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a truly happy new year

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.

flopping ears

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.

fizzy bubbles

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.


and pinch

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.

pleat-side down

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

afternoon tea

sweet red bean (azuki) steamed bun

Chinese Sweet Red Bean Steamed Buns
[print recipe]
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).

55 nibbles at “a truly happy new year”

  1. Allison Day says:

    This post just broke my heart and put it back together again. I’m glad Kaweah’s doing well! And those sweet red bean buns look delicious. Happy New Year from Son and I to you, Jeremy, and Kaweah! ^_^ xoxo

  2. Rosa says:

    Best wishes for 2012!

    Gorgeous buns! Really scrumptious looking.



  3. Debbie says:

    So happy that Kaweah is well. That is great news! You have the best attitude – that’s why I love reading your blog. You are so positive. Happy New Year to all of you!!!!

  4. Kim says:

    Glad Kaweah’s doing well! My 13 year old dog Ella is incontinent, especially after hard exercise. She’s kind of an energizer bunny. I have her on Proin, which works pretty well. You can also give a Chinese medicine – Suo Quan Wan if you can find a vet to prescribe it. It also is infrequently available via Kamwo Herbal Pharmacy (online dispensary for Chinese medicine).

    Happy New Year, and health and joy to all of you!

  5. Donna says:

    Happy 2012!

  6. Tawnia says:

    Happy New Year to you and yours. I have been reading for some years now (hard to believe) and all those pictures of your pup prompted us to get our own loving black lab, Freya. So good to hear she is well.

  7. Mrs Ergül says:

    Happy new year Jen! I can’t get my mind around making my own buns because I’m too impatient.

  8. Kristin says:

    Happy New Year and cheers to good blood work & high functioning kidneys!

  9. elena says:

    kaweah ends the 2011 on the high note for me. thank her, would you? I concur with your sentiment on moving forward in 2012. cheers.

  10. Winnie says:

    I love this post…glad to hear your adorable pup is doing well, and those steamed buns are too beautiful. I love your attitude about the new year- I wish you awesomeness, for sure.

  11. Alissa says:

    Glad to hear my old friend Kaweah is doing well, and would love to attempt to make some dim sum one of these days…your photos are delicious!

  12. Margie says:

    Thank goodness that sweet puppy is doing well. I was heartsick when I read the first half of the post. Give that sweet MIss K a hug and a kiss from all of her well-wisher’s.

    Red adzuki buns have been on my calendar for months. I read about them, purchased those cute little beans and then realized I didn’t have a steamer. In one of my care packages to CA I sent them along, hoping M1 would work her magic. Central Market had them in stock again and without ‘remembering’ I needed a steamer, I grabbed them. This go-round I’m simply going to exclaim, “Ho-ey!” and take my chances with crumbled up heavy duty aluminum foil in the bottom of a dutch oven. I figure if I can bake miche in a toaster oven, grill up a pizza on a gas grill, perhaps, maybe, well….fingers crossed, I can realize adzuki sweet buns with a bit of improv.


  13. Barbara says:

    Good news on Kaweah. I hope she remains well for years to come.

    Happy New Year Jen. I appreciate your friendship. Oh god I do sound formal don’t I . Love ya sweet cheeks. xoxo

  14. Fiona says:

    This is my absolute favorite dim sum food – the first thing I ever ate at dim sum (in 1979!) and the one food I hope for every time I go.

    Our first dog, a Rhodesian Ridgeback, suffered from kidney failure. There’s a lot you can do for dogs with kidney problems, but I’m glad Kaweah’s blood test came back positive. Thank you for your sweet message about Juno. After 14 almost 14 years, it’s surreal that she’s not here.

  15. April was in CT now CA says:

    Lawcy mercy I almost had to explain to my husband why I had tears in my eyes because I was on the verge of them popping right out! So, so glad to hear she got a good report from the vet!

    Cute buns! Happy, happy new year to the three of you. :o)

  16. Cooking Rookie says:

    Wow, these steamed buns look amazing! And so do your photos in the snow. I wish we had a white Christmas here… well, at least it did not rain :-). Happy 2012 to you!

  17. Wendy says:

    Hugs and congrats to Kaweah! Like everyone else, i was holding my breath and in tears.

    Thank you for posting the red bean buns. It has a special place in my heart too because my Popo use to make that for New Years too!

    I feel a special connection to all your food because they are the same foods my grandmother made! I’m grateful that I can try to mimic some authentic recipes for my children!

    Thank you so much for having your blog!

    Happy New Year!

  18. Mina says:

    Love you photos and your dog!!!

    Kinda of a silly question—how do you fold the doughs with both hands AND take a picture? Is someone else holding the camera or is it on a tripod with a timer?

    Just curious. Thanks!!!

  19. sweetmaddy says:

    I love your blog. Love that picture of the champagne glasses and happy doggie!

  20. Joy says:

    The bun looks great. I was never great at forming the buns as well as you did it. Thanks for the tips.

  21. Jill says:

    I am so glad Kaweah is perfect! No wonder you celebrated early with champagne! I love the tradition of something sweet first thing on NYDay…don’t know if that would work for me. But I did try, and ate something sweet now. Our tradition is black eyed peas, and frugal meals on NYE and NYD. Something from the freezer, nothing fancy or nothing we have to shop for and prepare. Supposed to make us prosperous during the year. Happy New Year to you, Jeremy, and Kaweah. love, jill and tom

    ps- Is it just me….I often “mess up” the security code!

  22. TheKitchenWitch says:

    So glad K is healthy! Thinking of you all and wishing you a happy 2012!

  23. Tressa in NC says:

    Oh happy day! Here’s to Kaweah and her good health (yours, too)!!!

  24. Katie @ saltpigcanteen says:

    These buns look really soft! I think I might try making them at home after having eaten them all my life in restaurants, thanks for sharing!

  25. Bebe says:

    So glad to hear Kaweah is A-OK! :)

  26. Andrea says:

    I just encountered your blog yesterday while looking for a jung recipe. Wow, it is really impressive. We seem to be very similar in what we consider our favorite Chinese foods, except you actually know how to make them!! My mom is Cantonese and my dad was from near Shanghai, so growing up I got both Northern and Southern food. My dad made his own version of Szechwan cold noodles (as the real ingredients were hard to find at the time) with fewer goodies but a more complicated sauce than yours. I was also excited to see your recipe for savory soy milk, it’s something I have been wanting to make.

    I will definitely be coming back and exploring more! Thanks and happy new year!

  27. jacquie says:

    so glad the kaweah blood results came back normal. does the leaking just happen when she is sleeping? if so then it could be just due inability of the muscles to keep the bladder closed as some of the others have suggested and there are both western meds and chinese herbs to help w/ that. acupuncture can also be helpful in some cases. and even w/ kidney problems there are somethings you can do to help in terms of diet. i had a german shepherd who had a severe kidney infection at 2yrs and subsequent damage and she lived to be 11+ w/ a good diet and exercise.

    happy new year to you all and i’m looking forward to more recipes in 2012 and happy kaweah pics and stories.

  28. melissa@the hungry artist says:

    These look so great! I made mochi ones for new years. I’d love to try these!

  29. Annie says:

    Hooray for a healthy sweet Kaweah! Also, I *love* the photo of the fizzy champagne bubbles.

  30. Brandon @ Kitchen Konfidence says:

    Happy New Year! Those buns look mighty fine. I always love your pictures of Kaweah. Such a pretty dog!

  31. jenyu says:

    Allison – awww, thank you. I can’t wait to see you guys again this year – ramen?? :) RED BOMB!!!

    Rosa – Thank you, best wishes for you too, dear.

    Debbie – You’re incredibly sweet. It doesn’t always feel like I do, but thanks xxoo

    Kim – yes, our vet put her on proin too. The standard dose made her breathe hard, but we’ve found a good balance and she’s doing fine so far :) Thanks!

    Donna – and to you too!

    Tawnia – ahhh, so sweet! Nothing like the love of a dog, is there? :)

    Mrs. Ergül – Happy new year! I’m sure you can do it! If you made your own croissants, you can certainly make your own bao!

    Kristin – thank you, and all the best to you!

    elena – of course! much love to you, my dearest friend. xoxo

    Winnie – thank you. Wishing you the same for 2012 :)

    Alissa – thank you, sweetheart. She sends old girl wags to you xo

    Margie – we were heartsick too. I feel like we’ve been given a second chance!

    Barbara – thank you, friend. Your comment made me laugh!! I love you and your friendship, B. You’re one helluva lady xxoo.

    Fiona – We’re going to be in that position eventually. Just thinking about it breaks my heart – and knowing you’re going through the heartache makes me sad. I hope your other pup helps to heal the hole left behind. xoxo

    April – thank you!! Happy new year to you too, dear :)

    Cooking Rookie – thanks! All the best to you as well.

    Wendy – awwww! Aren’t Popos the best?? I really miss mine. I hope making these comfort foods will bring back good memories of her for you xo

    Mina – ha ha! It’s not a silly question and I get asked that regularly. I shoot on tripod with a timer :) But sometimes it can be a real pain in the butt ;)

    sweetmaddy – thank you!

    Joy – you’re welcome.

    Jill – I hate those security codes too, but without that there, I’d have 10,000+ spam a day filling my database :( Happy new year to you and Dr. Tom! I hope to have you over when the roads are more reliable.

    TKW – thank you, Dana! Wishing you a lovely 2012 and we’ll get together for lunch soon (I’m thinking hot bowl of pho!!)

    Tressa – thank you, dear :) xxoo All the best to you too!

    Katie – absolutely!

    Bebe – thank you :)

    Andrea – thank you, and happy new year to you as well! Hope you find some good recipes around the site :)

    jacquie – yes, thank you – we’ve been through all of the issues with our vet and have a good solution now that seems to work :)

    melissa – they’re different, but good!

    Annie – thank you xo

    Brandon – you’re so sweet. Thanks and happy new year! xo

  32. eemilla says:

    So glad her blood work brought good news! Happy 2012.

  33. Olga says:

    Oh, yes, this is the recipe I’m looking for. Thank you. BTW, homemade red bean paste is a breeze to make. Just boil the beans in water for about ten minutes, drain, then add more water and boil till tender and mushy, mash and add sugar to taste, a pinch of salt, and Voila!

  34. Richard says:

    Absolutely love your photos. So so beautiful.

    Here are my love with steamed buns.

  35. Pat says:

    Thanks for your post..and recipes…..

  36. Regina @ SpecialtyCakeCreations says:

    So neat to have found a detailed recipe for red bean paste steam buns. I am in Thailand right now. Here they eat them for breakfast. Just had one and was curious to read how they are made. The red bean paste here taste like it is coconut infused as well. Just lovely!

  37. Tanya Yeh says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this recipe — I haven’t had these in years, and can’t wait to make them.
    Your blog is great — I love your sense of humor!

  38. Lucy says:

    I am a 60 yr old American born Chinese woman who has always loved red bean baos… Just used your recipe and made them for the first time! Absolutely yummy! I made half with red bean paste, and the other half with Chinese sausage. Thanks for sharing. Don’t know why I waited so long to make these from scratch. Was very easy! Living in VT and waiting to visit Montreal or NYC was getting very old…. lol

  39. abby says:

    will it still turn out the same with whole wheat flour or un bleach flower??? i love your blog

  40. jenyu says:

    abby – You can probably replace with some whole wheat flour, but I’m not sure if you can replace with all whole wheat flour. I don’t know the adjustments you’ll need to make though. There may be some useful information about it on google?

  41. Darrin says:

    Hi, what can I use instead of shortening? Can I use butter instead?

  42. jenyu says:

    Darrin – you should use shortening or lard. I think butter will alter the flavor.

  43. Freddy says:

    These look great. Pair them with a cup of hot tea on a cold day and I’m a happy camper!

  44. Michelle says:

    What kind of flour did you use? all purpose or cake flour? It looks so white and scrumptious. Thank you.

  45. jenyu says:

    Michelle – I use unbleached all-purpose flour.

  46. Aimee says:

    Question– have you ever frozen the buns pre-steaming, and if so, how do you cook them? Do you wait for them to defrost before steaming them, or steam them from frozen?

  47. jenyu says:

    Aimee – no, I never have. I would suggest steaming first, letting them cool, then freezing them. This is the only way I’ve seen them sold commercially if not fresh.

  48. Amy says:

    What kind of yeast did you use?

  49. jenyu says:

    Amy – I used fleischmann’s active dry yeast.

  50. Aira says:

    These are wonderful and thank you for sharing the recipe. I keep running across the same problem in all my baking, though: in any bread-type recipe, there is always a step where you have to shape the dough into something (balls, or in this case, a log). I can’t seem to make that work. No matter how I try to move and shape the dough, I always end up with deep wrinkles that won’t connect. This leads to unevenly-shaped buns and holes later on. How on earth do you shape dough without these wrinkles? Thanks a lot!

  51. jenyu says:

    Aira – I wonder if the dough is too dry? When I pinch the ends together, they stick pretty well. Also, if the gluten strands are really elastic, it’s nearly impossible to wrap dough around anything without it pulling itself apart (wanting to revert back to its original blob). Sometimes it helps to let the dough rest for 10 or 15 minutes so the gluten strands can relax. Then you’ll find it easier to work with shaping dough. At least, this is definitely what I do when working with pizza dough. Good luck!

  52. Francesca says:

    How do I steam them without a bamboo steamer?

  53. jenyu says:

    Francesca – here’s a link I found when I googled “how to steam without a bamboo steamer”:

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