I actually can't contain my excitement over this recipe (as silly and overly self-congratulatory as that sounds). I constantly crave red bean and black sesame EVERYTHING, and I've wanted to make pretzels for so long! Had the epiphany to combine it all together, and here we are.
Red bean is very common in Asian desserts - tender, subtly sweet and just a bit earthy, the flavor and textural profile pairs really well with the nuttiness of a soft-baked pretzel. I used a mix of whole wheat and white flour to get a little more depth of flavor in the pretzel, and of course the classic baking soda bath and egg wash for the crust.
(Well, not so classic actually. For the most pretzel-ish flavor profile, the dough twists get dunked in a lye solution. That was a little too hardcore for my taste.)
The components alone are pretty simple. The assembly is a bit less so, and in my impatience the first couple of pretzels' fillings leaked out during the poaching process. :( But! The worst case scenario is a crusty, slightly chewy pretzel lightly dusted with black sesame, with a few surprise red beans throughout. The best case scenario (the one that resulted in me eating two straight from the oven), is a snack that simultaneously reminds me of Auntie Anne's and trips back to China to visit my extended family. Call it the dessert of the second generation!
Red Bean Pretzel Recipe (Makes 8 large pretzels, 16 mini)
Trial and error recipe - please feel free to make suggestions!
- Red bean paste (aka anko) - homemade (recipe below) or store bought
- 2.5 cups of whole wheat flour
- 1 cup of white flour, plus more for dusting
- 1 packet yeast
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1 tbsp salt
- 1 egg, beaten
- Black sesame seeds, to garnish
- Neutral oil
- 1/4 cup baking soda
Stir together 1.5 cups warm water, sugar, and yeast and let stand for 5 minutes or until foamy. Water should be warm to the touch but not scalding. Meanwhile, whisk together flour and salt and preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Pour yeast water into dry ingredients and stir with wooden spoon until dough forms. Knead for 10-12 minutes with floured hands - I recommend kneading in the bowl, this is a very sticky dough and the pretzel shape won't hold well if it's too floury. Add flour as needed, up to 4 cups total, but dough should still be fairly wet. Brush the bowl with a thin film of oil, roll the dough ball in the oil and cover. Let rise for 40 minutes to an hour until doubled in size, near your preheated oven. Don't let the bowl actually heat up, or you'll kill the yeast.
Punch the dough down after its first rise, and divide into 8 even pieces (or 16 for mini pretzels). Let rest for 5 minutes. As you wait, spoon the red bean paste into a piping bag (or just a plastic bag with a small hole snipped in the corner). Line baking sheets with parchment paper and brush them with oil.
After the resting period, shape the pretzels! (See collage above) Roll each ball into a log 14-18 inches long and flatten. The dough will spring back into itself but keep stretching. Don't worry too much about keeping exactly even. Pipe red bean paste along the center of the log-pancake - don't overstuff until you get the hang of the first few! Gently pinch the dough up around the paste so the red bean is at the center. Do your best to close completely otherwise you will lose some paste in the next few steps. When you have a cylindrical log again, make a U shape, twist the ends around twice, and flip back down to the base of the U. Voila! Pretzel shape!
Place pretzels onto oiled baking parchment. Let the dough rest for 15-20 more minutes until they puff up slightly. Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil.
When ready to poach pretzels, slowly add the baking soda to the boiling water - it will fizz up so use a large pot. Gently ease pretzels, no more than 1-2 at a time, into the baking soda bath and poach for 1 minute. Instead of flipping pretzels, spoon the water and baking soda over the top of each pretzel - will reduce leakage of red bean paste. Using a slotted spoon and spatula, remove the pretzels from the bath and place back onto the sheet.
Brush pretzels with beaten egg and sprinkle black sesame seeds. Bake for 20-22 minutes, or until desired crispiness. (Mini pretzels will take less time). Serve with excess red bean paste to dip.
These pretzels are best straight from the oven but will keep a few days. Pretzels also freeze very well. For a slightly guiltier version of this pretzel (and a little more reminiscent of your favorite mall pretzels), brush with butter or ghee.
Red Bean Paste Recipe
A very hodgepodge, simple process that can be easily adjusted to suit your tastes
- 3/4 cup red beans
- 3 to 4 tbsp of brown sugar
- 1 tbsp white sugar
- Honey (optional)
Do NOT soak and rinse the beans, even if it reduces cook time. Your red bean paste will come out flavorless and colorless, which I learned the hard way. Soaking beans is supposed to clean them of dirt and make more digestible. I cleaned the beans by rolling them in a paper towel. As for making these beans more digestible, they are being cooked until totally mushy and smothered in sugar, so I wouldn't worry.
Place red beans into rice cooker and cover with 3 inches of water (seems like a lot, but the beans take up a lot of water and this can always be reduced down without fear of overcooking). My rice cooker doesn't have many settings, so I just pressed "cook" repeatedly for 2-3 hours until the beans were very very soft. Check periodically to make sure the water level doesn't get too low. Transfer to a small pot on stovetop, with heat on medium, and add water if needed (should still be be on the slightly soupy side).
Begin crushing beans with the back of a spoon or spatula as the mixture simmers. Gradually it should thicken; beans should become fully tender and fall apart easily, This may take another 30 minutes or so. At this point, add the sugar and continue to simmer until a thick paste forms. Adjust sugar amount to personal preference, but do so while still heating as adding sugar will cause the beans to release more water and you want to be able to control the consistency.
Remove from heat. Add small drizzle of honey for shine and to loosen the mixture a little if desired.