Tang yuan is a traditional Chinese dessert which is well loved by all generations. They’re basically glutinous rice balls (either filled or unfilled) that are served in a sweet broth. They’re most popular during the winter solstice (Dongzhi festival) – usually celebrated in December (it was on the 22nd last year), and symbolizes the day in the year where the day is the shortest. After this celebration, the Chinese believe that the days will be filled with more hours of sunlight, and therefore and increase in the amount of positive energy. In addition, eating these during the winter solstice also symbolizes becoming a year older. (I choose to ignore this last fact, because if I truly age a year everytime I eat tang yuan, I would cringe to think how old I am now…)
Besides eating these during the winter solstice, tang yuan are also made on special celebrations (such as Chinese New Year) and used as an offering to the gods. They are also served during weddings, where I was told (a long time ago by one of my aunts) that it is considered good luck for the bride and groom to not chew on the tang yuan when eating them – i.e. it is better if you swallow them whole. Now, this is easier said than done as these little babies are seriously sticky!
There are many variants of tang yuan, and as I mentioned earlier they can be either filled or unfilled. The unfilled tang yuans tend to be smaller in size (I’m not sure why), and also tend to be more colourful. The fillings for tang yuan vary – popular fillings are black sesame paste, peanut paste and red bean paste. The tang yuan are then cooked in a pot of boiling water, and served with a sweet broth. Again, there are many types of sweet broth – my favourite is a sweet broth made with ginger and rock sugar. (Other variants: red bean soup, a combination of fermented glutinous rice/sweet osmanthus/rock sugar)
Now, I’d never made these before last year as I always thought they were really hard to make. And I was wrong. VERY wrong. These little babies are one of the easiest Chinese foods to make, and I’m not kidding. All you need are 3 ingredients – how much better could it get? And of course, since I discovered how un-difficult these are to whip up, I have been making them on a semi-regular basis. These photos have rather embarassingly been sitting in my pile of archives since last year, and I’m glad that I’m finally getting round to blogging about them.
- 2 cups glutinous rice flour
- 1 tbsp caster sugar
- 200ml water
- food coloring (optional)
1. Mix glutinous rice flour with sugar in a large bowl.
2. Add the water, and slowly knead until it forms a soft paste that does not stick to your hands. (The mixture is very gloopy and sticky at first, but the more you knead it, the less sticky it gets)
3. If you wish to have colourful tang yuans, divide the dough into portions, and add a few drops of food colouring to each portion. Knead the dough until the food colouring is evenly distributed throughout the dough.
4. Shape the dough into 1-2cm balls.
5. Drop the balls into a pot of boiling water. The tang yuan will float to the surface of the water once they are cooked. Once this happens, transfer the tang yuan to the sugar broth. (The reason for boiling the tang yuan in a separate pot is so that they won’t “cloud” up your sweet broth. It’s not a compulsory step though, and on my lazy days I do just cook the tang yuan in the sweet broth to make washing up easier.)
- 230g (just under 1 cup) glutinous rice flour
- 3/4 cup water
- 1/4 cup black sesame seeds, toasted
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup butter, softened
1. Grind the black sesame seeds until they form a fine powder (I used my mini food processor).
2. Heat a small pan over medium high heat, and transfer the ground sesame seeds into this pan. Add the softened butter and sugar to the mixture and stir until it forms a smooth paste.
3. Set aside to cool in the fridge.
4. Whilst the black sesame filling is cooling in the fridge, prepare the glutinous rice balls. The method for this are similar to that described above.
5. Divide the tang yuan dough into 20 balls.
6. Flatten each ball in your palm, and place a pinch of black sesame paste in the middle of each flattened disc. Fold up the edges (towards the centre of the disc), and press to seal. Once you have done this, lightly roll it into a ball. Take care to not get too excited with the rolling, or you may end up with a burst tang yuan and lots of sesame paste in your hands!
7. Cook the tang yuan as above, in the boiling hot water.
For the sweet broth:
- 4-5 cups water (how much water you use depends on how much broth you want)
- 2 pandan (screwpine) leaves, knotted
- 1/2 cup rock sugar/brown sugar/caster sugar
- 2 inches of ginger
1. Boil the water in a pot until it starts to bubble.
2. Add the pandan leaves and ginger, and boil for 5 minutes. Add the sugar, turn the heat down, and simmer for 15-20minutes.