Back in December, when I was putting Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art through its paces, I discovered how easy it is to make my own chunky red bean paste, and how very, very good. Red bean paste, made from azuki beans, is a staple of Japanese desserts, a classic for eating with green tea. I slathered mine over toasted mochi (rice cakes) last month, and had half a bag of unused beans left over from my efforts. Red bean paste is often sandwiched between two pancakes for an pretty little snack (dora-yaki): I tackled a variant which wandered into my thoughts this morning, red bean paste bread pudding. (Did I mention I've never made bread pudding either? But I've been meaning to for ages, since I knew it wasn't too complex, and I love it.)
First, you'll need some chunky sweet red-bean paste. I used the recipe from Japanese Cooking. Note: This recipe makes 2 cups of red bean paste, at least four times more than I needed. (But it means I can eat it with other things this week too...) The only ingredients are a cup of azuki beans, a cup of sugar, and water.
Wash the beans, put in a large saucepan with plenty of water, bring just to a boil, and drain. This is all part of washing the beans.
Put about three cups of water into the saucepan, with the beans, and cover. Simmer over medium-heat until beans are very soft. It takes me about 1.5 to 2 hours to get them soft enough. Check on the water levels occasionally and top up if necessary - you don't want the pot boiling dry, or the beans won't be soft! The water should be almost entirely reduced by the time the beans are done.
Add the cup of sugar and stir over low heat. The beans should be soft enough that some will disintegrate with the stirring. The finished mixture should be thick, with half-crushed beans.
Although the recipe doesn't call for any more cooking after adding the sugar, both times I've made this I've continued to cook it for another half hour or so, as I changed my mind about whether or not the mixture was soft and squishy enough. Off and on, I'll squish the beans down with a wooden spoon or even a potato masher.
For the bread pudding itself, I mostly used the basic Joy of Cooking recipe, in part because it served fewer people than its other bread pudding recipes, and there's only so much I can eat all by myself! For both elegance and convenience, I made the pudding in individual baking dishes, so I can reheat them over the next several days. The Joy promises it'll keep nicely that long, and I'm counting on it. Because I was making mini-dishes of bread pudding, I went to the extra work of cutting the bread to fit the dishes. Each dish contains two circles of bread, each a different size.
Ingredients list: Butter; enough bread to respectably fill your baking dish of choice - I used circular excerpts from half a loaf, the Joy recipe calls for 12-16 oz. for a 2 quart baking dish; 4 large eggs; 3/4 cup sugar; 1 tbsp vanilla; 1 tsp ground cinnamon; 1 tsp ground nutmeg; 3 cups of milk; powdered sugar
Butter the baking dish(es). Cut bread into half inch cubes, or whatever other size you'd like to use. Lightly toast the bread, if it is not stale.
Thickly spread chunky red bean paste on the toasted bread pieces, making a sandwich out of pairs of bread. Because I was using bread cut to fit the dishes, the centimeter-thick layer of paste stayed in its sandwhich layer. Put the layered bread and paste into the making dish(es).
Whisk together thoroughly. the eggs, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and, if you like, a pinch of salt. Whisk in the milk.
Pour the liquid over the bread. Let stand for 30 minutes, pressing the bread down into the liquid with a spatula or spoon to help it absorb the liquid. (I kept spooning little bits more of the liquid onto the puddinglets as they aborbed it.)
Preheat the over to 350°F.
Baking the puddings in a water bath until puffed and fairly firm in the center. If you're doing the full-sized recipe, it's about 1 and a quarter hours. My version took half an hour.
Cut slices, or gently unmold by sliding a knife around the edge of the pudding and holding upside down.
Sprinkle with powdered sugar and nutmeg.
The result was a light pudding with a very rich taste. Bread pudding is comfort food, and the fluffiness of this version of it made it very easy to eat. I'm afraid the photos don't do it justice, since I'm still learning to use the digicam under variable lighting conditions, but it should give you a good idea. Also, the fresh-from-the-oven photo above shows the puddings when they're still puffy: they collapsed right after I took it.
And I get to eat four more of them!