Black Sesame Tang Yuan(湯圓) is a mochi-like rice ball, usually served hot with a sweet syrup and this recipe takes it to a new level. Black sesame oozes out as you bite into these soft, tender balls, filling your mouth with sweetness and nuttiness. This recipe is made from scratch with 4 only ingredients. It is our go-to whenever the holiday calls for glutinous rice balls. (That’s at least twice a year)
Chinese new year doesn’t really end until the 15th of the lunar calendar. The 15th is called the little new year(小過年), or YuanXiao festival(元宵節). On this day, there’s a light festival in almost every city with beautifully crafted paper lanterns and sky lanterns. Kids would run around holding homemade lanterns, mine was always a can, poked with holes and covered with cellophane sheets, held up by a chopstick and lit by a candle- mom’s specialty.
The Difference Between Yuan Xiao(元宵) and Tang Yuan(湯圓)
The must eat on this day is “Yuan Xiao”(元宵), which is identical to Tang Yuan(湯圓). The main difference between Yuan Xiao and Tang Yuan is the way they are made. Yuan Xiao starts with the filling being dipped into water then tossed and rolled around in a bed of glutinous rice flour, then dipped in the water again then tosses and rolled again until it forms into a ball big enough. Tang Yuan, on the other hand, is made by stuffing the filling into a rice flour dough or simply rolled with no filling at all. Yuan Xiao takes quite some skills to make, so Tang Yuan is the easier option for making something similar at home.
Glutinous Rice does NOT Contain Gluten
Glutinous rice doesn’t contain any gluten, the term is used due to the sticky texture of the rice when cooked. It’s actually GLUTEN FREE! In case you’re wondering, all rice in its natural form is gluten-free! I much prefer the term sticky rice or sweet rice than “glutinous rice” to avoid confusion since there are so many people following the gluten-free diet these days.
Black sesame has a deeper, darker, rich nutty aroma and it’s high in protein, vitamin b, fiber and contains more calcium. Washing and toasting the raw black sesame seeds before grinding is essential for the release of the flavor. I have tried it without washing/toasting and it’s just not the same! You can also buy toasted black sesame seeds to reduce the labor, but I really enjoy toasting my own, knowing the quality of the seed is good and it’s clean.
Roasting the Sesame Seeds
I prefer toasting black sesame in a pan or wok. White sesame seeds can be toasted in the oven at 300F (150C) for about 7 minutes or until golden but when it comes to black sesame it’s hard to tell the difference in color. Add the washed and drained sesame to a wok, turn the heat to medium-high and stir occasionally. After the water has all evaporated, stir constantly until the black sesame seeds start popping. Remove from heat when the sesame starts popping every 2 seconds and let cool, over-roasting it will make the seeds bitter.
The Filling of the Tang Yuan
This black sesame tang yuan filling contains 3 ingredients, ground black sesame, sugar, and oil. Traditionally lard is used to so the filling can form a ball, but any oil that’s solid when cold can be used- lard, shortening, butter. You can even use coconut oil if you want to, but the flavor is strong and sometimes overpowering. I’m using butter in this recipe. The nuttiness of the black sesame and the buttery flavor goes really well together. I’m trying to keep the black sesame tang yuan relatively healthy, so I reduced the amount of oil used in the recipe. The downside of reducing oil is the filling won’t be as runny, but it is still super tasty! With this recipe, you can also use peanut powder instead of sesame to make a peanut tang yuan!
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- 1-1/2 C Sticky Rice also called glutinous rice or sweet rice. Both short grain or long grain works.
- Corn Starch Prevent sticking
Black Sesame Filling
- 3/4 C Black Sesame Toasted and ground into powder
- 1/4 C Butter Room Temperature
- 1/4 C Brown Sugar
Glutinous Rice Balls
- Cover 1-1/2C Glutinous Rice with water and soak overnight
- Blend the soaked rice with a blender for about 3 minutes, or until there are no big grains left. It doesn't really matter how much water you add to blend the rice since it will be drained later, as long as it is easy to blend.
- After the rice is blended, use a nut milk bag to strain the rice milk.
- Tie the bag up, put it on top of a rack and loaded a plate and something very heavy on top. Leave draining overnight or for 8 hours, flipping over halfway. Creating a "rice cake"
- Remove the "rice cake" from the bag and break into small pieces in a mixing bowl.
- While parts of the rice cake is being boiled, crumble up the rest of the raw rice cake.
- Strain the cooked rice cake from the pot and add them back to the crumbled raw pieces.
- Start working it all into a dough.
- Separate the dough into 16 portions.
Black Sesame Filling
- Combine butter at room temperature, ground black sesame, sugar and work into a dough-like mixture.
- Separate the sesame filling into 16 even portions and roll them into little balls.
- Flatten a piece of the rice dough and put a portion of the filling in the center, pinch the opening shut and roll into a ball. Roll in cornstarch to prevent them from sticking to each other. Repeat the process.
Cook or freeze
- Cook immediately or freeze. Cooking the glutinous rice balls: Bring a pot of water to boil, add the balls and cook until they float to top, strain the balls into a bowl and add syrup or soup of your choice. I prefer it with just boiled water since the sesame filling is pretty sweet.
- For more photos of the making of Tang Yuan, check out the post GLUTINOUS RICE BALL FROM SCRATCH.
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