A traditional Chinese dessert of glutinous rice balls (tang yuan) filled with sweet black sesame paste in a fragrant sweet osmanthus and ginger soup.
This is a very much loved Chinese dessert that I could never have too much of, or too often. If I could trot everyday to my favourite Chinese desserts stall selling tang yuan, I would!
There’s something to be said of the sensation you’ll experience when you sink your teeth into a smooth, chewy glutinous rice ball, and feel that wonderful lava-like burst of sweet, nutty flavour assault your taste buds all at once! The sweet and the bland in perfect union. It’s my blissful taste of heaven.
Whenever I prepare home-made black sesame paste, I tend to make a sizeable batch (I’d end up with more than 2 cups), so there’s always more than extra to make sweet-tasting Chinese tang yuan. Tang yuan is a Chinese food made from glutinous rice flour which is mixed with some water to make a soft, pliable dough. This dough is then moulded into balls, and is cooked in water and served in the same or, as more popularly enjoyed, in a sweet soup. These glutinous balls can be made big or small, and eaten plain or filled with a variety of fillings such as red bean paste, ground peanuts, or sweetened black sesame paste. Often times, you will also find coloured glutinous balls in bright cheery tones of pink, yellow or green, which make for a really lovely presentation.
Tang yuan are traditionally eaten during the Yuanxiao or the Lantern Festival, or as special desserts at Chinese weddings and auspicious family occasions. These days, tang yuan is enjoyed as a dessert for any time or day. However, I have found that these are not always available at stalls serving traditional Chinese desserts. So, determined to enjoy tang yuan whenever I want some, I now make these at home. And black sesame filled glutinous rice balls are my absolute, absolute, favourite. In this home-made version, I like to add osmanthus which adds honey sweet undertones to your soup. I have come to love these adorable tiny flowers so much that I just can’t seem to have enough. Sprinkle them over your soup when serving – they look so, so pretty!
If you’ve never made filled glutinous rice balls before, just one piece of advice! Don’t let greed get the better of you! I’ve fallen victim on several occasions (will I never learn??) to my propensity to heap a sinful amount of filling onto the rolled out ball of dough, only to have these burst through the skin, either while I’m sealing up the edges, shaping it, or cooking it in simmering water. Once that happens, there’s no way to salvage the dough or filling. What’s even worse, if this happens in the water, you’ll end up with dirty looking water and a black speckled mess everywhere! You’ll have to change the water and bring a fresh pot to boil. So trust me on this one, less is more, in this instance.
You’ll want to finish with as many cooked, filled balls as you started out with. Or you can do what I do – when I’m done with cooking all the perfectly moulded balls and have scooped these out of the boiling water and into the sweet soup, I then cook the imperfect ones in the water. When done, I set these aside to be eaten separately. They might not look pretty, but I promise you, they will undoubtedly taste just as good!
I’ve adapted the process of preparing this, as it can be challenging to handle the dough, so I’ve included some tips in the accompanying recipe notes below, which I hope are helpful when you prepare this yourself. Please do take the time to read through the recipe notes, as I’ve learnt a lot from my own mistakes, and I would like to save you a lot of time and heartache! I found the original recipe at Perfectscook.com also very helpful if you are interested to browse.