Food & Wine

It's Lantern Festival, time to eat Tang Yuan

Updated: 05 Mar 2015
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Tang Yuan (汤圆), also called Yuan Xiao, is a kind of stuffed dumpling ball which is made of glutinous rice flour. Its history can date back to the Song Dynasty (960–1279).

In Chinese, the pronunciation of Tang Yuan is similar to the word Tuan Yuan, which has the meaning of reunion and happiness in Chinese. Therefore, Tang Yuan is traditional served on the Dongzhi Festival and the Lantern Festival. It is also commonly found at Chinese weddings. It is believed that the new couple will have a sweet and round (no conflict) life.

It can be filled or unfilled and its fillings can be chopped peanuts, red bean paste, sesame paste, etc. Besides the wide choice of its fillings, you may also found Tang Yuan of various colors in the market nowadays.



We will be making sweet tangyuan filled with peanut, sesame and coconut in ginger syrup.

Since they freeze well you can have them any time of the year.



BONUS: this dessert is gluten-free! The gluten in glutinous rice is different from wheat, so make this and impress your celiac friends!

Step 1: Ingredients



3 tbsp peanut butter (smooth or crunchy; I prefer crunchy)
3 tbsp sugar
1½ tbsp sesame seeds, toasted
1½ tbsp unsweetened shredded coconut, toasted

2 cups glutinous rice flour
1 tbsp oil
about 1 cup water

3 cups water
1 stick brown sugar (or ½ cup packed brown sugar)
sliced ginger to taste
star anise (optional)

Step 2: Filling




First, toast the sesame seeds and coconut. You can do this in a dry frying pan on medium heat, and stir continuously until they are a uniform golden brown. I prefer to toast the ingredients separately as coconut can go from perfectly toasted to burned very fast.

If I am making this, I usually toast a lot more of each and then have toasted sesame seeds and toasted coconut on hand. Toasted sesame is very good on ramen or any kind of noodle dish and stir fries. Toasted coconut is great on your oatmeal, cereal, yogurt, in cakes and cookies, and both go in granola.

Stir all the filling ingredients together and put it in the fridge until needed.

Step 3: Dough




Measure out the flour. Make a well in the middle and add the oil and half the water. Stir until the dough turns stiff and lumpy. Then add the water a little at a time, stirring it in until everything comes together in a soft dough and it doesn't stick to the sides of your bowl. You may not have to use all the water for this. Cover the bowl with some plastic wrap while we make the syrup.

Step 4: Syrup




If you have access to a chinese grocery store, you can buy brown sugar in neat bars. If you don't, measure ½ cup of regular brown sugar and put it in the pot with the water and sliced ginger. I usually slice about 1½"-2" of ginger which is enough unless you like things spicier. I put a star anise in mine for a little exotic flavour. Bring the syrup to a simmer and stir until the sugar dissolves. Then cover and keep it on low heat until the dumplings are ready.

Step 5: Dumplings!




Take out about a quarter of the dough. Leave the rest covered in the bowl so it doesn't dry out. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured board into a rope about an inch thick and pinch it into 1" pieces.

Dust your hands with a little glutinous rice flour. Flatten one of the pieces of dough into an oval, and place a pea sized lump of filling onto it. Fold the dough in half and roll it between your hands to make a ball. Place the tangyuan onto a floured plate.

Repeat until you run out of dough. If you run out of filling, you can just make unfilled tangyuan.

At this point, the tangyuan can be easily frozen for later. Just put the plate in the freezer and transfer the tangyuan to a freezer bag once they are frozen.

Note: It is extremely tempting to put more and more filling into the dumplings as you make them! Try to resist this! You will end up with tangyuan that will leak all their delicious filling out into the broth when you cook them.

Step 6: Cooking




Bring the simmering syrup back to a boil. Hold a spoon or a ladle under the surface of the liquid and gently drop the tangyuan onto the spoon, then release it into the syrup. This helps prevent the tangyuan from sticking to the bottom. Don't crowd too many of them in the pot. When the tangyuan float, they are done!

If you are cooking them from frozen, just drop the frozen tangyuan right into the boiling syrup, bring back to a boil, and cook as above.

Step 7: Enjoy!



Ladle out the tangyuan into small bowls with some of the syrup and serve immediately. Eat them while they are still hot! If the tangyuan have been sitting a while in the bowl, they will start to stick together.

Feel free to experiment with different fillings. Traditional fillings include red bean and black sesame paste, but maybe you could try making them with chocolate? Fruit? Poppy seeds? Custard?




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