Recipe: chinese sweet red bean steamed buns
This past week was officially my little vacation. I mostly avoided my in-box, Twitter, the Book of Face, and the blog. Snowfall this autumn has been pretty paltry by Colorado standards and so we take what we can get. Last week, we were graced with a coveted snow dump at the local hill in which we christened our new skis in a foot of fresh powder.
Jeremy and I spent the holiday in southwestern Colorado with his family including four of his cousins and their parents. It was a raucous good time and Kaweah was in doggy heaven considering the dog toys, dog beds, and cuddling with her grandma. We were keen to explore the local cross country trails as well as clocking a day at Wolf Creek which consistently boasts the most snow in the state (average annual snowfall is 465 inches).
cross country with the fam
We were home by Monday when the accidents began happening. Accidents as in Kaweah and her little puppy bladder. She had just finished her second course of antibiotics for an infection and so we didn’t know if the situation would improve with time or if this was Kaweah getting old. Normally, Kaweah doesn’t drink much water, but ever since her infection she had been tanking up quite a bit and we would let her out to potty every few hours. Our vet had explained stages of kidney decline and failure to us. His words hung in the back of my mind all week.
As Jeremy and I packed up for a backcountry ski, we decided to bring Kaweah along. This meant we would only cover a fraction of the distance we normally do, but this was really for her more than for us. And she loved it. She acted like her puppy self again: romping in the snow, bounding back and forth between us, shoving her schnoz in the powdery white drifts and sneezing with delight.
patiently waiting for her treat
Kaweah was exhausted that evening in a good way. But the accidents kept happening. Our vet asked us to restrict her water for a day and bring him a urine sample. She looked so sad and confused when she kept searching for her water bowl. I was feeling quite low and so was Jeremy. Of course, when we arrived at the vet’s office, Kaweah practically dragged Jeremy into the building. And when Doc Newton entered the room she was all wiggles and waggles. The infection was gone. That’s good news. The inability to concentrate her urine means her kidneys are now in decline. He gave us a medication to help with her leaky bladder and Jeremy asked what sort of signs to expect when her kidneys begin to fail.
Doc Newton has a kind smile and his voice reminds me of Baxter Black, the Cowboy Poet. He is the best vet we’ve ever had. He squinted at us and said, “By the time you see symptoms of kidney failure, it’s usually too late.” I blinked quickly while my hand rested on Kaweah’s rib cage. She continued to wiggle, her attention shifting from Doc Newton to the treat jar to Doc Newton to the treat jar. “Why don’t we do a blood test for a baseline and to see what stage her kidneys are at?” he suggested.
An hour later, the phone rang. “Her blood is perfect! She’s a healthy girl and we’ll test her regularly so when we start to see signs in her blood work, we can adjust her diet to make it a little easier on the kidneys. Have a happy new year!” We love Doc Newton so much.
my happy girl
So we broke into the champagne a little early to toast Kaweah’s health and a happy start to the new year. I have nothing profound to say. I’ve already recapped 2011 in photos. I don’t do resolutions. I’m not interested in what’s hot. 2012 is going to be awesome because that’s the best option.
Even though the tradition applies to Chinese New Year, we’ve always done so with the western New Year as well. We eat something sweet first thing in the morning on New Year’s day so sweet things come out of your mouth all year. I don’t claim that it works, I just do it. I made Chinese sweet red bean (azuki) steamed buns for us to eat this New Year’s Day.
flour, yeast, baking powder, shortening, sugar, warm water, red bean paste
warm water between 105° F and 115° F
This is the same dough I used for my char siu bao. I love it because it’s got that lovely yeast flavor, pillowy texture, fluffiness, and spring to the dough. It’s also the right amount of sweetness (i.e. not too sweet).
let the sugar, yeast, and warm water sit until foamy
add the yeast water to the flour, shortening, baking powder
knead the dough
I know you can knead the dough in a stand mixer, and that’s what I do with recipes that I’m familiar with. However, the first time I make a dough, I really prefer to knead it by hand so I can get a feel for the texture, the moisture, and how well it all incorporates under my fingertips.
the dough is ready when it is smooth and silky
let rise until tripled in volume
knead the dough again then slice into 24 pieces
My beloved grandma (Po Po) used to make these when I was a kid. Those were the days. She made different kinds with sweet red bean paste, sweet mung bean paste, black sesame… And she would stamp the tops of all the red bean paste buns with a little red food coloring so you could tell them apart. I avoid using red food coloring since the only kind I make are the red bean paste buns and the char siu bao. The difference is that the sweet buns are round-topped and the savory buns are pleat-topped.
shape the dough into a circle
press it into a cup
put a tablespoon or two of sweet red bean paste on the dough
If you’re patient and you refrigerate your sweet red bean (azuki) paste, I think you can form the filling into balls. I never do this because I’m totally impatient. I spoon the filling onto the dough instead. It’s messier, but it goes quickly for me while I pleat the edges of the dough. It’s just like the method for pleating the char siu bao.
gather in the center
twist the top together
Unlike the char siu bao, place the sweet buns pleated-side down on the parchment or wax paper squares so that they look smooth and round. Let them rest for about 10-30 minutes which is basically how long it took me to finish the batch. Then set them in the steamer for a little sauna action.
give them space in the steamer as they will expand
hot out of the steamer
I’m generally partial to the savory buns, but this sweet snack holds a special place in my heart because of Grandma. I have several set aside in the freezer to steam on New Year’s morning. I’ll remember with fondness those we are missing, and I’ll cherish those loved ones who continue with us into 2012. Happy New Year to all of you. xo
sweet red bean (azuki) steamed bun
Chinese Sweet Red Bean Steamed Buns
from Chinese Snacks by Huang Su-Huei
24 oz (one can) of sweet red bean paste (azuki bean paste) or homemade (I’m not there yet)
1/4 cup sugar
1 3/4 cup warm water (105°F – 115°F)
1 tbsp yeast
6 cups flour
1 tbsp baking powder
2 tbsps shortening
Refrigerate the sweet bean paste.
In a medium bowl, dissolve the sugar in warm water and add the yeast. Let the yeast stand for about ten minutes or until it becomes foamy, floating to the top. Sift the flour (I never sift anything) into a large bowl. Add the baking powder, shortening, and the yeast liquid. Mix well. If the dough is dry, add a little water. If the dough is too wet, add more flour. Knead the dough until smooth (took me ten minutes by hand) Place the dough in a large bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise in a warm place for a couple of hours until it has tripled in size.
Cut 24 squares of parchment or wax paper, 2 1/2-inches a side.
Roll the sweet bean paste into 1-ounce balls (or if you are confident in your wrapping skills, you can skip this step and just spoon filling into the dough). Return to refrigerator until ready to wrap the bao.
Knead the risen dough until it is smooth and elastic. Again, if it is too dry, wet your hand(s) and knead it – if it is too wet, add some flour and knead it in. Because I work on a finite area cutting board (i.e. not a long counter), I found it easiest to cut the dough into quarters and make a log from each quarter. Keep the unused dough under plastic or a damp kitchen towel to prevent drying out. Cut each log into 6 equal pieces and flatten each piece with your hand to make a disc. Use your fingers to pinch the outer inch of the disc thinner than the center. Then shape a sort of well in the thicker center of the dough. Place a ball of red bean paste or spoon 2 tablespoons into the center of the dough. Pleat the edges together, with the intent of gathering the edges to form a sort of bowl from the dough (use your thumb or spoon to push the filling down). Twist and pinch the pleats together at the top. If there is excess dough, pinch it off. Set the bao on a square of parchment with the pleats-side down. Repeat for the rest and let them stand for about 10-30 minutes.
Place the buns in a steamer with at least 2 inches between them as they will expand during steaming. If you can’t fit them all in, not to worry – just do it in batches.
If you have a wok, bring 2 inches of water to a boil and set your steamer over the wok. If you don’t have a wok (I don’t) then this is what I did: I found a stockpot that fits my generic bamboo steamer perfectly. The fit doesn’t have to be perfect, just don’t use such a large pot that the steam escapes. I filled the stockpot with 2 inches of water and then placed a small metal rack (you can find these in random Asian grocery stores) in the center. Bring the water to a boil, place the steamer on the rack. If you steam multiple batches, please be sure there is an adequate amount of water in the pot each time.
Steam for 10 minutes. Serve hot. Makes 24.
Storage: Once cooled, you can seal these in an airtight container or ziploc bag and keep in the refrigerator for up to a week. To reheat, either steam them again for a few minutes or do the ghetto method: place the bao in a bowl, cover with a plate, and microwave for a minute or two. You can also freeze the bao in a sealed bag and reheat them by either steaming or nuking (just add more time than if they were refrigerated).