Tang Yuan (Glutinous Rice Balls)

January 25, 2022
3 Ratings
Photo by MJ Kroeger, prop styling by Brooke Deonarine, food styling by Lauren Lapenna
  • Prep time 15 minutes
  • Cook time 15 minutes
  • Serves 2 to 3
Author Notes

Made with glutinous rice flour, these chewy dumplings are filled with nutty black sesame and served in a light, fragrant ginger syrup. My grandma serves tang yuan (tong yuen in Cantonese) at the end of celebratory meals, like those marking the winter solstice or the arrival of the Lunar New Year. Across China, these dumplings are filled with various sweet fillings, including red bean paste, lotus seed paste, chopped peanuts, and more. They’re usually served in tong sui, which literally translates into “sugar water” and is what the Cantonese call “dessert soups,” such as red bean soup, black sesame soup, or walnut soup. Eaten during the Lunar New Year with your family, these dumplings symbolize togetherness and harmony for the year ahead.

Although these dumplings are widely available in the freezer aisle of many Asian grocery stores, they’re remarkably easy to make. I like to make a big batch of these dumplings—along with the ginger syrup—and store them in my freezer for an easy dessert on cold winter evenings. Traditionally, the sesame filling for tang yuan is made by grinding black sesame seeds with sugar and lard. However, I’ve opted for tahini (or black sesame paste) here, which lends creaminess and an even nuttier flavor to the filling. Hope that you enjoy making these rice balls for a celebration as much as I do. —Genevieve Yam

What You'll Need
  • Ginger Syrup:
  • 1 cup (213 grams) light brown sugar
  • 1 (3-inch) piece ginger (about 40 grams), sliced
  • Filling & Dough:
  • 1/2 cup (50 grams) packed toasted black sesame powder
  • 3 tablespoons (48 grams) tahini or black sesame paste
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1½ teaspoons granulated sugar
  • 1 pinch kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 cups (275 grams) Mochiko sweet rice flour
  • 3/4 cup (177 milliliters) boiling water, plus more as needed
  1. Ginger Syrup:
  2. In a small pot, bring 6 cups of water to a boil. Add the brown sugar, whisking to dissolve, then add the ginger. Reduce the heat to medium-low, bring to a very low simmer, and cover the pot. Let simmer while you make the dumplings.
  1. Filling & Dough:
  2. In a food processor, pulse the sesame powder with the sugar and salt until finely ground. Add the tahini and pulse just until it comes together. Transfer to a small bowl, cover with a damp towel, and set aside.
  3. Place the flour in a medium bowl. Pour the boiling water over and incorporate with a rubber spatula. Let cool slightly. Knead the dough with your hands—it will look and feel dry at first, but keep kneading until it comes together. Form a smooth ball, return to the bowl, and cover with a damp towel. This dough dries out very quickly, and while you can revive it by massaging it with a bit more water, it’s best to work fast and keep it covered with a damp cloth or paper towel at all times.
  4. Portion out the dough into 30-gram pieces. Roll each into a ball, return to the bowl, and cover again with the damp towel. Keep a bowl of water to dip your hands into and a damp towel next to you while you work.
  5. Working one at a time to prevent the dough from drying out, gently press the dough to flatten into a circle around 3 inches wide. If the dough feels dry or stiff, dip your hands into the bowl of water and massage the dough until it feels hydrated again.
  6. Using a 1-teaspoon measuring spoon, scoop some of the sesame filling into the center of the dough, then gently pull the sides together to enclose. Roll into a ball (just as you’d roll a Parker House Roll) and set aside. Repeat with the remaining filling and dough.
  7. Bring the ginger syrup to a healthy simmer, then gently plop the dumplings in one at a time. Cook for about 10 minutes, until they float and the dough looks slightly translucent. The filling should be hot (cut one open to see).
  8. Spoon some syrup into 2 or 3 bowls, along with the dumplings. Leave the ginger behind in the pot. Serve hot.
  9. Do Ahead: Once formed, the dumplings can be frozen for up to 3 months. To freeze, arrange them flat on a sheet tray. Once frozen, store in a zip-top bag or airtight container. Any extra filling can be refrigerated for up to 2 weeks or frozen for up to 3 months. I do not recommend keeping the tang yuan in the fridge after you’ve cooked them. The cooked dough becomes a firmer and even unpleasant texture when reheated.

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