First thing’s first: Happy Chinese New Year to all my Chinese, or otherwise Lunar New Year-celebrating readers! Now I know what you’re thinking, and no, I don’t normally celebrate the Chinese New Year- you know, not being Chinese or anything. (Actually, that’s a lie. Three years ago I made some tasty potstickers, but I think that was largely a coincidence.) But I’m feeling pretty “New Year’s” lately, and I figured today was as good as any to make and post a favourite Asian treat.
You might well ask why I’m feeling New Year’s, given that we’re already into the first week of February. Well, I tend to be a little behind the rest of the world, in terms of recognising a new year and making resolutions for it (or maybe I’m just tuned into the lunar calendar). I usually take the month of January to sit back, recharge after the holidays, and really think about my goals for the year ahead.
This year, I opted out of the traditional “I won’t do that, I will do this” nature of resolutions and made a 30 Before 30 list instead. You know the kind- Thirty Things I Must Do Before I Turn the Dreaded 3-0 and Life Ends? Yeah, one of those. I’m still 2 and a half years away from that auspicious date, but I like to start planning early. I won’t get into the contents of my list quite yet, because I have a feeling that will be a whole other set of posts.
Being that this is the new Year of the Rabbit, I suppose that making something containing rabbit would have been apropos, but you know that wasn’t going to happen on this blog. Luckily, my fridge-clearing sensibilities stepped in, and I decided to use some leftover red bean paste that I had in the fridge to make one of my favourite dim sum dishes of all time, filled steamed buns, or Bao. I love Bao. The fluffy texture, the impossibly white colour of the dough and the tasty filling within. I like all kinds, but red bean paste is a classic. I’d made a batch of some East-meets-West Shortbread Bars I’d made for my classmates, and had a good amount left over.
Regular readers will know that I have scant regard for a recipe’s authenticity, especially when it means long and drawn-out processes. After finding a basic bun recipe online, I decided that all those mixings and risings were unnecessary, and quickly simplified it to suit. It doesn’t seem to have negatively impacted these buns; in fact, I was surprised by how like the commercial ones they were.
So make these, or go out for Dim Sum, or have some Pot Noodles (er, maybe not that last one). Let’s make this year a good one, yes?
Chinese Steamed Buns with Red Bean Paste
makes 12 buns
the Red Bean Paste:
- 100g (generous 1/2 cup) adzuki beans, soaked overnight in 3 times their volume of water
- 90g (1/2 cup) sugar
- 1 Tbs. honey
- 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1 Tbs. sesame oil (optional)
For the Buns:
- 2 1/4 cups plain flour
- 2 Tbs. sugar
- 1 tsp. instant yeast
- pinch salt
- 3/4 cup warm water
- 1 Tbs. vegetable oil
- To make the bean paste, drain the soaked beans and cover with fresh water. Bring to the boil and let boil for 10 minutes. Then drain, rinse and cover with fresh water once again. This time, simmer the beans for 2-3 hours, until very soft and tender. You may need to add more water and skim the surface from time to time.
- When beans are very tender, remove from heat and drain well. Return to the pan over a low heat and add the honey, sugar and vanilla. Stir until the sugar has dissolved, then remove from the heat. Purée using a food processor or an immersion blender, then allow to cool. If you’re using it, stir the sesame oil into the cooled paste- this keeps it moist in the buns and adds an unmistakable Asian flavour. You could also use a flavourless oil, or even butter, instead.
- To make the dough, mix all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl, and the wet ones together in a jug. Pour the wet into the dry and stir with a dough whisk or wooden spoon until combined. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead, adding more flour if necessary, until you have a soft, smooth and elastic dough, about 8-10 minutes. Lightly oil the dough and place in a covered bowl to rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
- Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and give it a few quick turns. Divide into 12 equal pieces; each will be slightly smaller than a golf ball. Flatten each disc slightly with your hands until it’s 1/2″ thick, then place a teaspoonful of red bean paste in the middle. Pinch the edges around the filling, turn upside down and continue until all the balls are filled. Cover with a tea towel and let rise for 30-40 minutes, until puffy.
- When you’re ready to steam the buns, place a steaming basket (or a sieve, lined with baking parchment) over a pan of boiling water on the stove. Working in batches, steam the buns for 15 minutes with the lid tightly on. Serve warm.
Note: Buns can be made ahead of time, and warmed up by re-steaming for a few minutes.