Red Bean Paste Is The Underrated Ingredient Your French Toast Needs

What's the best use for leftover bread? For sweet fiends and brunch lovers, French toast is a clear winner. Indeed, the recipe is like a magic trick. One stale heel of bread is transformed with eggs and syrup into the kind of decadent treat that seems too good to be true. But what if there was a way to give an even more sophisticated twist to this at home classic? 

For that, you can turn to one of Japan's finest ingredients: sweet red bean paste. A 50/50 blend of sugar and red beans, the rich, starchy flavor of the paste is akin to sweet potato or pumpkin, making it a perfect addition to the soft, eggy French toast formula. In fact, sweet red bean paste, often called an or anko, is already a common sweet addition to bread and breakfast items in Japan. 

This delicious combination stands out in two particular breakfast items: the Ogura Toast and Anko butter sandwich. The former pairs a slice of toasted shokupan or milk bread with a smear of butter and red bean paste, while the latter features the same combo but stuffed into a bun. For your red bean French toast, you'll be recreating this formula, just with the decadent addition of custard and a few other tasty ingredients.

A sophisticated Japanese twist on French toast

To build your red bean paste French toast, start with your favorite enriched bread. Challah, milk bread, and brioche are all luxurious options, but you could also use a plain sandwich white bread. You can either dollop the red bean paste on top and spread it around, or stuff a thin layer of it between two pieces of French toast. If you go for the stuffing route, think of adding a bit of cream cheese or mascarpone so that the filling is a little creamier. 

Keep in mind that you have two kinds of red bean paste to choose from. The first, koshian, is a fine paste. The second, tsubuan, is chunkier, embedding bits of the whole red bean within. Whichever one you choose may depend on your textural preference, but both will impart plenty of sweet, starchy flavor. After you've picked your bread, style of paste, and how you'll incorporate it, you can proceed with the recipe like you would do with any other French toast preparation.

Adding complementary flavors to the mix

If you enjoy this Japanese French toast twist, there are some more classic Asian flavors you can mix into this unique formula. First, consider going in the direction of Hong Kong-style French toast. This type champions the creamy decadence of a sweetened condensed milk topping combined with peanut butter filling. If you swap the peanut butter for the red bean paste, but keep that divine drizzle topping, you'll have an epic crossover on your hands. 

Another Japanese addition that would work well with the red bean paste is a bit of verdant and earthy matcha tea. Simply mix some matcha powder in with your custard before soaking your toast in it. The herbal, grassy notes of the tea bring a nice counterpoint to the mostly sweet red bean French toast. 

Looking for something spicy? Reach for Chinese five spice, a traditional spice blend that features fennel, cinnamon, cloves, star anise, and Szechuan peppercorns. Imparting both sweet licorice notes as well as a touch of heat, this blend should help brighten up the mild red bean flavor. Whatever adaptation you chose, a bit of red bean paste will open up your French toast to a whole slew of other sweet upgrades.