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Quite often I will reminisce my days living in Japan, especially my morning adventure to the French bakery for some freshly baked pastries. In America, at least in the mid-west, we do not generally have bakeries beyond Panera Bread Company which I am told does not make their pastries fresh daily. I’ve never been to France but I can imagine in the morning the streets of Paris must smell like heaven. Or maybe similar to Jeff Hertzberg & Zoë François’ home kitchens before publishing their world famous Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day Cookbook (which my husband is addicted). The French pastry shops in Japan may look like small little corner shops hidden away in train stations, strip malls and etc but they are nothing, nothing to overlook. Trust me, even if you place one foot in the door of one of these places, you will be instantly hooked. Personally I think a lot of my 30 pounds I gained in my last year in Japan was thanks to these diligently bakers who put smiles on Japanese faces daily. (Or at least this foreigners’…)

So when I saw a photo of my friend Ako and her daughter, Momo, making Japanese sweet bean buns I was instantly jealous. They are the cutest duo I have ever met and the pastries they make in the kitchen are the most adorable, their creations even beat my beloved Japanese/French Pâtisserie in Japan. But then again anything homemade is better than being bought, right? So I did what any other homesick not-quite-Japanese person would do, go to a site to find a recipe. My favorite Japanese site would have to be Cookpad. It has many different types of recipes by real housewives (I haven’t come across any house-husbands just yet but if I do, I will change that title). The only downfall for non-speakers is that it is in 100% Japanese. I’m not sure if an online translator would work or not – let me know if you test it out. But anyways, I found this recipe on this site and then veganized it.

The end result, I was instantly transferred back to Japan. Sure, the taste was a bit different seeing there was not egg wash on top of the bun but other than that, it was perfect! Nom nom nom… Note: Usually Japanese sweet bean paste can be bought at Asian stores either in a can (which you have to drain) or in a plastic sealed bag.

Japanese Sweet Bean Buns (Anko Pan)
1 3/4cup Bread Flour (I used all-purpose and it worked)
1 ¼ tbsp unbleached white sugar
¾ tsp salt
1 ¼ tbsp vegan butter
¾ cup nondairy milk
¾ tsp dry yeast
1 ½ cups Strained Sweet Bean Paste (Sweet beans ground up into paste)
Black Sesame Seeds-Optional

1. Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl.
2. Knead the dough until it becomes smooth and elastic, 2-5 minutes. Cover the dough in a slightly warm bowl for about 1-2 hours to rise.
3. Make about 6-8 balls out of the dough. When I made it there were 6 in total.
4. Make a dent with your thumb in the center of each ball, making sure not to go all the way though – you aren’t making bagels.
5. Place ½-1 tbsp sweet bean paste in the indentation. Pinch the dough over the sweet bean paste to cover it up completely. Continue with all 6-8 buns.
6. Place the completed balls on a parchment lined baking sheet, cover with a towel and let rest for about 20 minutes. Optional: Roll the tops of the buns in sesame seeds for decoration.
7. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 350F while the filled buns are rising.
8. Remove the towel and bake for about 14 minutes, or until golden brown in color.
9. Remove from the oven and let the buns cool before serving. The inside sweet bean paste will be hotter than the outside breading.

Note: If you want a really golden brown color, feel free to lightly spray the tops of the buns with spray oil before rolling in sesame seeds. This will create a golden top to each bun. Be careful though since the buns might darken faster than it takes for the buns to finish baking inside.