A few weeks ago I had a most inspiring green tea muffin with azuki beans at Fresh Flours, a wonderful little Japanese/French bakery up here with me on Phinney Ridge. It reminded me that I bought a package of azuki beans at the Seiyu in Yokosuka, Japan with Hilary almost exactly two years ago. (Akk! Just found out Seiyu is owned by Wal-Mart!) They’ve been sitting quietly in my cupboard ever since (they even made the move with us). I’ve been meaning to explore with them a bit; they’re a staple in Japanese pastries and make a wonderfully sweet, earthy filling.
Anyway, when I had this particularly moist muffin, its interior had the unearthly flourescence that matcha gives almost anything. The beans looked like chocolate chips, and had a similar sweetness and mouthfeel, but obviously a completely different flavor. I vowed to recreate it.
Fast forward to last week, when I tasted Trader Joe’s boxed green tea muffin mix at an in-store sampling. It made my food memory spasm and triggered a must have response.
I’m not usually into boxed stuff, but I had this wild fantasy of recreating the Fresh Flours muffin with minimal work and research, right in the privacy of my own home. (It might be worth admitting here that I walk my dog daily to a turn-around spot exactly one block from Fresh Flours; it would be quite simple for me to pick one up every day.)
So. I got out the azuki beans. This is what the package told me:
Very helpful. But instead of going to the trusty internets to find out how to cook them (I only knew they needed to be boiled with sugar), I logically decided that guessing blindly would be the quickest, surest way to success. So I soaked them overnight, which did not change their appearance or texture in the slightest, and cooked them for a few hours with some sugar. The plan was this: I’d make the muffins according to the package instructions, using green tea instead of water to boost the flavor a bit, folding in some perfectly-cooked azuki beans like you would with blueberries, and topping them off with plenty of turbinado-style raw cane sugar.
When the beans seemed soft enough, I did all these things. I put the muffins in the oven, and they came out beautifully:
Then I looked down at the liquid I’d drained out of the azuki beans. It wasn’t so much a liquid as a caramel: a deep mahogany-colored, bean-flavored caramel.
It was beyond delicious; I wanted to dip anything I could get my hands on into it, bananas, chocolate, anything. But there was a problem: the leftover caramel meant that I had in fact cooked the beans in a sugar solution that had cooked too far; the beans in the muffins would have a caramelized coating on the outside, rather than a soft, fluffy exterior that would allow a little muffin batter to soak in.
Sure enough, when I bit into the first warm, steaming muffin, I got a wonderful green tea flavor and a mouth full of rocks.
Back to the drawing board.