Sweetened red bean paste is a staple of many Asian desserts, but I never really liked it growing up– compared to the other available dessert standards (chocolate, vanilla, etc.), it was just too “beany” for me to enjoy. But that all changed when I grew up and tried the incredible Azuki Bean Cream Puff at a local French-Japanese bakery.
The pastry has a thick layer of red bean paste on the bottom, and then is filled to bursting with sweetened whipped cream. I still haven’t figured out how they managed to make the flaky pastry so close to spherical when full, but I’ll do it eventually! In the meantime, I made do with regular choux pastry and made cream puffs. These are split, spread with red bean paste, and filled with stabilized whipped cream. Delicious! The lightness of the cream contrasts beautifully with the dense, sweet, slightly earthy red bean paste, and the pastry adds a little textural interest to the dessert.
I used my standard choux pastry recipe, below:
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup butter
1 tbs. sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
5 3/4 oz. flour (about 1 1/4 cup)
3 eggs, plus enough egg whites to make 1 cup
1. Bring water, milk, butter, sugar, and salt to a boil in a pot.
2. Remove from heat, and dump in all of the flour at once. Stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture forms a dough.
3. Return to heat, and continue to work the dough with your spoon until you see a film of cooked dough on the sides and bottom of the pot. You’re trying to cook out some of the water to make more room for eggs.
4. Transfer the dough to the bowl of a stand mixer and let it cool for 2-3 minutes (you could also do this by hand).
5. Add the eggs, one egg (or one blob’s worth) at a time, mixing on the lowest speed until each egg is incorporated before adding the next. Once the mixture forms a smooth, shiny, loose dough, stop– even if you have some egg left over. It should not be runny– when you pull your beater out of the mix, it should make a long, thin, triangle-shaped point, rather than breaking off in a ragged edge.
6. Transfer dough to a piping bag fitted with a large round tip (I used a narrow-toothed star tip) and pipe blobs about 1 1/2″ in diameter, 2″ apart on a foil- or parchment-lined baking sheet. I made 33 puffs with this recipe.
7. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes, then crack the oven door and keep it ajar with the handle of a wooden spoon. Continue to bake until puffs are dark golden brown and firm, another 10 minutes or so.
8. Remove the puffs from the oven and immediately poke a hole in each one, using the tip of a paring knife, to allow the steam to escape. Steam will make your puffs soggy, so don’t forget this step!
Stabilized whipped cream (technique from Rose Levy Berenbaum)
Makes enough to generously fill 3 dozen puffs
2 cups whipping cream
4 tbs powdered sugar
2 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp vanilla extract
- Mix powdered sugar, cornstarch, and 1/2 cup of the cream in a small saucepan.
- Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, until thickened. Transfer immediately to a small bowl and stir in the vanilla. Cool to room temperature over an ice bath. If you have time, chill completely.
- Beat the rest of the cream in a chilled bowl just until traces of beater marks begin to show distinctly.
- Slowly add the cool cornstarch mixture, beating constantly until stiff. Do not overbeat or you may curdle it!
1 1/2 cups sweetened red bean paste
When puffs are completely cool, slice them in half horizontally with a serrated knife. Spread a thick layer of red bean paste over the bottom half, pipe a dollop of whipped cream on the top half, and sandwich together. Dust with powdered sugar.
- I buy my red bean paste at my local Asian market. It comes in a can (usually in chunky form, but you can blitz it in a food processor or blender), or in a plastic packet. If you can’t find it, you can make it from scratch instead, but it’s an awful lot of trouble. If you make it from scratch, don’t skimp on the sugar– it’s necessary not only for flavor but also for the smooth, shiny texture.
- You can use regular whipped cream instead of stabilized whipped cream if you like– even the stuff from the can, though I discourage that strongly because it doesn’t hold a candle to real whipped cream. The benefit of stabilized whipped cream is that you can fill your cream puffs earlier rather than needing to serve them immediately. The top photo in this post was taken a full 24 hours after making the puffs.
- When spreading your red bean paste into the sliced puffs, it may help to warm it slightly to make it more spreadable. Be generous with it– you want the flavor to shine through.
- I piped my whipped cream into the top half of the puff to make sure that the domed inside got completely filled with cream– you can just pipe the cream on the bottom half if you like, but you risk wasting valuable space that could be filled with deliciousness!
- My only quibble with this recipe is that the choux puff gets a little firm over time, so when you bite into the puff it squishes the cream out, making the whole thing messy to eat. Still, I can live with that.