Tang Yuan 汤圆 (Glutinous Rice Balls)

These are a Chinese dessert typically served during 元宵, or Lantern Festival. It’s a bit like nuo mi ci (糯米糍), or the other glutinous rice balls in that it is also made with glutinous rice flour. It’s actually a lot alike nuo mi ci, just smalled and served in a sugary soup. They even share some of the same fillings, such as red bean, black sesame, peanut, etc.

Making these small glutinous rice balls are easier, in my opinion, since the ingredients are just rice flour, water, and red bean paste. The red bean paste can be store-bought, or homemade. I love homemade red bean paste. It isn’t as sweet and still has some whole beans in it. Most store-bought paste is almost sickeningly sweet and has an off taste and textureless. If you have time, just boil a pot of red beans until tender, add sugar to taste and a tiny amount of oil, and mash together.

Tang Yuan 汤圆 (Glutinous Rice Balls)
makes about 15 3cm balls

250 grams glutinous rice flour (usually half the 500 gram package sold in Asian food stores)
about 3/4 c. hot water, more or less as needed
red bean paste or other filling

  1. Mix the water into the rice flour, a little at a time, until you have a pretty soft dough that holds together.
  2. Knead a few times and let rest for about 15 minutes.
  3. Pinch off small balls a little smaller than 1 inch in diameter.
  4. Flatten in your palm and drop a small dollop of red bean paste into the middle. Pinch the edges closed and roll between your palms until round. Use a little water if the dough is hardening too fast.
  5. Bring a pot of water to boil. Drop the rice balls into the water and boil until they float.
  6. Add a little sugar to the broth, if desired, and serve with a little of the broth.


Moon Cake

I hope that wherever you live, there’s a Chinatown, or at the very least, there’s a good Chinese grocery store. Not only can you get cheap veggies and excellent rice (even though I don’t like rice), you can get all sorts of typical and atypical Chinese snacks and desserts. This is a typical dessert eaten as part of a tradition during Mid-autumn Festival in China. No we’re not celebrating the festival yet, it isn’t for another couple of months, but we are having the cake.

It isn’t really a cake in the layered, frosted affair you may be familiar with. Rather, it has a pastry crust that is often ornate, like this one, and a rich, sweet filling. This one has a lotus-paste filling. Other ones may contain red bean, nuts, or two egg yolks. The egg yolks symbolize “togetherness” and “reunion”. They are pickled and provide nice contrast with the sweet filling.

These are actually mini moon cakes. They are very cute, only about one and a half inches across. I’ve tried to make moon cakes of my own many years back. They tasted good but lacked much in the looks department. The commercially produced ones are all pressed in a moon cake mold, made of wood, so the cake takes its round fluted shape and gets a design on top. Maybe one day I’ll try to hunt down a mold and make moon cakes again.

The little cakes sure are cute, huh? 😉

Glutinous Rice Balls (糯米糍 Nuo Mi Ci)

My sister is sick with the stomach flu. She gets it a few times a year. It isn’t supposed to be anything serious, but something that happens to all kids (Carolyn is six). But looking at the perpetual frown on her darling little face, I can’t help but feel terrible. Since eight this morning I’ve had to help her throw up three times. 😦

So I’m sitting beside her on the computer, watching her watch TV, and trying to keep fluids down in her so she doesn’t become dehydrated. Poor Carolyn, not even Curious George is doing a good enough job at distracting her. I hope she gets better very soon, so she can enjoy the glutinous rice balls that I’ve made.

So, we have glutinous rice balls, called 糯米糍 (nuo mi ci) in Chinese, is a type of dessert or snack found in most Chinatown bakeries overseas. It is made of glutinous rice flour mixed with water or milk and sugar, and filled with various fillings such as red bean paste, black sesame, or peanuts. It is then rolled in shredded coconut and served in paper cupcake liners. There seems to be two ways of making these chewy snacks. One is by mixing the dough, putting the whole sticky mass onto a plate, steaming it thoroughly, then adding filling and  shaped into balls. The other way, the way I chose to make it, is by filling and shaping first, then cooking it. I boiled mine, although there are recipes out there that call for steaming.

Unfortunately, I didn’t stick with precise measurements for making my rice balls. It amounts to mixing some rice flour (found in Chinese grocery stores) with sugar (to taste) and adding enough warm coconut milk (found in cans also at Chinese groceries) to form a very soft, slightly sticky dough. Continue to work the dough until it is smooth and pliable. Divide into balls about the size of golf balls. Divide your filling of choice – I used red bean paste purchased from Chinese grocery. Flatten the balls of dough slightly in your hand, place a dollop of filling in each, and gather up the sides to seal. Roll between your hands to form an uniform ball (I wasn’t very good at doing that so mine are a bit lopsided XD). Bring a pot of water to a boil and drop the rice balls in, cooking until they float. Shake coconut flakes onto a flate and coat the boiled rice balls evenly on all sides. Place on cupcake liners to share with others, or place in your mouth for a delectable and cultural taste. 😉

I liked mine slightly warm, although cold ones taste just as good. Next time I will try to make them again using the steam method. 🙂

Happy cooking! 😀