Red bean paste doesn't sound like the sweet dessert that it is, and when people hear of it they tend to think of savory ingredients, like the famous red beans and rice dishes. But it is actually quite the specialty of East Asian desserts historically, with red beans made into a mash, and then pureed and sugar added into them, to make a sweet and wonderfully flexible dessert ingredient.
One of the great things about red bean paste is how it can be paired with almost anything! Well...... maybe not everything, I shudder to thing about it with mayonnaise, ketchup, soy, savory flavorings. But with dessert ingredients, I have found that it is probably at least as versatile as chocolate. In fact, chocolate is one of the things which goes the best with it, as the two complement each other wonderfully, with the richness of the chocolate and the sweet fruitiness of the red bean paste merging and producing an even better flavor. But butterscotch, white chocolate, cherry, pumpkin - all of these have worked very well with it. There is such a tremendous flexibility, that I thought it would be interesting to present 13 different ways, unusual ones (I hope) of using red bean paste - different flavor fusions, different recipes instead of the traditional mixture of pastries, soups, wrapped bamboo leaves, sesame balls, pancakes, and gelatins.
It really is just the tip of the ice berg I think: I've been thinking of dessert pizza red bean paste, angel food cake with layers of red bean paste, red bean paste biscotti, nougat, and other flavor fusions such as red bean paste and date. But that's for another day!
I get my red bean paste from either a local Japanese store, or ordering it online, on Amazon, where it comes in packets of around 1 pound of smooth, sweetened, red bean paste. Thus, most of the recipes below are geared to use around 1 pound of red bean paste. Different portion sizes of course, are easy to get with different amounts of the red bean paste I'm sure! I also recommend, if you are making the cherry red bean paste, to make first the bbangs and sesame balls in tandem: these both have the advantage of using up around 1/2 of the red bean paste, since each one also has cherry in it (the same goes for the cherries too). Or you could double them. It is possible to get the red beans themselves and to make them into the paste, but honestly I have never looked for them in stores so I don't know if the adzuki beans are easily available, and the paste which one gets in bags works great anyway! According to some youtube comments I saw on this video however, kidney beans work completely fine as a substitute however.
Pastries and Cookies
Of course, one of the best uses for red bean paste is as a filling. It is perfect to go into many things, since its smooth texture is a great contrast with the surrounding bread or pastry, it is easy to fit in to things since it doesn't explode out, and it of course, has the luscious and wonderful taste! Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and other chefs have worked wonders over the years on making various pastries, so most of the recipes here are fusion recipes, focusing on combing red bean paste with other things, or Western-style desserts, such as French Madeleines.
#1 Red Bean Paste and Cherry Sesame Balls Recipe
Do you ever remember going to Chinese restaurants as a kid and getting those chewy sesame balls, with their filling of some sort of mysterious dark, almost pudding, like material? Bean paste of some sort, but you didn't know at the time, all you knew was that it was sort of like chocolate, but not quite, but still so deliciously rich, chewy, fragrant, succulent, with such a glorious explosion of flavors once you finished biting through the glutinous exterior. This recipe brings back some of the joy of those old days, but with the equally great combination of cherry and red bean paste. I think that strawberry would also be a great fruit to pair with red bean paste, but then almost any fruit would go well - maybe some sort of red bean paste, banana, and cherry banana split at some point?
#2 Red Bean Paste and Cherry Bbang: A Korean-Inspired Recipe
For a long time these were one of my family's favorite dessert pastries, and it is easy to see why - they are simply sublime fresh out of the oven, warm, with the sweet red bean paste, not overwhelmingly sweet, elegant, sophisticated. Mixing red bean paste with cherry is an original twist, but I do urge you to try out the original recipe linked in Aeri's Kitchen in my own article too.
#3 White Chocolate, Red Bean Paste, and Butterscotch Haystacks Recipe
I always loved making haystacks, and these haystacks continue the great virtues of the original Christmastime treat - sweet, crunchy, with a delicious mixture of flavors. Red bean paste might hardly be a traditional Christmas dessert, but I can think of plenty of things which could go with it - haystacks of course, but what about fudge, cookies, roll cakes, tarts, pies, etc? Someday I will really have to try it with peppermint or just mint, but I refrain from theorizing about how it will be!
#4 Red Bean Paste and Chocolate Haystacks Recipe
There's also a simpler version if you want it, just the red bean paste and chocolate, rather than red bean paste, white chocolate, and butterscotch. I still think it is very good, and it certainly makes for an interesting variation off of regular haystack themes. Maybe you could make different types for comparing and contrasting, tasting the fruity and almost earthy flavors of the red bean paste with other haystacks with chocolate.
#5 Red Bean Paste Madeleines Recipe
Madeleines are another thing which I tried out, and to be fair, just like the other ones, I think the sky is your limit for creativity - I could easily see red bean paste and cherry, red bean paste and pumpkin, red bean paste and coconut, red bean paste and chocolate, red bean paste and white chocolate and butterscotch, red bean paste and strawberry - the great thing is that almost anything works! But one can also just enjoy the flavor of red bean paste on its own in these little French cookies, enjoying their buttery goodness with the red bean paste as well.
Of course, red bean paste also goes wonderfully in some other food types, and I have found that ice cream in particular is one of them, Red bean paste is great because it is smooth, creamy, and it can be easily put in with many flavors. Simply melting it a bit with other ingredients from chocolate, to white chocolate, to butterscotch, to cherry, - I really must try pumpkin one of these days - gets you some great results, bursting with flavor, rich, and deliciously smooth.
#6 Creamy Soft-Serve White Chocolate Butterscotch and Red Bean Paste Ice Cream Recipe
I am always too impatient with my recipes, since while I am willing to put plenty of time in, I like speed and dash when cooking. Ice cream is simply not something which you can rush though, and when I had rushed this one I had boiled the custard and made it entirely too soft! This is easy to avoid of course, but when I made it in this, it actually turned out quite good: soft serve, almost like a mousse, and still with the delicious pairings of white chocolate, butterscotch, and red bean paste, which mix together wonderfully.
#7 Cherry and Red Bean Paste Ice Cream Recipe
Cherry is one of my favorite flavor pairings with red bean paste, since just like chocolate, the two go so wonderfully well together. This ice cream is very good at taking advantage of it, making a fruity, but incredibly decadent and rich, creamy, and deeply satisfying ice cream. It would be very good with frozen cherries in it too I think
#8 Super Rich Adzuki Chocolate Ice Cream Recipe
Red bean paste and chocolate were the original flavor pairing that I tried, and I think they work great together - the red bean paste gives sweet fruitiness, and a relief from chocolate which is heavy and almost harsh in how strong its flavor is, and the two together become an even better mixture of the two. This means that it is a perfect duo for chocolate and red bean paste ice cream!
Much of the same logic applies to custards, and are a real area where original innovation can be made with red bean paste. After all, crème brûlées, pots de crème, rich puddings - these are far removed from what traditional East Asian cooking produces, and yet just like ice cream they soak up the flavor and the smoothness of red bean paste with panache!
#9 Creamy Pumpkin and Red Bean Paste Pots de Crème Recipe
Red bean paste and pumpkin seems to be a common enough flavor pairing in East Asian countries, or at least I have seen red bean paste and pumpkin pancakes. It makes sense: the wonderful cinnamon flavor of the pumpkin with the red bean paste, a heady elixir of spices. This version goes for making pots de crème, but it would be easy to make red bean paste and pumpkin into any host of different desserts - red bean paste and pumpkin ice cream, red bean paste and pumpkin crème brûlées, red bean paste and pumpkin cheesecake - the sky truly is your limit!
#10 Adzuki (Red Bean Paste) Pot de Crème Recipe
Pots de crème are not as famous as their crème brûlée counterparts, but that doesn't make them any worse - in fact, I sometimes think they are even better, with a more creamy interior, without any impairment from the crunchy top. And of course, you easily could make it into a crème brûlée - it is as easy as taking out a blow torch or putting it under the broiler in the oven for a few minutes. Wonderfully cream, sweet, and decadent, these are elegant and tasty desserts, and show another way you can use red bean paste.
Cakes, Pies, and Brownies
What if you want something that is more physical, solid, and more glamorous and impressive than just pastries or cookies though? There is no need to fear, since red bean paste goes perfectly in a wide variety of cakes, pies, and brownies! Cakes give a great opportunity to contrast the flavor with various other ones, such as cherry, chocolate, and whipped cream, while the brownies are a real improvement over regular chocolate brownies - lighter, fluffier, still deliciously sweet and rich, and even with the delusion that they are somewhat healthy!
#11 Light and Rich Chocolate-Adzuki Soufflé Brownies Recipe
I've heard of a few brownie recipes that use red bean paste to fill in for chocolate, probably for the people who are health conscious, or those who genuinely don't like chocolate - who do exist! I have a co-worker who genuinely despises chocolate, although her mother always forgets this despite having known about it for decades. But what about for the rest of us who do like chocolate? Combining together red bean paste and chocolate gives the wonderful fusion flavor that I've talked about elsewhere, with these light, fluffy, and decadent brownies.
#12 Red Bean Paste Pancake Layer Cake With Cherry Cream Recipe
Red bean pancakes are one of the traditional uses for red bean paste in East Asia. I think they're a great idea - simple to make, large quantities, deliciously sweet, wonderful to pair with lots of flavors. Here, going with chocolate and cherry means that although they are difficult to make, they are a wonderful treat. I think that for any sort of layer cake these red bean pancakes are a great option, since they are infinitely flexible and can be put in many different recipes.
#13 Chocolate Red Bean Paste Cheesecake Recipe
Ahh, cheesecake. Such a great dessert, so smooth, so rich, so decadent. I have trouble making them I admit and I am always working to get better at them, since I find that mine often have some problems with texture, as well as cooking them in the oven, after the initial cheesecakes which I made a few years ago with such success lulled me into a feeling of false security. But this cheesecake is one which I urge for you to try since it has a wonderful decadent chocolate flavor to it with a rich fruity upswelling from the red bean paste. It is another way to put you red bean paste to work, and once more the sky is the limit for red bean paste ingredients in cheesecakes!