Chinese New Year is on its way and it’s the perfect time to try out today’s new recipe for your family and friends, it’s my Coconut and Red Bean Pudding (椰汁紅豆糕).
Red beans (or azuki beans) are very common in Chinese and Japanese desserts. They have a mild but nutty flavour with a sweetness that makes them so suitable for desserts. You will often find red bean dessert soups served at dinner in restaurants, red bean paste being used as filling for mooncakes, glutinous rice balls, steamed buns and even mochi. You can often buy red bean paste ready made from Asian supermarkets but this recipe uses whole red beans as well as the liquid that they are cooked in, so finding dried red beans and cooking them yourself is key. The bean water holds a lot of flavour and it’s a really important ingredient to boost the flavour in the red bean layer!
The pudding is made up of 2 layers, a coconut milk layer and the red bean layer. The setting agent here is not gelatine which is what I use in my Coconut Milk Pudding Dim Sum recipe but instead it is cornflour, or cornstarch. It is perhaps surprising that cornflour can lead to such a silky and smooth pudding which can be cut into such clean squares. But it means that it is super easy to make at home without the fuss of worrying about blooming gelatine or soaking gelatine leaves and worrying about the set. It also makes this pudding suitable for vegans and vegetarians!
There are two stages of the process that require a lot of time but not a lot of effort. Firstly, the red beans require soaking overnight, which means that they take less time to cook through and secondly the pudding requires setting overnight. This means that if you are planning on making this for a party or for the Lunar New Year, you can make these ahead of time and all you need to do on the day is cut them up into squares to serve!
And this pudding is really suitable for your Chinese New Year celebrations! The word ‘pudding’ (糕) sounds like the word ‘high’ (高) so eating puddings symbolise achieving higher positions in your career. Moreover, red is a lucky colour in Chinese culture so the red beans will bring luck, joy and happiness, symbolisms of the colour red. The singer Faye Wong has a song called ‘Red Bean’ (紅豆) and red beans symbolise love and fidelity, supposedly originating from a legend where a woman’s husband was recruited to the army and her husband did not return. She leant on a tree on a mountain, facing where her husband left her, crying tears that decades later turned red, as did the beans that the tree produced. These red beans are heart shaped and never decompose so red beans become symbolic of great love in Chinese culture.
Check out my other recipes that would be perfect to make for Chinese New Year:
For the coconut layer:
- 25g cornflour
- 30g granulated sugar
- 200ml coconut milk
- 100ml water
For the red bean layer:
- 60g small red beans (soaked overnight, see below)
- 60g cornflour
- 120g granulated sugar
- 200ml coconut milk
- 400ml red bean water (see instructions)
Rinse the red beans in water and then soak the red beans in excess water overnight.
Drain the red beans and place them into a medium saucepan with 500ml of cold water. Bring to the boil and let the red beans cook for about 20 minutes until they are cooked through; they are cooked when you can press one between your fingers and it will mash readily. Leave to simmer in the water for an extra 10 minutes before draining the beans, but reserving the cooking liquid. Leave the cooking liquid to cool down.
Lightly grease 2 rectangular Tupperware containers with some oil. For the coconut milk layer, whisk together the cornflour and sugar in a saucepan, adding in the liquid while mixing constantly to prevent lumps from forming. Place the pan over a medium heat and whisk the mixture constantly until it thickens up into a smooth pudding consistency. When it is well combined, divide the coconut pudding between the two containers and spread out into one layer, tapping the container to free any air bubbles. Place into the fridge for 1 hour to set.
Next prepare the red bean layer. Again, whisk together the cornflour and sugar in a saucepan, adding in the cooled reserved red bean water and coconut milk as well as the red food colouring if using. Place the saucepan over medium heat and cook until the pudding has thickened and is smooth, whisking constantly. Turn off the heat and use a spatula to fold through the cooked red beans until well incorporated. Pour the red bean pudding on top of the set coconut layer and use the spatula to level off the surface. Place into the fridge overnight to set.
When you are ready to serve, run a knife around the edge of the pudding to free it from the sides before inverting onto a chopping board. If you want neat slices, use a sharp knife to trim off the edges before slicing into squares.