Is there anything more comforting than red bean bread? It is the quintessential Asian bread. Be it Chinese, Japanese, Korean, or just about any other South East Asian and East Asian countries, everyone grows up eating this bread. The standard form is of course the round buns, but nowadays people love having this in a loaf, sort of in a babka form, so the loaf bread looks very pretty with swirls and layers.
Since this is a red bean bread, we will need to make a red bean paste, on top of the dough for the bread. Red bean paste is made from boiling azuki beans until soft and crumbles, then puree into a smooth paste, and finally the paste is cooked again with sugar and butter. Once the paste is cool, we will use it as our filling to make red bean bread. If there is any leftover, you can make even more bread, or use it as filling for tang yuan or daifuku/mochi.
The bread dough is pretty simple. Just mix together milk, fresh cream, egg, sugar, cake flour, all purpose flour, yeast, and salt. Use a dough hook to knead the bread into a soft, smooth, and non-sticky dough. You can also knead with hands, but it may take longer and will need much more elbow grease :) Let the dough proof in the mixing bowl until double in volume, which can run anywhere from 1 hour to 3-4 hours depending on how warm your kitchen is. Sometimes I put the dough in the fridge to proof overnight and by the next day, it will have doubled in volume even in the fridge. So you can always make the dough and the red bean paste the night before, put both in the fridge so the paste has enough time to chill and the dough has enough time to rise, and then the next day form the bread and proof again for another hour, and finally bake it.
You can use two 9” loaf pans and make all the dough into two pretty looking red bean loafs. You can also use two 9” round cake pans and make all the dough into a total of 16 red bean buns. Or, you can make one 9” red bean loaf plus 8 red bean buns. I opt for the last one, so first I divide the dough into two portions, one portion for the loaf, and one portion to make 8 buns.
The first one, I roll the dough into a 10”x12” rectangle, spread a layer of red bean paste on top of the dough, roll the dough into a log (the 10” side is the side closest to you, then roll up along the 12” side, or if you see the very first top left picture, roll it from bottom to top), cut the log into two, place the cut side up, braid the two half logs, and gently place the braided log into a greased 9” loaf pan. For the second one, I divide the dough into 8 equal portions, flatten each into a round flat dough, place one ice cream scoop worth of red bean at the center of the dough, and wrap the dough to enclose the filling and gently roll into a round bun shape. Place all 8 filled buns into a 9” round cake pan. Once this step is done, we only need to wait for the dough to proof again for another 1-2 hours. Preheat oven, when the oven has reached the desired temperature, give the top of the dough an egg wash, and bake until golden brown. Once they are done baking, remember to brush a layer of simple sugar syrup to give a nice shine to the bread.
Wash and drain azuki bean. Place the beans in a pot. Add enough water to top the beans by another 2 inches.
Bring to a boil, cover the pot, reduce heat to a simmer and cook until all the liquid has evaporate, at which time the beans should have become soft and crumbling. If not, add a little more water and continue cooking until the beans are soft and crumbling. Remember that there shouldn't be any water left since we want to make this into bread filling.
Transfer the cooked beans into a food processor/blender. Puree into a smooth paste.
Return the paste back into the pot. Add sugar and butter.
Turn the heat on, stir and cook until all the sugar and butter has dissolved and incorporated into the beans. Transfer into a mixing bowl and chill until needed.
In a mixing bowl, with a dough hook attached, gradually add in fresh cream, milk, egg, sugar, cake flour, all purpose flour, active dry yeast, and salt. Knead until the dough comes together into a soft smooth ball and not sticking to the sides of the bowl. About 10-15 minutes.
Wrap the bowl with a saran wrap, and let the dough proof in the bowl until the volume is double. This takes about 1 hour in warm kitchen, and can take longer in a cooler kitchen. Alternatively, you can let it proof overnight in the fridge.
Divide the dough into two portions.
First portion (loaf): Roll the dough into 10"x12" rectangle. Spread a thin layer of red bean paste on the dough. With the 10" side closest to you, roll from bottom to top into a log. Cut the log into 2 halves with a knife. Place the cut sides up next to one another, and braid the two halves back into a log. Place the braided log into a greased 9" loaf pan. Let it proof for another 1-2 hours until the the dough fills the pan.
Second portion (buns): Divide the dough into 8 equal portions. Flatten each portion into a round flat dough, place an ice cream scoop worth of red bean paste at the center of the dough, gather the dough to wrap the filling, and gently reshape into a round bun shape. Repeat for the other 7 portions. Place these in a greased 9" round cake pan. Let the buns proof for another 1-2 hours until they expand and fills the pan.
Preheat oven to 180 Celsius (350 Fahrenheit). Brush the top of the dough with egg wash, then bake in preheated oven for 30-35 minutes for the buns, and about 40-45 minutes for the loaf, or until golden brown.
Once they are out from the oven, brush the top of the bread with simple syrup so they look shiny and pretty. Serve immediately. Store any leftovers in the fridge, reheat with a microwave, and consume everything within 3 days.