Red Bean Buns (Dousha Bao 豆沙包)

Arghh….  this whole morning has gotten off to a bad start.  First off, I couldn’t sleep, so I crawled out of bed at 8 am…  on a Saturday morning.  So much for trying to sleep in.  >.<  And then my internet was kaput all morning, so I wasn’t even able to get online until the late afternoon.  I tried to occupy myself by cleaning the kitchen and bathroom, which were not the most exciting activities, but I guess they needed to be done at some point anyway.

It’s cold and rainy outside, so I’m kind of hibernated indoors.  Only two days ago, it was sunny and warm.  Last weekend, there was some freak snowfall.  But mid-last week, it was actually very warm and sunny…  like shorts-weather.  And before that, it was cold.  Ah…  just your typical spring weather in Switzerland.  

The crappy weather today kind of reminds me of my first winter/spring in Switzerland, where I tried to occupy myself by honing my non-existent culinary skills.  I suddenly had a craving for some red bean buns one day, so I scoured the internet looking for some suitable recipes.

Unfortunately, Chinese food is not so easily found in Zürich, so I had to look for something I could make from scratch using ingredients that were readily available.  I ended up looking at The Fresh Loaf to make the dough, and since I couldn’t find canned red bean paste, I used wikihow for instructions on how to make the paste.

First:  The beans.
Reality did not quite match the instructions.  Even after soaking the beans overnight, they didn’t really soften!  I was expecting the beans to turn into some sort of mushy paste after cooking, but they still seemed rather firm.  I tried to follow the directions to press the beans through a sieve into a bowl, but it didn’t seem to work very well.

Another option was to purée the bean paste in a blender for added smoothness.  When I tossed it all in, the mixture turned out too dry and kind of just sat at the top of the blender instead of getting mixed throughout.  I had to force the beans down into the bottom of the blender in small batches using a wooden spoon to blend it up.

At the end, I guess it turned out okay.  Not pretty, but edible, and very sweet.  I left the skins on for texture, too.

Raw buns ready for steaming

Raw buns ready for steaming

Next:  The buns.
Making the dough was a lot more straightforward.  Per the recipe, I divided the dough into a dozen pieces and started forming balls…  but they looked really big.  So I left a couple as-was, but started making smaller balls and ended up with a total of 22.  After letting them rest for 5 minutes,  the balls became HUGE!  They probably could have been even smaller.  I ended up with some gigantic buns.

Last step:  Cooking them. 
I didn’t have a steamer and used the oven as a makeshift steamer instead.  Just set the oven on low, put the raw buns on the middle rack, and poured some water into the bottom pan.  It worked like magic!  This created a steaming effect and all the buns puffed up beautifully.

During this process, the oven got really steamy and actually started cleaning all the grime that had accumulated from earlier use.  It was actually kind of gross, as greasy brown streaks started dripping down the side walls of the oven.  But it didn’t affect the taste of the buns.  😀  I hope the moisture didn’t damage the oven though.

Final result:  Sweet success!
I don’t know if the buns were that pretty to look at, but they were homemade and tasted fine.  The red bean filling was a bit too sweet for my liking, so if I ever made this again, then I would decrease the sugar a bit.  I also got a stick blender from a friend who left Switzerland last year, so I hope that will help with the blending process a bit more than using a traditional blender.  And even though I was quite generous with the filling, I also ended up quite a bit of extra red bean paste, which was perfect for making Red Bean Braided Bread.

Red Bean Buns (Dousha Bao 豆沙包)
Makes at least 1 dozen buns.  I ended up with 22!

finished red bean bunsDough:

  • 3 cups (375 g) all purpose unbleached flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons instant yeast
  • ¼ cup (56 g) sugar
  • ½ cup (1.2 dL) milk
  • ½ cup (1.2 dL) warm water
  • 1 tablespoon butter, margarine, or shortening
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder


  • red bean paste (200 g beans, 150 g sugar)

 Making the Red Bean Paste  (Courtesy of wikihow)

  1. Place 200 g (7 oz) azuki beans in a bowl, submerge in water, and allow it to sit overnight.
  2. Strain the beans in the morning and put them in a pot.  Pour enough water in the pot so that the water level is a few inches above the beans.  Bring the water to a boil, allow to simmer, and cook for about an hour or until the beans are done.  Although azuki beans cook faster than other beans, sometimes you’ll need to cook the beans slightly longer than an hour.
  3. Drain the remaining water, if any is left, and press the beans through a sieve into a bowl.  Do this in batches because there will be too many beans to do all at once.  This is where personal preference will affect how finely you strain the beans.  Some people prefer a completely smooth paste, devoid of bean skin, while others don’t mind a bit of chunkiness.  The choice is yours, but either way is delicious!  Some people purée the bean paste in a blender for added smoothness.  Afterwards, they pass the mixture through cheesecloth to remove the fine fragments of bean skin.
  4. Put beans in a large, heavy pan, turn the heat to a medium or medium-low setting, and cook until the bean paste is thick, usually 20 or 30 minutes.   Make sure to constantly stir so the beans don’t stick to the pan.  You may need to add water occasionally if you find the beans are getting too dry.
  5. Add 150 g (5 oz or ½ cup) sugar, 2 tsp butter (optional), and pinch of salt, continuing to stir frequently and adjusting water if necessary.  Cook for 10 minutes and remove from pan.  Store in a container and refrigerate.  It will keep for up to a week.

 Making the Buns  (Courtesy of The Fresh Loaf)

  1. Combine the ingredients and mix well.  The dough needs to be somewhat supple for stretching and shaping, so add a little extra water if necessary (I added a couple of extra tablespoons).
  2. Knead by hand for about 10-12 minutes or by machine for 5-7 minutes.  Set aside in a covered bowl and let rise for 45 minutes to 1 hour.
  3. Divide the dough into a dozen pieces.  Form each into a ball.  If you are going to fill them, as I did, let them rest for 5 minutes or so before flattening them to fill them.
  4. Once they are shaped, let rest for 10 minutes.  During this time, bring the water in your steamer to a boil.
  5. Red bean paste can be made from scratch by cooking and sweetening azuki beans.  I was pleased to find canned red bean paste at the local Chinese market.
  6. To fill, flatten the balls of dough into circles and place a tablespoon of filling on top.
  7. Close them up and either reroll them seam side down for a smooth bun or pinch them to the top if you want them to tear open on top.
  8. Place each ball of dough on a small piece of parchment or wax paper and place in the steamer.  Cover and steam for about 15 minutes.  Remove from heat and serve warm.

One thought on “Red Bean Buns (Dousha Bao 豆沙包)

  1. Pingback: Red Bean Braided Bread | Step by Step

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