Anko (sweet red bean paste) is the crucial ingredient for Japanese traditional confectioneries. It is a paste made with Azuki (red beans) and sugar. It is used in a lot of different forms of dessert in Japan. It could be used as is in cakes like Dorayaki (Anko sandwiched between sweet pancakes), but also jellied and molded into Yokan, or made into a soup called Zenzai.
When I was a kid, I really didn’t like Anko very much. If I had a choice, I always took western style cakes with cream and chocolate. As I’ve gotten older (much older:-), although I still like those cakes, I’ve became more attached to Japanese sweets with Anko. For one, I miss authentic Japanese sweets, but also I really love the simpleness of Anko taste and its healthier, much less greasy feeling. When I’m tired and craving something sweet, Anko desserts are my choice. They are nice and sweet, and very comforting to me.
I said Anko is simple, but that doesn’t mean it easy to make. A lot of Japanese sweet confectionery artisans have devoted their lives to Anko making. Some of the Anko desserts they make have impressively complex tastes. If you have a chance to visit Japan, I strongly encourage you to go to old Japanese sweets shops. You’ll enjoy what you taste.
As you might already guess, we are no Anko artisans. So we’ll show you an easy version of Anko. I promise it is still very good!
- 1 cup red beans
- 1 1/2 cup sugar
- Put red beans in a pot with 4-5 cups of water. Let boil for 5 minutes and discard water.
- In a clean pot, place red beans and 4-5 cups of water, cover, and let it simmer at low heat for 1 1/2 to 2 hours (add more water to keep above the beans). The beans should now be very soft, easily crushed between fingers.
- Discard water again, put soft beans back in the pot with sugar at medium high heat and constantly stir and mix about 10 minutes until forming a paste that looks shiny but still loose. Immediately transfer the paste to a container.