Fall is, hands-down, my favorite time of year. When I feel the first inklings of a chill in the air, I gladly replace iced Americanos with steaming oat milk cappuccinos, exchange tossed salads for hearty roasted vegetables, and dig into my box of warming spices. Although classic, dependable fall flavors like apple and pumpkin often get the spotlight in the baking world, I’ve found that red bean paste, with its mellow sweetness and earthy creaminess, has just as much potential to shine during this season.
For October’s cake installment, I developed a batch of muffin-shaped, red bean-filled cakes as a nod to a hodu-gwaja, a Korean treat that translates as “walnut cake/cookie.” The soft, bite-size balls are filled with walnuts and red bean paste, and dangerously easy to eat in pairs (one is never enough). Growing up, I was lucky enough to have hodu-gwaja only when my family stopped by an H-Mart in a major city or when we received them as a gift. To this day, the small, paper-wrapped pastries still have a certain nostalgic factor for me. Although you can make hodu-gwaja at home, I find it hard to justify purchasing the special-use mold just for this purpose — so as an alternative, I set out to translate the main flavors, red bean paste and walnuts, into something that could be baked in a trusty, run-of-the-mill muffin pan.
Using a mixture of all-purpose and sweet rice flours yields cakes with a moist, slightly springy texture, and sweetened red bean paste (opt for the smooth, fine variety like this one, rather than the chunkier kind) is both creamed into the batter and dolloped on top of it by the tablespoon. As the cakes bake, the red bean paste sinks to the center while most of the chopped toasted walnuts remain on top, resulting in a balance of creamy, crunchy, and soft textures. Baked in muffin pans (thoroughly grease the wells first), the cakes make for individually portioned, handheld treats that work as well for breakfast as they do for an afternoon pick-me-up.
Though my interpretation of hodu-gwaja takes quite a few liberties with the original, it retains the same familiar flavors in a simple, approachable format. And it also boasts longevity: the sour cream and red bean paste keep the cakes soft for a few days when stored in an airtight container, which means you can share some of them and make your way through the rest. They’re a great way to welcome the cooler temperatures — and proof that red bean and walnuts belong on the season’s flavor roster.
Red Bean and Walnut Snack Cakes
Makes 18 muffin-sized cakes
¾ cup (105g) all-purpose flour
½ cup, lightly packed (70g) sweet rice flour, like Mochiko
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup (113g) unsalted butter, softened
½ cup (100g) granulated sugar
¼ cup (50g) light brown sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup (145g) fine sweetened red bean paste, plus more for topping the cakes (such as this one)
½ cup (120g) full-fat sour cream, at room temperature
¼ cup (55g) whole milk, at room temperature
Chopped toasted walnuts, for topping
Step 1: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and thoroughly grease two 12-cup muffin pans — you’ll need to grease 18 of the cups (I like to use Pam’s Baking Cooking Spray for consistent results).
Step 2: In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
Step 3: In a large bowl, beat the butter with an electric hand mixer or in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until smooth. Add both sugars and cream the mixture until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Scrape down the bowl with a rubber spatula.
Step 4: Add in the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition until combined. Scrape the bowl once more, then beat in the vanilla and red bean paste until incorporated.
Step 5: Add half of the dry ingredients to the red bean mixture and beat just until combined. Carefully beat in the sour cream and milk, then add the rest of the dry ingredients and beat just until the batter is smooth.
Step 6: Divide the batter between 18 muffin wells (unlined is fine, as long as you’ve greased well) and smooth the surface with your finger. Dollop a tablespoon of red bean paste on the center of each cake and sprinkle with chopped walnuts.
Step 7: Bake the cakes for 15-20 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Step 8: Let the cakes cool in the pans for 10-15 minutes, then gently run a small offset spatula around the edges of the cakes to loosen and place onto a cooling rack.
Joy Cho is a freelance writer, recipe developer, and pastry chef based in New York City.
Leah Nash is a photographer based in Portland, Oregon.
Recipe tested by Deena Prichep