Azuki Bunny Buns

Soft, fluffy, sweet, and classically Asian. There’s no other way to describe red bean buns. Where Americans have chocolate chip cookies, the Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans have their red bean buns. Whether it’s someone’s birthday or time for an afternoon snack, in Asian food culture red bean buns are always a welcome treat.

Maybe it’s the American in me, but I don’t find red bean buns nearly as appealing as chocolate chip cookies. After all, they’re made with–of all things–beans! Everything changed this past week when I did some tweaking on my recipe for savory steamed buns. Inspired by spring, I sought out to make an Easter bunny-themed variation, with the perfect mild sweetness and tender texture. The results are some seriously yummy buns that can easily steal the spotlight from those chocolate chip cookies.

Azuki buns are so popular that you’ll often find them ready-made in the freezer or fridge section in Asian markets. The tell-tale sign of a mediocre (or bad) azuki bun is that it’s chokingly dry and dense. And a good one? Tender and slightly chewy with just the right amount of filling. 
I based this recipe on the dough used for my Steamed BBQ Pork Buns and Chinese Fold-Over Buns, with a few changes. Instead of using Hong Kong flour, which is harder to find, I use regular all-purpose flour here. I also swap out the powdered sugar for superfine sugar, which creates a chewier, slightly heavier dough that steams up with a perfectly thin skin and smooth surface.

Decorated with a pair of bunny ears and a nubby nose made from soft candies, the humble buns are instantly transformed into wagashi-like Easter treats. You can also just scatter some sesame seeds in the center of each rounded bun before steaming. The buns will look elegant and easy, ideal for no-nonsense adults who aren’t in to adorably chubby bunnies. Enjoy these with Japanese green teas like a pale jade gyokuo, a toasty genmaicha, or a delicate sencha like Palais des Thés Tawaramine Shincha. Any tea that’s light, grassy, and fresh on the palette is ideal with the classic Asian flavor and look of these buns. Some may say that these Azuki Bunny Buns are too cute to eat, but as you can see I clearly don’t agree!Azuki Bunny Buns

Makes 10 buns.


1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 cup superfine sugar

1 tsp SAF instant yeast

1 tsp baking powder

1 Tbsp non-fat dry milk powder

1/8 tsp salt

1 Tbsp vegetable or canola oil

6 Tbsp lukewarm water + 1-2 tsp water more (if needed)

1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp sweetened smooth red bean paste (koshian)

black sesame seeds, for bunny eyes

soft, pink chewy candies, for bunny ears and noses (I used Hi-Chews)

non-stick spray or oil, for coating proofing bowl


stand mixer with dough hook attachment

large bowl

plastic wrap

work surface

chef’s knife

Tbsp measure

large bamboo steamer

wok with slightly larger diameter than steamer OR a stockpot with exactly the same diameter as the steamer

parchment paper, cut into 2 1/2″ squares

small cupcake liners (optional)

Japanese bento grass (optional)


1.)  Place all dry dough ingredients into the bowl of a large stand mixer. Start the mixer on low, then gradually add the water and oil. About 3 minutes in, the shaggy dough should come together to form a ball. If it does not, add 1-2 tsp of water until the dough comes together. Let the dough continue to mix on low for 10 minutes, until you get a soft and supple ball of dough.

2.)  Lightly spray a large bowl with non-stick spray, coating the top surface of the dough with some of the same oil. Place the dough ball in the large bowl, then cover it with plastic wrap and place it in a draft free place to rise until almost doubled in volume.

3.)  After the first rise, take the dough out onto a work surface. Give the dough a few light kneadings, then portion it out into 10 equal pieces using a chef’s knife. Shape each dough piece into a ball, then flatten each ball into a disk about 3 1/2″ in diameter and fill it with 1 Tbsp of red bean paste. Gather the edges of the flattened dough disk, pinching them together to seal. Flip the filled dough ball over, then roll it into a slightly oval circle. Place this shaped bun on a small square of parchment paper.

4.)  Attach the eyes of the bunnies with the slightly wetted tip of a toothpick. Place the bun into the bamboo steamer. Shape a total of 10 buns, placing them at least 1″ apart in the steamer. Cover the steamer and let the buns rise for about 15 minutes, until just slightly puffy. Meanwhile, boil some water in a wok or stockpot so that the water is at least 2″ deep in the pot. 5.)  Steam the buns for 12 minutes over water at a full boil. After the buns have finished steaming, let them cool before decorating them with soft, pink candies (I used Strawberry Hi-Chews, but you could use any soft pink candy). Cut a candy crosswise, in 1/4″ thick pieces. Shape the pieces (see below) into elongated bunny ears. Use the center pink part of the candies to make tiny balls to make the bunny noses. Attach the candies to the surface of the cooled, steamed buns using light dabs of water. Decorate these buns just before serving as the attached candies get soft and sticky after being adhered to the buns. Place the buns on cupcake liners decorated with bento grass for a festive Easter finish.

Tea of the Week: Palais des Thés’ Feng Huang Dan Cong Special Oolong

As this is my last Tea of the Week post for 2014, I thought I would save the best for last. Palais des Thés’ Feng Huang Dan Cong Special Oolong, also known as Special Phoenix Tea, is one the of the most exquisite teas in my current collection, as complex on the palette as it is rare.
The taste profile of this semi-fermented tea is somewhere between light and dark. At first sip, it’s toasty and woody, reminiscent of a slice of perfectly toasted bread. Following that, the stone fruit and apple notes come shining through, bright with a delicate sweetness that lingers on the tongue.

As this is a high altitude tea grown in Guangdong, China at 1,500 meters, you can expect to pay a pretty penny for this rare brew. I like to reserve it for the most special of occasions, on its own or after an elegant meal as a digestive. This exceptional tea tastes most vibrant on its first steeping and is sensitive to over brewing, so try to be methodical and thoughtful when brewing it.

Tasting Notes for Palais des Thés’ Feng Huang Dan Cong Special Oolong:

BREWING TIPS:  Brew with water at 190 degrees F for 4-6 minutes. I think it’s important to brew this tea Gongfu style, to concentrate the tea’s flavor and to prevent over brewing.

THE TEA:  Large, lightly fermented leaves, dark and twisted.

THE SCENT:  A mix of ripe fruit with toasted wood and sweet floral notes.

THE STEEP:  A light amber brew. Reminiscent of roasted peaches, ripe apricots, peach pit, and longan fruits with a touch of woody cinnamon. Tastes of warm toast glazed with a light drizzle of honey. Delicately floral, like a spring bouquet of orange blossoms. A lively sip followed by a rich pronounced aftertaste.

GET IT:  Online, at Palais des Thés.

FOOD PAIRING:  I like to drink this brew on its own, after light bites (like my Chinese Roasted Duck Tarts) or an elegant meal of Miso Chive Dumplings. Also a great way to start off your New Year’s detox regimen!

Tea of the Week: Palais des Thés’ Thé des Alizés

Yes, you read it right. Today’s Tea of the Week is Palais des Thés’ Thé des Alizés, a tea that I can barely type out much less pronounce. Luckily, as with all great teas, pronunciation matters little, so long as you enjoy the brew and know where to get more of it!

For my birthday this year, my sister showered me with some gorgeous tea gifts, including this cobalt blue Japanese cast iron teapot and some fancy tubes of fine green tea, both from the world-class tea boutique, Palais des Thés. As my big sis, Melissa has always made it a point to spoil me, and this year was certainly no exception.

palais de the 1Palais des Thés is a French based tea company with several locations throughout France and Belgium, but only 2 stores based in US, both in New York. For those of us living in the US, what’s great about this company is that all of their products are easily ordered online without having to deal with overseas shipping fees.

At first whiff, I knew that Thé des Alizés was going to be the first of the teas that I wanted to try. This blend is a softly scented, fruity green tea flavored with white peaches, kiwi, and watermelon. The tea also has a very slight hint of banana-like essence, which makes it warm and inviting.

palais de the the des alizesAlso known as Tea of the Trade Winds, what makes this blend worth trying is that it’s exceptionally well-balanced—it’s delicate tropical fruitiness doesn’t overwhelm the vegetal Chinese green tea base.

palais de the cobalt japanese teapot

As summer gives way to cooler fall days, Thé des Alizés is the perfect drink to say goodbye to summer with. A few sips and you’ll be reminiscing about the best of sunny days past.

Tasting Notes for Le Palais des Thés’ Thé des Alizés:

BREWING TIPS:  160-170 degrees F for 3 to 4 minutes. Good for two steepings. Great iced or hot.

THE BLEND:  Chinese green tea with flowers and pieces of white peach, kiwi, and watermelon mixed in.

THE SCENT:  Smells of ripe cantaloupe and honeydew. Lightly floral with sweet, soft tropical notes.

THE STEEP:  Light, crisp, and indulgent. Tastes of exotic fruits without tasting the least bit artificial. Although it’s delicious drunk plain, the lightest touch of honey will accentuate the fruit flavors in this delicately fragrant brew.

GET IT:  Since French teas aren’t always the easiest to buy in the US, we are lucky with this blend! You can find it in loose leaf form at the Palais des Thés website, and in muslin tea bags at Amazon and Birchbox.

FOOD PAIRING:  This tea is delicious served with a simple fruit salad when trying to keep things light. The tea is also perfect with “spa foods” like small nibbles of honey roasted nuts or trail mix.