How To Make Tangyuan: Glutinous Rice Dumplings In Ginger Syrup

tang yuan
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A symbol of harmony, unity and reunion, tangyuan or glutinous rice balls are a popular festive food that is commonly eaten during festivals such as the Yuanxiao Festival, Winter Solstice Festival and even during weddings. Today it has evolved to a dessert that is consumed throughout the year but especially popular during these festivals. Here’s a simple recipe on how you can make tangyuan on your own.


Fun Historical Facts About The Tangyuan

Historical Facts About The Tangyuan
Photo by zheng juan on Unsplash

Historically, several different names were used to refer to this food. The tangyuan was originally known as “Yuanxiao” in Nothern China during the Yongle era of the Ming Dynasty. The name directly translates to mean “the first evening” and was derived from the Yuanxiao Festival, 

However, in southern China, it is known as tangyuan. Legend has it that during Emperor Yuan Shikai’s rule from 1912 to 1916, he disliked the name yuanxiao because it sounded identical to “remove Yuan” in Chinese, and thus he gave orders to change the name to tangyuan.

Nowadays, however, “tangyuan” usually refers to the southern style, while “yuanxiao” refers to the northern style, differentiated by their method of preparation.


Ingredients to make Tangyuan with Sesame and Peanut Filling

Serves 4 – 5 People

For the Dumpling Dough (for one type of filling)

  • ½ cup of cold water
  • 1¼ cups glutinous rice flour
  • A few drops of food colouring (red, green, yellow), optional

For the Ginger Syrup

  • 3 medium slices of fresh ginger, peeled
  • 2 pandan leaves knotted, optional
  • Several large pieces of rock sugar, to taste
  • 3 to 4 cups of water

For the Black Sesame Filling

  • ½ cup black sesame seeds, toasted
  • 2 tablespoons raw sugar (or caster sugar)
  • 2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon coconut oil (softened)
  • 2 teaspoons honey (optional)

For the Peanut Filling

  • ¼ cup caster sugar
  • ½ cup coarsely ground peanuts
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter softened

Steps to make Tangyuan with Sesame and Peanut Filling

To make the black sesame filling

  1. Grind the toasted sesame seeds in a high-speed blender until they form a coarse paste.
  2. Add the sugar and coconut oil and mix well. If the mixture still seems very crumbly, mix in 2 teaspoons of honey.
  3. Chill the sesame mixture for 10 to 15 minutes.
  4. Form the chilled sesame paste mixture into 16 small balls and gently place them on a plate lined with baking parchment or plastic wrap.
  5. Freeze for 40 minutes or longer.

To make the sweet peanut filling

  1. Mix the peanuts, sugar and butter until an even paste forms.
  2. Create ¾ inch balls from the paste. If the paste is too dry, add a little more butter to the mixture.
  3. Place the balls in the fridge to chill

To make the dough

  1. Place the glutinous rice flour into a round mixing bowl.
  2. Pour cold water over the flour. Knead the dough till it has a firm yet malleable consistency (similar to play dough), adding more water by the teaspoons if necessary.
  3. Divide the dough if you intend to add different food colouring and mix separately, washing your hands in between.

Making the Tangyuan

  1. Roll some dough into a ball about 1½ inches thick and coat lightly with glutinous rice flour.
  2. Flatten the ball into a large circle, place a piece of the prepared peanut or sesame paste in the centre.
  3. Wrap the dough around it, seal it well, then lightly roll into a ball with both palms. Repeat this process until all the dumplings are formed.
  4. Fill a pot with water and add ginger, pandan leaves and rock sugar to taste. Place the pot over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Once the pieces of rock sugar are fully dissolved, gently place the dumplings in the water.
  5. Boil the dumplings for about 5 minutes, or until they float to the surface and become translucent.
  6. Put the cooked tangyuan in a bowl of cold water to stop them from overcooking (to maintain the springy texture).
  7. Serve the cooked tangyuan in a bowl of the hot sweet ginger soup.