is most susceptible to breaking open and leaking out all your filling! 

Take the wrapper in the palm of your hand and place about 2-3 tablespoons into the center. (I would start with less, if you are a beginner, and increase as you get more comfortable.) Use your other hand to grab an edge of the wrapper, pleat it, and then pinch the two layers firmly together. Repeat, moving clockwise until you get all the way around the bun. 
If you are confused (given my descriptive abilities, I don't blame you) just watch this video , which shows the process in action.

Place the buns onto steamer racks lined with damp paper towels, being sure to leave at least 2-inch spaces between them. Heat up 2 inches of water in the steamer base, place the racks on top, and turn the heat to high. Once you hear the water start to boil, continue steaming for 8 more minutes. 

Turn off the heat and transfer the racks off of the base and away from the heat. Wait a couple minutes and slowly remove the steamer cover– you don't want the sudden change in pressure to cause the buns to fall.

Serve! I ate some plain, and some drizzled with honey and sprinkled with toasted black sesame seeds. 

p. s.
Some exciting news: I am partaking in this year's Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap! If you have not heard of it, it is essentially a giant, awesome international cookie swap coordinated by Love and Olive Oil and The Little Kitchen. Each participant gets matched with three other food bloggers, to whom he/she will each send a dozen homemade cookies, and then receives three dozen different cookies from other bloggers in return. Afterwards, Love and Olive Oil and The Little Kitchen post an enormous recipe roundup of all the cookies that were sent out. Last year, the swap raised an incredible $12,335 for Cookies for Kids' Cancer from blogger and brand partner donations! I only barely qualified as a participant– my blog is about twenty or so days older than the minimum– but I honestly don't think I could have waited another year!


  1. I LOVE THISSS im so excited that ur doing the cookie swap thing omg <3

  2. What beautiful buns...happy feasting!