Four Easy Desserts to Make with Red Bean Paste

by Mariana Rufin

Red bean paste may seem like an alien ingredient to some, but for those who are familiar with East and Southeast Asian desserts, its popularity comes at no surprise. The paste, also known as anko in Japanese, has a unique and inimitable taste. To those who have only ever had beans in a savory context, do not be discouraged from trying it; the flavor is mildly ‘bean-y’ but would more aptly be described as earthy and very sweet. Red bean paste can be purchased at most Asian grocery stores, and in Syracuse it can be found at Han’s and at Asia Food Market, both of which are located off Erie Boulevard.

The use of red, or adzuki beans, originated in Japan and was first used as a savory substitute for minced meat in steamed buns for Chinese monks, who were not allowed to eat meat, and from there the use of the ingredient was popularized in other cultures around Asia. Uses vary across cultures, and also hold different spiritual and religious importances in different countries. In Japan and Korea, red beans are most commonly mashed and passed with a sieve, and then combined with sugar to make a smooth, sweet paste, whereas in China red bean paste usually contains oil or lard. Red beans are also used in traditional Chinese medicine to target kidney health, whereas in Korea it is traditionally believed that red beans ward off evil spirits and entities.

As expected, red bean paste takes on a variety of uses in both traditional and more contemporary desserts, such as in ice cream and bubble tea. Traditional confectionery creations like mooncakes, rice cakes, and red bean jelly are often labor intensive and can require access to ingredients that are not easily found in the United States, so here are four recipes to introduce red bean paste to your taste buds that can be attempted by cooks of any level.

Easy red bean ice cream

  • 8 oz heavy cream whipped until stiff peaks
  • ½ can of condensed milk (about 7 oz) 
  • 1 tsp of sea salt 
  • ½ cup of red bean paste

Gently fold the condensed milk, followed by red bean paste, into the whipped cream until both ingredients are evenly dispersed into the mixture. Spread the mixture into a glass, metal, or ceramic dish, and chill overnight. Serve with a pinch of sea salt.

Panna cotta with red bean-balsamic vinegar reduction

Prepare a panna cotta according the instructions of a recipe of choice, and while the dessert is chilling, make this red bean-balsamic vinegar sauce:

  •  3 tbsp of balsamic vinegar
  • ¾ cup of red bean paste
  • 1 tbsp of butter

Melt butter over medium-low heat in a saucepan. Add the balsamic vinegar and reduce to low heat. Once the vinegar is slightly reduced (look for small bubbles), add the red bean paste and bring heat back up to medium-low. Stirring constantly, look for signs that the paste has thinned into a sauce, adding water if necessary to bring it to the right consistency. The sauce should taste sweet and slightly earthy from the red bean paste, with a tangy, salty aftertaste from the vinegar. Depending on what kind of taste is preferred, you can add more or less of the key ingredients. Serve atop cold panna cotta, with red berries.

Rice balls with sweet red bean sauce

  • 1 cup cooked rice (short grain white rice works best) 
  •  ¼ cup water, plus more for sauce 
  • Red bean paste
  • Sesame seeds (optional)

This is a recipe adapted from Carolina Gelen, a recipe and content creator (you can find this recipe on her Tiktok and Instagram). To start, blend the rice with the water until the mixture is homogeneous. Pour the mixture into a saucepan and heat over a medium flame while folding regularly for six to seven minutes. When this process is over, it should be thick and resemble a dough. Next, form balls from the mixture and fry lightly in oil until browned on all sides. Set the balls aside and prepare the sauce: place red bean paste into another saucepan and cook on low heat while adding water occasionally until it is thin enough to coat the rice balls. Once coated, add sesame seeds and serve while hot.

Red bean paste and cheese danish

  • 1 sheet of puff pastry (store bought or homemade is fine) 
  • 8 oz cream cheese, or all of a normal container, softened 
  • 1 egg + 1 tbsp water for egg wash
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp lemon juice 
  • 1 cup red bean paste 
  • 1 tbsp flaky sugar, i.e. demerara sugar

*If using store bought pastry, thaw overnight in the refrigerator before starting the recipe.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and lay parchment onto a baking sheet. Prepare the cream cheese filling by mixing together the vanilla, lemon, and cream cheese together, and set aside. Roll out puff pastry and cut into 5×6 inch rectangles. Fold over ½ inch of pastry on either side, and spread the cream cheese mixture over the middle space. The key to a flaky pastry is to keep it cold, so be sure not to leave the pastries out too long before putting them into the oven. As soon as this step is completed, spread the egg wash onto the borders of the pastry, top with flaky sugar, and bake for 10-12 minutes, checking occasionally for golden brown color on the pastry. Once removed from the oven, cool for 10 minutes before spreading one to two tablespoons of red bean paste over the cream cheese.

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