Anpan is a beloved Japanese pastry that is filled with a sweet Adzuki red bean paste. So, if you’re a lover of Japanese red bean treats, you will love this sweet treat! Yep, this soft Japanese bread deserves a spot in your heart next to mochi, zenzai and dorayaki.
While many Asian bakeries offer this soft and sweet bun, you too can recreate them at home and enjoy them fresh from your own oven! Here’s our simple recipe on how to bake the classic Japanese pastry at home.
What is Anpan?
Anpan is a soft round Japanese bread that has azuki bean paste filling. The Japanese term for sweet red bean paste is “An” (餡,あん) or “Anko"(餡子, あんこ), and bread in Japanese is "pan"(パン). Therefore, the meaning of Anpan is literally sweet red bean bread. Apart from the traditional red bean anpan filling, many pastry chefs also use white beans, green beans, sesame, and chestnut as anpan fillings.
The Japanese bun was first made in 1875 during the Meiji period by Yasubei Kimura. He was a samurai who lost his job due to the dissolution of the samurai as a social class. When Japan was becoming more westernized, many samurai were given new jobs. The role of a baker was one of them.
Eventually, the ex-samurai founded the now famous bakery Kimuraya located in Ginza, Tokyo. Mr Kimura wanted to create a bread that suits Japanese tastes. Thus, he created Anpan with the idea of replacing the traditional Japanese red bean paste mochi with western bread.
When Yasubei Kimura put Anpan on the market at his bakery, it gained popularity right away. The bun was presented to the Meiji Emperor in the following year. This news spread around through the newspapers and word of mouth. Since then, the bakery and the bread have been highly recognized nationwide. Anpan Day is now celebrated on April 4th, which is the day of the bread presentation to the Meiji Emperor.
Taking inspiration from Kimuraya’s anko pastry, many patisseries have created variations of the bread. The earliest variation is the Tsukisamu Anpan, which was popular among the soldiers during the late Meiji Period. Nowadays, the pastry comes in a variety of textures and fillings. All of which are loved by many.
It has also made appearances in many anime. For example, if you are a fan of Studio Ghibli movies, you might have seen Anpan in ‘Spirited Away’. After cleaning the River Spirit in the film, the main character had eaten a huge bun with red bean paste.
Besides that, there is a famous Japanese cartoon character known as Anpanman. It is a red bean bread hero who gives hungry people pieces of his face to eat. You might have also heard of it from the BTS song, 'Anpanman', where they compared themselves to the cartoon character. In relation to that, the bun is also famous in Korea. However, the locals there call the Korean Anpan ‘Danpatbbang’.
Anpan vs Dorayaki
A significant difference between Anpan and dorayaki is the presence of yeast in their dough. The former is made with yeasted batter, whereas the latter isn't. Moreover, the former is a bun that has a bean paste filling. On the other hand, dorayaki is a sandwich of two pancakes with red bean paste. The pancakes also contain a higher percentage of fat than the bun.
They also differ greatly in terms of appearance. The red bean bun is usually round, fluffy, and topped with sesame seeds. On the other hand, dorayaki is slightly flatter and is shaped more like a disc. Therefore, you can easily distinguish them.
This classic Japanese bun tastes sweet and earthy. But just like any other Japanese treat with Anko, it isn't too sweet. It is also a little bit savoury. One could say that the filling tastes pretty similar to a cooked sweet potato with added sugar. The combination of soft bread with the burst of flavours from the filling surely makes it a heavenly treat.
Red bean paste (Anko)
Red bean paste, also known as Anko, is made of mashed adzuki beans boiled with sugar. It can be chunky with the bean shapes still intact or fine and smooth. The chunky form is tsubuan, whereas the smooth form is koshian. It also can be sweetened or unsweetened, depending on the type of food made. Most Japanese treats like dorayaki, mochi, and Anpan use sweetened red bean paste as a filling.
Anko is popularly used among the Chinese, Korean, and Japanese mainly due to its health benefits. It has many nutrients, such as vitamin B6, fibre, folate, and riboflavin. The Japanese love to incorporate it from pastries to desserts to main dishes in their cuisine. However, it is mainly used to make sweets. Hence, Japanese Anko is sweeter than those used in Chinese and Korean cuisines.
Making the Japanese red bean paste on your own from scratch is fairly simple. You just have to rinse the beans and soak them overnight. Then, boil them until they are soft and mushy. To make sweetened Anko, you will have to add sugar and boil it again until it thickens. Lastly, strain the mixture and mash the beans until the mixture is combined.
Our Anpan recipe contains about 280 calories per serving. It makes a wonderful tea-time treat or a light breakfast meal.
The process of making the pastry is lengthy, but you only need a few main ingredients to make it. It won't be difficult to find them as these ingredients are usually available at most supermarkets.
- Bread flour: You will need bread flour to form the structure of the bread. It should be noted that the amount of protein in the flour affects the bread texture. Therefore, we recommend using bread flour with 12-13% of protein to make the bun.
- Cake flour
- Egg: You need one large egg of about 50 grams for this recipe.
- Unsalted butter
- Instant dry yeast: It helps leaven the bread and gives it an airy and light texture. We recommend using instant dry yeast as it dissolves and activates quickly. Moreover, you can mix it into other dry ingredients right away.
- Red bean paste: You can either go for tsubuan (paste with chunks) or koshian (smooth paste), depending on your preference. You can use the chunky bean paste if you’d like your bun filling to have more texture. Moreover, you can either use the instant one or make it from scratch. You can also use different anpan fillings like white bean or green bean too!
- Sesame seeds: The Anpan bun is commonly topped with a cluster of black sesame seeds. But you can always use white sesame seeds. You can use them raw or toast them before garnishing.
You can replace cake flour with all-purpose flour and corn starch. Measure 1 cup of all-purpose flour and remove two tablespoons of it. Then, add two tablespoons of corn starch instead. This will make the equivalent of 1 cup of cake flour. Sift the flour to ensure that the corn starch is distributed well before using it.
You can also replace instant dry yeast with active dry yeast. The two ingredients are interchangeable. However, you need to dissolve active dry yeast in water before usage. You can activate it with milk at 110 degrees Fahrenheit or 43 degrees Celcius to make your Anpan. It is important to ensure that the milk is hot enough. Otherwise, the yeast won't dissolve properly.
You can use either tsubuan or koshian for the paste, depending on your tastes. Apart from using red bean paste to make the pastry, you can also use other bean pastes. For instance, you can make the pastry with shiroan or white bean paste. This will make Shiro Anpan which tastes very similar to the classic sweet red bean bun. In addition, there are lots of other pastes you can use, such as chestnut, pumpkin, and green bean paste.
Vegan Red Bean Buns
You can make this yummy snack vegan friendly with a few tweaks!
You can replace dairy milk with any non-dairy ones to make your Vegan Anpan. Soy milk works best when baking bread that needs a lot of structure. Besides that, almond milk is also an excellent alternative for baking bread.
However, please note that almond milk contains more water than dairy milk. Thus, it will make the bun bake faster. You can use both almond and soy milk at a ratio of 1:1 in place of dairy milk.
As for the egg, you can substitute it with aquafaba, a natural egg substitute for this recipe. It is the liquid that you can get from a can of chickpeas. Three tablespoons of aquafaba usually equate to one egg when making vegan baked goods.
How to make Anpan
Here is a quick process of making Anpan:
- Prepare the sweet bean paste and shape it into equal-sized balls.
- Mix the bread dough ingredients.
- Knead the bread dough.
- Wrap the bean paste balls with the bread dough.
- Proof the dough by covering it with a wrap or wrung out damp kitchen cloth.
- Bake them in a preheated oven and cool them before serving.
- You can save time by preparing the Anko in advance to save time on the day you’re making the bread. Alternatively, you can buy pre-made red bean paste.
- Sprinkle flour over the dough while working with it to reduce its stickiness. You can also lightly dust your hands with flour to prevent the batter from being too sticky.
- Punching the dough while kneading it can lengthen and stretch the gluten strands in the batter. This will make the dough more elastic.
- You can use a dough scraper to collect any batter stuck on the working surface. This can keep the working space less messy.
- Use the flat end of a small pestle or a rolling pin to neatly top the Anpan bun with sesame seeds in a round cluster. You can also use anything else with a ¾" diameter.
- Make the centre of the dough thicker than the edges. This will ensure that the thickness of the batter is uniform once you’ve wrapped it around the bean paste.
- Top the dough with egg wash before adding the sesame seeds. This will make sure that the sesame seeds will stick to the bun.
What to serve with
We highly recommend enjoying your Anpan with a matcha latte. In fact, it is a perfect match for any kind of Japanese green tea. Thus, you can also serve it with Hojicha. If you don’t prefer tea, snacking on it with a cup of coffee would be heavenly as well.
How to store
You can store the Anpan in an airtight container once it cools down. It can last for 2-3 days when stored in a cool place. You can also keep it in the freezer, which would last up to a month. However, we always recommend you enjoy the Japanese pastry fresh out of the oven!
Anpan Recipe (Japanese Red Bean Buns)
- 225 g bread flour
- 25 g cake flour
- ¼ cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon instant yeast
- 1 large egg
- 50 ml whole milk
- 50 ml water
- 2½ tbsps unsalted butter
- 280 g red bean paste
- 2 tsps sesame seeds
- Combine bread flour, cake flour, granulated sugar, salt, and dry yeast in a large bowl.
- Beat a large egg in a separate small bowl and add it into the large bowl.
- Add in milk and water. Make sure that both of them have been stored at 30 degrees Celcius.
- Gently mix the anpan ingredients until they are well combined. Keep mixing for about 2 minutes until it turns into a loose and sticky ball.
- Sprinkle flour onto a clean and stable surface. Then, transfer the dough onto the surface.
- Start punching the dough by pressing the heels of your hands into the dough. Then, slightly push it forward and fold the top half back to you. Next, rock forward on the lower part of your palm to flatten it. Turn the entire piece slightly clockwise, fold it in half, and rock it with the lower part of your palm again. Repeat this step for about 5 minutes.
- Once the dough is more elastic, press and stretch it until it is about 10 inches. Then, place small cubes of unsalted butter on it. Roll it up while tucking the butter in and continue kneading. The dough will absorb the butter and eventually becomes smoother.
- Next, bang the anpan dough, rotate it 90 degrees, and punch it using the lower part of your palm. Continue this for 10 minutes or until the entire piece becomes smooth, supple, and silky.
- Pull the end of the dough with your thumbs and fingers. Spread and stretch it into a thin translucent membrane to check whether the dough is ready to rise. It should be ready if it does not tear. Otherwise, knead it for another 2 minutes and repeat this step.
- Pull the sides of the piece to the bottom and pinch them together to turn it into a ball.
- Place the dough in a bowl with the seam at the bottom for proofing. Then, cover it with a wrung-out damp kitchen cloth or plastic wrap. Let it rise for 1-2 hours in a warm place.
- Dust your index finger with flour and poke the centre of the piece. Proceed with the next step if the hole doesn’t close.
- Press the anpan dough with your hands to release gas and deflate it. Then, fold both sides of the dough to the centre. Next, fold in thirds towards the middle and flip it. Keep the seamed side at the bottom.
- Shape it into a ball and turn it clockwise with both hands. The seam line should touch the work surface.
- Cut it into eight equal-sized pieces using a scraper and shape them into a ball. Then, put them on a baking sheet. Using plastic wrap, cover it and let it rest for 15 minutes at room temperature.
- Once that is done, flatten the dough with your hand. Then, fold it in thirds twice before shaping it into a ball. Press it again, so it stretches to about 3-inch diameter. Then, place a ball of red bean paste in the middle of the dough. Next, pull the sides to wrap around the paste and seal it tightly.
- Pinch the seam to secure it and place it on the baking sheet with the seam at the bottom. Once again, cover the dough and let it rise in a warm place until it doubles in size for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven at 200 degrees Celcius once the it has risen halfway.
- Add an egg and two tablespoons of water to a small bowl. Whisk it well. Then, brush the egg wash over the pastry piece using a pastry brush. Next, prepare the sesame seeds in a separate small bowl. Dip the flat round side of your rolling pin in the egg wash and the sesame seeds. Then, stamp it on top of the dough.
- Bake it for 13-15 minutes. Once baked, transfer the bread to a cooling rack and let it cool. Serve warm and enjoy your anpan!
- You can sprinkle the sesame seeds over the anpan pastry instead of using the dipping method.
- Set the oven to 38 degrees Celcius to proof the dough in the oven. Take note that you will have to transfer it to a warmer place when preheating the oven.
Calories have been calculated using an online calculator. Nutritional information offered on Honest Food Talks is for general information purposes and are only rough estimations.
Wondering what the whole process looks like? Homemade luxuries has an excellent video recipe showing how to make the freshly baked sweet red bean bun at home.
How did your anpan turn out? Share with us your baked masterpieces by tagging us on Instagram @honestfoodtalks! We would love to see how your homemade pastries turned out!