Tsubu-an, red bean paste
Tsubu-an, sweet red bean paste
for japanese sweets
Anあん or anko, sweet red bean paste, is one of most important ingredients for Japanese sweets. There are few different kinds: tsubu-an is chunky with whole beans, the other is koshi-an, smooth red bean paste, or shiro-an, white bean paste. Anko is usually made from azuki/adzuki beans, small red beans with nice sweet taste, but there are also many other kinds: made of sweet potatoes, kabocha pumpkin, chestnuts and more, please read here: ingredients /anko.
I have read some people think about anko as refried beans with sugar- it is not; the taste is completely different and really nice. It is similar to sweet chestnuts and doesn’t taste strong after beans.
You can buy anko in cans, but of course homemade product is ten times better than bought one(these are often too sweet). It isn’t this difficult to cook; you need a good recipe, right ingredients and some patience. But then, you will be rewarded with a very tasty alternative to fatty creams.
Anko is rather time-consuming and if you lack in experience, many things could go wrong. But I’m sure if you stick to the recipe, and don’t start with “experiments“ everything will be fine.
Anko is high in sugar; sure, it isn’t a „light“ variation of a sweet. But, it is fat free and rich in fiber, and much more valuable than, say, a butter cream.
Not only for vegans and vegetarians or people on macrobiotic diet it can be a interesting and healthier alternative. I like it on fresh hot toast with a cup of coffee for breakfast; you can fill also pancakes with it and much more (I always need a sweet breakfast).
You can use anko for many sweets, not only Japanese. In Japan, there are a lot of „japanesed“ western sweets, especially French patisserie seems to be liked. But Japanese pastry chefs always give it an own „twist“, often with anko instead of fatty cream, and it is very delicious.
For anko, you need azuki beans, small red beans, (more information and pictures). The quality of the beans can differ. I had very nice results with cheap azuki and huge disappointments with expensive beans in organic quality, but I bought these in Germany. It could be very different in your country. On the picture you see high quality hokkaido azuki and middle quality( but very nice in taste and texture) chinese azuki beans.
Few points are important: please make sure to avoid beans that are old, these dehydrate with time, and cook very unevenly. It may happen that one part of beans is already overcooked and mushy, but another is still firm.
It is also better to use light colored azuki, very dark beans tend to have firm and thick skins. The best way is, to try several varieties till you find the one you like most.
A well-made tsubu-an can be recognized by many whole beans and the gloss, without added mitsuame(sugar syrup).And of course the taste.
Because of the tough, thick skins you can add some backing soda to soaking water and at the beginning of cooking. Backing soda will make the skins much softer and it will taste better.
Sugar: please use white, granulated sugar. Dark brown sugars aren’t suitable, the taste is too strong. If you add brow sugar, you will get a different anko kind: “kuro-sato-an” (black-sugar-anko).
You can reduce the amount of sugar, but the sugar acts as a preservative, in addition, other sweets are usually just designed for this sweetness. You can try different degrees of sweetness later; I do not recommend it for beginners. If you like to keep it for longer, the best way will be to freeze it.
Anko freezes very well, I would recommend to cook a larger quantity and freeze in smaller portions. So far I know it freezes well for 3-4 months for sure.
Camelia, a very creative bento maker, had an absolutely fantastic idea: put it in a bag, make it flat and with a chopstick, divide it in small portions (picture). After it is frozen, you can break up small amounts you need. Isn’t it a brilliant idea?
500g adzuki beans
500g-450 g sugar
(normal sweet/less sweet)
1 teaspoon baking soda
Sugar amount: I use usually around 400-350g, my experience is, if you reduce it too much, it doesn’t get the right texture, it is no more “silky”.
Baking soda makes the skins of the beans soft and improves the texture.
Nevertheless, caution in the application, if you add baking soda in the wrong point, it can ruin the taste.
Wash the beans in cold water and remove damaged, bad exemplars. Soak the beans in plenty of water for at least 8 hours or overnight. Soaking isn’t necessary only for very fresh beans, but I don’t think such azuki are available in western countries. Don’t omit this step, it is very important.
When the beans are dark/have firm skins, add baking soda to the soaking water, about one teaspoon per 500g beans
Next day discard the soaking water and place the beans with fresh water in a pot, they should be barely covered with water.
Beans with thick, dark skins: at this point the addition of baking soda is also possible (again), same quantity.
Bring to a boil over medium heat, when the beans begin to get wrinkles add 300ml of cold water. The cold water enters through the skin and makes the beans softer.
Bring to a boil again and add again 300ml of cold water.
Let it cook over medium heat, and watch the beans, if they are swollen to the maximum, it is time for shibu-kiri.
I have to admit, unfortunately, I am still not sure of the exact timing; usually it is after 45-50 minutes of cooking(but could be also little less). The beans are still firm and they shouldn’t crack. It is very important the beans don’t crack, this will affect the taste. Cracking of beans means always too high temperature and fast cooking.
Now it is time for shibu-kiri, bitterness is removed: turn the heat of, put the beans in a colander, drain the water, and wash with fresh cold water. Don’t get the beans to dry out, because they will crack, the beans should be always covered with water. Put the beans back in the pot and cover with cold water. Let stand for 5 minutes.
Beans contain tannins (bitterness), this way they are removed; it improves the taste very much. Same technique is used for example with chestnuts. (And also certain substances are removed too, which are responsible for some “sounds”. )
The degree of shibu-kiri determines the taste of finished anko: the longer it is, the milder but also more bland the taste . Japanese wagashi-maker perform it very briefly when a more intense flavor is desired. In other recipes again, it was made 2 to 3 times (but only for shiro-an, white bean paste). I make it quite short, I like the intense flavor.
After 5 minutes turn the heat on and bring the beans in same water to a soft boil. Never add any backing soda at this point, it will ruin the taste!
Don’t let the beans „dance“and move too much, they aren’t allowed to crack. They should nearly be covered with water, this way they will not move too much. Put a drop-lid, otoshibuta on the beans or a piece of parchment paper.
Cracking of the beans makes the anko „slimy“, it’s not easy for me to explain. It will affect the taste. Should the beans burst, it is always a problem with to high temperature, please find out which temperature will work the best for you, it also depends what kind of stove you use. Also the cooking time can be different with a different stove, for example gas.
Now the beans are cooked soft, on middle heat. It will last around 50-60 minutes (if there isn’t enough cooking liquid, just add some hot water).
After this time, make a test: take 2-3 beans out and check. They should be very easy to crush, this means they are very soft and done, then turn the heat off.
Azuki beans boiled in this way are very delicious, not only for sweets, you can use these for Japanese meals or salads.
Now you have 2 possibilities: you can pour everything through a strainer now (for more intense taste), or:
Still in the pot, pour 200-300 ml cold water inside, stir and let it stand for a short time, for a milder taste.
In any case, pour through a colander layered with a cloth. Turn the cloth together with pressure and remove excess water.
This is a difficult point: if you remove too much water, the bean paste will be too dry, if you leave to much water in, too runny.
The rule of thumb is: enough water was removed, if you can make a small well with your finger and it will last. Also leave more liquid in tsubu-an and less in koshi-an.
At this point the beans paste calls “nama-an”: raw an.
Now the bean paste will be boiled down with sugar.
Place half of the raw paste with all the sugar in a pot (preferably made of copper or a heavy pot with a thick bottom, I have a special “an-pot” from a Wagashi shop).
Let it cook at high heat, because a lot of moisture is still contained in the beans, it will melt the sugar quickly.
After the sugar dissolved, cook it for a short time and add the other half of beans.
The boiling will now take around 10 minutes and improve the taste very much. Don’t boil too short!
Cook the anko on high heat; carefully don’t burn it, also make sure that not too many beans are crushed. Stir often, but more in an up and down (shifting) then in a circular motion. It will begin to smell good and slowly thicken and also begin to shine.
If you can make a “dash” on the ground and see the bottom of the pot briefly, then it is good and done.
Please note that it will thicken much more when cooling down.
Place the done tsubu-an in small portions on a tray or glass to cool, and then put it covered in a refrigerator or freeze. It keeps well in a refrigerator for one week.
Give it a try: and, did I promise too much? If all went well, you have a portion of very tasty tsubu-an.
Important: shouldn’t it taste this good, I would give it a next try. Maybe the beans weren’t the right ones or old. It doesn’t mean that it will never taste good.
Keep also in mind the difference between homemade, fresh anko and a processed product in a can is immense.
I hope you can follow the recipe, I know my English isn’t good at all, but I do my best.
This recipe is from an old, traditional well-known wagashiya(wagashi-shop) . I did try few different recipes from my japanese wagashi books, but this one is really the best.