1cupmilk(plus 1 tablespoon, at room temperature; total 250 ml)
1large egg(at room temperature)
3 1/2cupsbread flour(500g)
1tablespoonactive dry yeast(11g)
Egg wash(whisk together 1 egg with 1 teaspoon water)
simple syrup(optional: 8g/2 teaspoons of sugar dissolved in 2 teaspoons hot water)
First, make the red bean paste:
Start by washing and rinsing the red beans prior to soaking. Soak the red beans overnight. When you're ready to start cooking the paste, pour the red beans and water into a medium-sized pot. Ensure that the water level is about ¼" above the red beans. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat to simmer. Cook the beans until completely softened. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking.
Since we are making a paste, you don't want a lot of liquid in the beans. Most of the water should be cooked off and the beans should be very thick before you move forward. Be careful, because as more water cooks off, burning the beans is very easy to do. This whole process will take a few hours.
When the beans have a thick consistency, transfer to a food processor. Depending on the size of yours, you may need to process the bean mixture in batches. Process until the mixture is totally smooth. If you like your red bean paste chunky, skip this step or process to desired consistency. Transfer the paste back to the pot.
Heat the paste over medium-low heat. Add the sugar and stir to dissolve. Then add the butter. More butter means a richer paste. You can also use vegetable oil at this step, but butter adds a more pleasant flavor. Cook for an additional 15-20 minutes to cook off even more moisture from the paste.
Quick disclaimer here: It won't look like the packaged red bean paste you get at the store because those pastes have enormous amounts of sugar and oil added to make them sticky and dark. We're going for a more natural Chinese bakery red bean paste here. If you like the store-bought red bean paste, feel free to take a shortcut and use that!
Set aside and let cool for an hour or so before using. Do not refrigerate!
To make the milk bread dough:
To save time, make the milk bread dough while the red bean paste is cooking. In the bowl of a mixer, add the heavy cream, milk, egg, sugar, cake flour, bread flour, yeast, and salt. Use the dough hook attachment, and turn on the mixer to “stir.” Let it go for 15 minutes, occasionally stopping the mixer to push the dough together. If you're in a humid climate and the dough is too sticky, feel free to add a little more flour 1/4 cup at a time until it comes together. The dough should be moist, but not so sticky that it sticks excessively to the bowl or dough hook. If you don't have a mixer and would like to knead by hand, extend the kneading time by 5-10 minutes.
After 15 minutes of mixing, the dough is ready for proofing. Cover the bowl with a damp towel and place in a warm spot for 1 hour. The dough will grow to 1.5X its original size.
Assemble the red bean bread:
Grease one standard loaf pan on all sides with butter. Also, line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
After the hour of proofing, put the dough back in the mixer and stir for another 5 minutes to get rid of air bubbles. Dump the dough on a lightly floured surface, and cut it in half. Set aside one half for a red bean swirl loaf, and cut the other half into 8 pieces for individual red bean buns.
We'll start with the buns. Here's where the fun part comes in. For each bun, use about 2 tablespoons of red bean paste. For a standard red bean bun, just roll one piece of dough into a ball, flatten with your hand or roll out to half inch thickness and place the red bean filling in the center. Pinch the dough closed around the red bean and place on your cookie sheet, seam-side down.
To make some slightly more interesting shapes, just follow along with the pictures! You can roll them like cinnamon buns, and then make strategic cuts with scissors to add a decorative flair. Check out this post to see how to make the pretty swirl shape shown here.
Okay, now for the red bean swirl loaf. Take the first half of dough and shape into a rectangle. Roll out to a little less than ¾-inch thickness with a floured rolling pin, maintaining a rectangle shape. Now, take a few big dollops of red bean paste and spread over the center of the rectangle, leaving a few inches on either side of the rectangle and one inch along the top and bottom. The paste should be spread to about 1/8-inch thickness.
Fold over each side of the rectangle so a seam runs down the center of the dough. Pinch all the open edges closed.
Next, roll out the dough to flatten the seams and make the rectangle of dough roughly as large as it was when you started. Then, fold the dough into thirds (like you would if you were folding a piece of paper to put into an envelope). Roll it out into a rectangle once more. Add more flour to the dough/board if necessary.
Repeat the step of folding the dough into thirds, but this time, roll it out just so that the layers press together and the piece of dough is the length of the loaf pan. Make two lengthwise cuts in the dough so you have three segments. Braid the pieces with the layered sides facing up. This will make for a really nice pattern when it bakes up. Pinch the ends of the braided dough together and gently place into your buttered loaf pan.
Let the buns and the loaf proof for another hour. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Brush the risen dough with egg wash. Bake the buns for 18-20 minutes and the loaf for 35-45 minutes. Remove from the oven and brush the bread with sugar water to give them a really great shine, sweetness, and color.
These don't keep for too long, so if you don't gobble them up right away, best to store them in the refrigerator and then heat them up in the microwave for 20 seconds. The red bean swirl loaf is excellent sliced, toasted, and served with a little butter.
If you have red bean paste left over, it keeps really well in a tupperware in the fridge. If you want to make another batch of these buns, when the time comes, just warm up the paste ever so slightly in a small pot—just enough to make it easily spreadable.