It’s always more fun to DIY. Every week on Food52, we’ll spare you a trip to the grocery store and show you how to make small batches of great foods at home.
When it comes to Asian sweets, red bean tends to get a little lost in the shuffle. Between the panoply of sticky sesame dumplings, warm egg custard buns, and lotus paste mooncakes, I tend to neglect red bean.
But combine red bean and ice cream and, suddenly, I have eyes for nothing else. Something about that earthy sweetness and extra bite of texture in a cold, creamy dessert gets me every time.
More: Momofuku’s Pork Buns are the perfect pre-game to your red bean ice cream party.
This homemade version took me a few tries to get right, but it was beyond worth it in the end. The key is not to use a fully mashed, smooth red bean paste like the kind you’ll find in steamed buns or mochi; its granular consistency will break up a custard when dissolved, resulting in an ice cream that crumbles instead of scoops. (I learned this the hard way.)
Instead, I used red beans that were cooked and sweetened but still intact — similar in consistency to the adzuki bean topping commonly used over Korean shaved ice. Fortified with the extra-smooth texture of a Jeni Britton Bauer base, the result is an ice cream that is not at all icy, but rather splendidly fluffy, dreamily scoopable, and studded with red beans. This is easily one of the best ice creams I’ve made (or had!) to date.
For the red bean topping:
Makes about 1 1/2 cups
1/2 cup red beans or adzuki beans
About 2/3 cup sugar (or more or less, according to preference)
For the ice cream:
Makes 1 quart
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 3/4 cups whole milk
4 tablespoons (2 ounces) cream cheese, softened
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
2/3 cup red bean topping or cooked, sweetened red beans (not paste), with syrup drained and reserved
3 tablespoons reserved red bean syrup
Submerge the red beans in cold water, covering them by at least an inch, and let them soak overnight. The next day, rinse the beans and combine them with two cups of fresh water in a small pot.
Bring the water to a boil, then turn the heat to low and let the beans simmer for about 1 1/2 hours, or until you can crush one easily between your fingers. You will need to add about 1/2 to 2/3 cup more water as it simmers down, but only add as much as is necessary to keep the beans covered. (I add about 1/3 cup at a time.) Remove the pot from the heat and let it cool.
When the beans are tender, add just enough water to cover the beans again, then add the sugar (to taste, so you may want less or more according to your preference) and stir until dissolved. Turn the heat to medium and bring to a rolling boil until the water forms a viscous syrup, about 10 to 15 minutes.
Mix the cornstarch with about 2 tablespoons of milk in a small bowl to make a smooth slurry. In a separate bowl, whisk the cream cheese and salt until smooth. Then, prepare an ice bath by filling a very large bowl with ice and water.
Next, combine the remaining milk, cream, sugar, and corn syrup in a pot or large (4-quart) saucepan. Bring the mixture to a rolling boil over medium-high heat, and boil for 4 minutes, stirring continuously.
Remove the pot from the heat and gradually whisk in the milk-cornstarch slurry. Return the pot to the stove and bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook, stirring with a heat-proof spatula, until slightly thickened, about 1 minute.
Remove from the heat, then gradually whisk the hot milk mixture into the cream cheese, tablespoon by tablespoon, keeping everything smooth.
When you’ve added enough milk to make the cream cheese mixture liquid, add it back to the hot milk mixture and stir to combine.
Then, add the sweetened red beans and reserved red bean syrup to the hot milk mixture, and pour everything into a 1-gallon freezer bag or a large jar. Submerge the bag or jar in the ice bath and let it cool completely. At this point, you can churn in an ice cream machine, or you can chill the mixture overnight in the refrigerator. I wanted a stronger red bean taste, so I let it sit overnight.
When you’re ready to churn, follow the manufacturer’s instructions, then freeze in the coldest part of your freezer until firm, about 4 hours. This makes about 1 quart. Scoop and serve with extra red bean topping!
Photos by Cynthia of Two Red Bowls