How to Make Red Bean Ice Cream from Scratch

It's always more fun to DIY. Every week, we'll spare you a trip to the grocery store and show you how to make small batches of great foods at home.

Today: Cynthia of Two Red Bowls is placing the long-neglected red bean where it has always belonged: in ice cream. 

Red Bean Ice Cream

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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.

Red Bean Ice Cream

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.

Red Bean Ice Cream

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. 

Red Bean Ice Cream

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. 

Red Bean Ice Cream

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!

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by Cynthia of Two Red Bowls 

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Jo
  • Emma Galloway | My Darling Lemon Thyme
    Emma Galloway | My Darling Lemon Thyme
  • Sarah @ Snixy Kitchen
    Sarah @ Snixy Kitchen
  • Sophia R
    Sophia R
  • silverblue78


Jo March 10, 2015
Hi Cynthia,
I made this ice cream today because my mother was looking for red bean ice cream and I love Jeni's recipe. I used store bought sweetened red bean (not paste) btw. However, there were concerns of the ice cream having too much of a cream cheese taste. I'm curious if you noticed this with yours too? I've never tasted the cream cheese in any of Jeni's recipes before, so I thought it might be because red bean is not a very powerful flavour. The ice cream is still alright, but I would probably call it red bean cream cheese ice cream...or red bean cheese cake ice cream.. Because the cream cheese is quite overbearing. Thanks for any input you may have!
Cynthia C. March 11, 2015
Hi Jo, I'm so sorry that this didn't turn out how you wanted! I've never tasted the cream cheese in her recipes either and wasn't able to discern a cream cheese taste any time I've made this one. Maybe you'll have more luck with a recipe that doesn't use cream cheese, or if you wanted to give this one another try, you could try Neufchatel or low-fat cream cheese? Again, so sorry that it wasn't what you were looking for!
Emma G. July 28, 2014
This looks and sounds SOOO amazing Cynthia! I love beans in desserts.
Sarah @. July 21, 2014
Can't wait to try this, Cynthia (assuming I can't convince you just mail me a pint:)! Tossing the ice cream maker in the freezer just in case! hehe.
Sophia R. July 18, 2014
Amazing! I recently stocked up on adzuki beans to try all things sweet beans - ice cream might have to be one of those!
silverblue78 July 18, 2014
this sounds really, really good, but i may have missed something? when do you add the sugar to the beans? i'm assuming when the beans are soft (based on how i make chinese sweet soups)
Cynthia C. July 18, 2014
You're so right!!! Thank you so much for catching that! The recipe was missing a step -- it's just as you guessed, the sugar should be added when the beans are soft. It should be updated now. Sorry about that!
molly Y. July 18, 2014
mmmm yummy yummy yummy!!!!!! beautiful, cynthia!!!