Saturday, January 28, 2012

New Year of the Dragon

Last week at work, about a dozen people asked me if I was going to take Monday off - Monday being the first day of the New Year of the Dragon on the Lunar Calendar. I've been working at this school for 5 years now, and this is the first time I've been questioned so much about taking this day off. It's like everyone just realized that Lunar New Year exists. Go figure, huh?

Anyway, weird colleagues aside, I did have a lovely new year celebration with my family that involved brunch with grandma and the making of these lovely little buns. My grand-aunt (who passed away when I was in high school) would have been so proud! I remember her always making complex-looking Chinese dishes in the kitchen right before New Year. Last year, I made cookies flavoured with toasted coconut, peanuts and sesame seeds to mimic those deep fried crescent-shaped, sugar-filled puffs of goodness that everyone buys around new year. This year, I dug right into making something more traditional: sweet red bean paste buns. Yes, Aunty would have been proud indeed.

I know us Asians don't have the best reputation for making desserts, but this is a good one for sure .. just trust me. The filling of these little buns is made with adzuki beans -- little red versions of the mung bean. The beans a boiled until mashable, and then sweetened with brown sugar and flavoured with a splash of coconut milk. The dough is pretty basic, but also includes baking powder along with the boost from yeast, making them extra light, pouffy and delicious. This recipe isn't really complicated; you just need a little time. The filling needs time to cook and cool, and the dough needs time to rise, so it's the perfect rainy weekend baking project. You do need a steamer though, but if you don't have one, I'm sure you could bake them in the oven for a different spin.

One last thing: the website where I got the originally recipe, tells you to do this fancy pleating thing with the dough once you've got the filling in the middle. Fumble-fingers me couldn't do that, so I just dropped some filling in the middle and pulled the stretchy forgiving dough around it and pinched a seam. As long as you lay the buns seam-side down, you're good to go.

Gong Hei Fat Choy Everyone! (Yeah, I know I'm late .. but ... yeah you know how it goes: reports cards always run my life. But hey! Tomorrow is everyone's birthday!

Chinese Sweet Bean Buns
adapted from Use Real Butter (dough) and Apple Pie, Patis & Pâté (filling)
makes about 16 little buns

For the Filling:
1/2 cup of adzuki beans, soaked overnight
1.5 cups of water
2 T brown sugar (or more to taste)
1/4 cup of coconut milk

1. Place you soaked beans and water in a large pot. Bring to a boil, then turn it down to a simmer. Cook, covered for 30-40 minutes, or until the beans are super soft and mashable.

2. Add the brown sugar and coconut milk and cook, uncovered for about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat.

3. With a potato masher, mash the bean mixture to your desired texture (I left a few little lumps for good luck). You could also let it cool and them blend. Your call. Either way, let the mixture cool to room temperature and then refrigerate for a couple or hours (or overnight if you're making this ahead of time).

For the Buns:
2 tablespoons of sugar
2 teaspoons of quick-rising yeast
1 1/3 cups of warm water
3 cups of flour
1.5 teaspoons of baking powder
1 tablespoon of melted butter (I used Earth Balance)
red bean paste filling from above

1. In a large bowl, combine the sugar, yeast and water. Let it stand for about 10 minutes, or until the mixture gets foamy.

2. Dump in the flour, baking powder and melted butter. Mix well until you get a nice soft dough.

3. Turn the dough out on a floured surface and knead for about 7 minutes, adding more flour if needed, until the dough gets nice and soft and elasticy.

4. Place the dough in an oiled bowl. Cover with a tea towel and let it rise for about 1 - 1.5 hours, or until the dough as tripled in size. While you're waiting, prepare the steamer. Cut out little squares of parchment paper (about 2 inches per side) and place them in your steamer, about 2 inches apart. I fit about 6 in my steamer and it was little bit crowded. Lay the rest of the paper out onto a baking sheet.

5. Punch down your dough and knead for about 3 minutes or so. Divide the dough into 16 little balls.

6. Take a dough ball in your hand and flatten it out. Drop about a teaspoon of the cooled red bean mixture into the centre. Gather the dough around the filling and pinch. Place the bun pinch-side down on the parchment. Repeat!

7. Steam your buns in batches for no more than 10 minutes. They should pouff up really nicely. Remove and let cool. Serve warm (that's when it's best!). You can also refrigerate them and heat them up (either re-steam them or microwave them). They keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.


  1. Hi There! I'm writing to say Mmmmm!! I've tried your buns, and they are sooo delicious! Thanks for the great recipes. Keep up the great work!!

  2. thanks ASH! i'm glad you liked them!