Tang Yuan, Chinese glutinous rice balls (汤圆)

A sweet, nutty, runny filling sealed with a slippery, chewy wrapper, Tang Yuan (Chinese glutinous rice balls) is a delectable dessert not to miss. 

Two bowls of Tang Yuan (Chinese glutinous rice balls). A sweet, nutty, runny filling sealed with a slippery, chewy wrapper, a delectable dessert not to miss.

Traditionally, Chinese New Year (Spring Festival, 春节) celebrations last 15 days and on the last day of this festive period, known as the Lantern Festival (or Yuan Xiao jie, 元宵节), a delightful dessert called Tang Yuan (汤圆) is served as part of the family reunion meal. With an interesting texture and a super tasty flavour, Tang Yuan is one of my favourite Chinese sweet treats and one I cook all year-round as dessert for dinner parties.

A joy on your palate

Tang Yuan (汤圆) is kind of like round dumplings. The dough is made of glutinous rice flour and water, and the filling usually consists of ground nut, sugar and lard. It’s pure joy to eat freshly cooked Tang Yuan. After you bite through the slippery, chewy wrapper, the sweet, nutty and runny filling slowly fills your mouth. Absolutely delectable!

Two colours & two fillings

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know how much I love colourful food and how I prefer dyeing food with natural ingredients. In this recipe, I make the Tang Yuan wrappers in two colours: white, the original version, and pink, using beetroot juice instead of water. I also introduce two popular fillings: black sesame seeds and peanuts. Lard, widely used in Chinese desserts and pastries, is mixed into the filling for the flavour and fluidness. However, please feel free to replace it with butter or coconut oil if you prefer.

The key to great filling

Using either black sesame seeds or peanuts for the filling, you will need to toast them first. Toasting peanuts is easy. When they turn lightly brown, you know they are ready. As for black sesame seeds, it’s a bit trickier. Due to their dark colour, you could easily overcook them (therefore leaving a burnt flavour) without realizing it. Therefore, you need to keep a close eye while toasting. When the flat seeds plump up and are very easy to break when crushed with your fingers, they are done.

The best filling for Tang Yuan should be runny when cooked. However, you need the filling to be firm enough to handle when wrapped with the dough. So keep them refrigerated before assembling. To accelerate the process, you may also put them in the freezer for a short while.

Tips on perfect dough

The wrappers for Tang Yuan call for glutinous rice flour. It’s mixed with water (or juice for colour) to form a dough. Unlike normal dough made of wheat flour, this type of dough doesn’t stretch much, thus you might find it easy to crack. Make the dough very soft and be gentle when handling. If cracks do appear during assembling process, simply wet the broken part with a tiny layer of water, then rub gently to reseal.

A serving suggestion

When serving Tang Yuan, you need to add some hot water from the pot to the serving bowl. This helps to keep Tang Yuan warm (thus the filling stays runny). To make this dessert more sophisticated and tastier, I often replace water with a Chinese pear stew soup. Please refer to my recipe of Pear with Rock Sugar if you are interested.

Tang Yuan, Chinese glutinous rice balls (汤圆)
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Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 5 minutes

Yield: make 20 balls

Tang Yuan, Chinese glutinous rice balls (汤圆)

A sweet, nutty, runny filling sealed with a slippery, chewy wrapper, Tang Yuan (Chinese glutinous rice balls) is a delectable dessert not to miss.

Ingredients

    For the filling
  • 80g / 2.8oz black sesame seeds or peanuts
  • 30g / 2.5 tablespoons sugar
  • 40g / 1.4oz lard or butter, softened
  • For the wrapper
  • 130g / 4.5oz glutinous rice flour
  • 45g / 3 tablespoons boiling water
  • 60g / 4 tablespoons room temperature water or beetroot juice

Instructions

  1. Prepare the filling: Toast black sesame seeds (or peanuts) in a frying pan over a low heat (see note 1). In a food processor, grind cooled black sesame seeds (or peanuts) and sugar until they turn into a paste texture. Add lard (or butter). Mix to combine then keep refrigerated until the mixture is firm enough to handle. Divide into 20 portions. Shape each piece into a ball. Put them back in the fridge while preparing the dough.
  2. Make the dough: In a mixing bowl, pour hot water into glutinous rice flour while stirring with a spatular. Add room temperature water (or beetroot juice) little by little. Knead with your hand until a smooth, soft dough forms (see note 2). Divide and roll into 20 balls.
  3. Assemble Tang Yuan: Flatten a piece of dough into a round wrapper with your fingers. Place a ball of filling in the middle. Gently push the wrapper upwards to seal completely (see note 3). 
  4. Cook Tang Yuan: Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Gently slide in some Tang Yuan (see note 4). Push them around with the back of a cooking spoon to prevent them from sticking to the bottom of the pot. When all the balls start to float on the surface, cook for a further minute. Dish out (along with some liquid) and serve warm.
  5. Store Tang Yuan: Freeze Tang Yuan right after they are assembled. Firstly you need to lay them on a tray lined with parchment paper to freeze. Then put them in an air-tight bag when totally frozen. Follow the same cooking procedure (do not defrost).

Notes

1. Keep a close eye on black sesame seeds while toasting. When the flat seeds plump up and are very easy to break when crushed with your fingers, they are done. Do not overcook as it would lead to an unpleasant burnt flavour.

2. The amount of room temperature water (or beetroot juice) required varies depending on the brand of the flour. Adjust if necessary. The finished dough needs to be smooth, very soft but not sticky. If you are not using the dough straightaway, wrap it with cling film to avoid drying out.

3. To make assembling easier, the filling should be quite firm (you may put them in the freezer for a short while to accelerate the process). Unlike dough made of wheat flour, the dough made of glutinous rice flour isn’t very elastic. It may crack during the assembling process (especially if it’s not soft enough). If cracks appear, wet the broken part with a tiny layer of water then rub gently to reseal.

4. Cook Tang Yuan in batches. They expand while cooking (about 1.5 times bigger in the end) so make sure it’s not too crowded when all the Tang Yuan are floating on the surface.

https://redhousespice.com/tang-yuan/

Hope you find my Tang Yuan recipe appealing and easy to follow. And again, wishing you all a very Happy Year of the Dog!

An enthusiastic cook with a Chinese palate and a global mindset.

Other classic Chinese dessert recipes:

Pear with rock sugar – two ways (冰糖雪梨)

Hong Kong style mango pancake (芒果班戟)

A sweet, nutty, runny filling sealed with a slippery, chewy wrapper, Tang Yuan (Chinese glutinous rice balls) is a delectable dessert not to miss.

4 thoughts

  1. We just made this! Unfortunately I made the dough and then had to go out for dinner, and I think the cool down made the dough less workable. Will not delay next time. Also will reduce the sugar a bit, we prefer a bit less sugar 🙂 but a successful first try! Thank you!

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