I am quite ready to declare this to be the best brioche dough in the world.
As cinnamon rolls, they’re divine. As a tart base, it’s pillowy and sweetly accommodating. In simple brioche form, the essence of the dough shines through: The crumb is light, airy, and moist; fragrantly rich but not at all heavy. It doesn’t weigh in your stomach afterwards – this is one buttery treat that tastes delightfully guilt-free. The pumpkin is present more as an ineffable depth and fragrance, rather than a distinct flavor.
Such inherent perfection was begging to exercise its talents in other arenas. What couldn’t it elevate to new heights? After making a double batch of cinnamon rolls, as per request, for a party, I was ready to try something new with the remaining dough.
I’m usually quite the indecisive one, but this I knew in an instant. Red bean buns (豆沙包 dousha bao) are ubiquitous in bakeries here, but I tend to shun them. I don’t mean traditional pastry shops (which make their own delightful flaky red bean pastries) but rather the Chinese take on Western bakeries. They make things like pineapple buns, croissants, and egg tarts, as well as sweet buns embedded with various permutations of corn and sausage. Cream generally turns up in the most unexpected places too. Everything is united by a sweet, cottony, dry dough– what most Chinese people think of when they think of “Western” bread.
Which is why these red bean buns are some of the best in the world. Red bean paste is all well and nice, but what’s a filling without its shell? A pie without crust? A dumpling without its wrapper? A travesty, you will agree.
Which is, of course, why this pumpkin brioche dough is just what every sweet bun deserves.
These buns are also, in a way, going home, to Yeastspotting.
Recipe: Pumpkin brioche red bean buns
In Beijing, one can find red bean paste (豆沙 dousha) at large supermarkets and in Daoxiangcun (稻香村), which lately I’ve found to be a good source for supplies for Chinese style baking. In the US, many Asian groceries carry some variety of red bean paste. I recommend the Japanese-style, or any kind made with water (清水 qingshui), unless you particularly prefer the richer flavor of vegetable oil or lard.
Makes 8 buns
400 grams of Susan’s incomparable pumpkin brioche dough
(one batch yields 1800g; I made cinnamon rolls with the rest)
160g red bean paste
40g toasted pumpkin seeds, roughly chopped
(walnuts would match the red bean paste better, but pumpkin seeds are what I had)
Whole pumpkin seeds for decoration
Egg whites, for glazing
(use the egg whites leftover from making the brioche dough)
1. After the overnight fridge fermentation, divide and preshape the dough into 8 balls of 50g each. Place in covered bowl, and refrigerate again for at least 20 minutes.
2. In a small bowl, mix the red bean paste and pumpkin seeds/walnuts.
3. Remove the dough from the fridge. Taking one dough ball, flatten it into a round disc on a lightly floured counter, and roll out into a flat circle, approximately 9-10cm (about 3½-4 inches) in diameter.
4. Spoon a small quantity of filling – about 25 grams – into the center of the disc. Be careful of using too much filling, as red bean paste has a very strong and sweet flavor; a little goes a long way. Pat the filling down into a flat round about 4cm (2 inches) in diameter. Bring the edges of the dough in toward the center, and seal, making sure to keep the bun round. Smooth out the seams so that it make a flat surface; this is now the bottom of the bun. Place onto a lightly oiled baking tray. Repeat with the remaining dough.
5. Press pumpkin seeds on to the top of the buns in a decorative pattern. Brush the buns with egg whites. Let them proof at room temperature for about an hour – it’s around 28°C / 82°F in my house, so you may need to adjust time up to 1hr 45min. The dough is done proofing when it springs back slowly after being poked gently with a finger.
6. Preheat oven to 190°C/375°F. Bake for 20 minutes, or until golden. Serve warm or at room temperature.