Black sesame glutinous rice balls (tang yuan - 黑芝麻汤圆), is a classic dessert eaten during Lunar New Year, the Lantern Festival, and winter solstices. The wrapper on the outside is chewy like mochi, and the black sesame filling is gooey, nutty, with just the right amount of sweetness.
Growing up, my mom would always nag me to eat more black sesame foods. She said it's supposed to help promote healthy, dark hair. Maybe I should have listened, lol.
Now that I'm older, I still don't eat as much black sesame as my mom would like. However, I always commit to having some black sesame glutinous rice balls for Lunar New Year or Lantern Festival (Yuan Xiao Jie - 元宵节).
Because glutinous rice balls are round, they symbolize family reunion/ unity, completeness. So we always eat them annually along with other auspicious dishes like pan fried pork dumplings and whole steamed fish with ginger and scallion.
- What makes this black sesame paste filling super gooey?
- Ingredients for black sesame glutinous rice balls
- How to make gooey black sesame paste for tang yuan
- How to make the dough for glutinous rice balls
- How to assemble the black sesame tang yuan
- Recipe tips
- How to cook glutinous rice balls/ tang yuan
- Alternative ways to serve glutinous rice ball soup
- Glutinous rice ball / tang yuan storage
- 📖 Recipe
What makes this black sesame paste filling super gooey?
One way to make black sesame filling for glutinous rice balls more gooey, is to make sure that both the sugar and black sesame seeds are as fine as they can be. So blend them in a food processor or blender.
Another way to ensure a gooey black sesame filling, we added water. Water helps the sugar dissolve in our filling, which promotes gooeyness. The addition of water also help keep the flavor of the filling cleaner, rather than becoming too buttery and fatty.
Ingredients for black sesame glutinous rice balls
For the black sesame paste filling:
- Black sesame powder - This makes our tang yuan making process much easier. No blending needed! The brand of black sesame powder we used does not include any additional ingredients nor sugar. So it's great for making this rice ball fillings.
- Make your own black sesame powder - Combine equal weights of roasted black sesame seed and the granulated sugar into a blender or food processor. Blend it as fine as possible.
- Sugar - Granulated sugar is fine, but if you have caster sugar, it's even better. Alternatively you could blend your granulated sugar to make it finer.
- Unsalted butter - Alternatively, you could use coconut oil if you don't mind coconut flavor. Just use an extra tablespoon.
- Water - After multiple experiments, I've decided that water is essential to make the black sesame filling gooey. Using only butter made the filling taste too heavy and kind of masked the nice nuttiness.
For the glutinous rice dough:
- Glutinous rice flour - Unlike what the name suggest, glutinous rice flour is actually gluten free. "Glutinous" is referring the the chewy texture it creates. An essential ingredient for creating the mochi texture for these rice balls.
- Sugar - To sweeten the dough slightly.
- Warm water - This turns the glutinous rice flour into a dough and not a puddle.
How to make gooey black sesame paste for tang yuan
1. Combine the black sesame powder, sugar, butter, and water. Mix until a loose paste forms.
2. Transfer the black sesame filling into a quart size resealable bag. Try to keep the filling flat and evenly spread out on the bottom half of the bag. Freeze for about 30 minutes or until it feels a bit firm and can hold its shape.
Alternatively, you could chill the black sesame filling in the bowl to firm it up. Then scoop and portion with a tablespoon.
3. Cut open the bag to remove the block of sesame filling.
4. Portion the sesame paste block into 18 pieces for large rice balls or 36 for small ones.
5. Roll them into balls and keep them in the freezer until needed.
How to make the dough for glutinous rice balls
There are several different methods to make tang yuan dough. Some are convenient but doesn't yield the best texture. Our method is a little more complicated, but it yields a very malleable dough that's beginner friendly. It's less likely to crack and tear when wrapping the filling.
1. Mix together the glutinous rice flour with the sugar. Add the warm water and knead until the dough it comes together. It'll look dry and crumbly at first but don't worry!
2. Pinch off 1 ½ inch ball of dough and flatten it. Cook it in boiling water until it floats to the surface, then for another minute.
3. Add the cooked dough back into the rest of the dough. Let it cool for a moment then knead to combine.
4. The final dough should be smooth and elastic.
4.1 If you're making the ube dough, add the extract to the dough once the cooked dough has been well combine and the dough is smooth and elastic. I highly recommend a pair of disposable gloves, as the extract stains.
Alternatively, you could add the ube extract into the warm water then add it to the flour if you are making the entire dough ube flavored.
How to assemble the black sesame tang yuan
Tang yuans are traditionally smooth and round to match its auspicious symbol of bringing family unity and wholesomeness. But, you can really shape it any way you'd like. Here's how to shape it like the traditional ones:
1. Divide the dough into 18 equal pieces for large ones or 36 pieces for small ones. Roll each piece into a ball.
2. Working with one ball at a time, make an indentation in the middle of the ball.
3. Pinch the sides to make it thinner so that it looks like a small pinch bowl.
4. Place a ball of black sesame paste filling in the center and wrap the dough around the filling.
5. Pinch the edges of the dough to seal the glutinous rice ball.
6. Roll the rice ball in your palm to round it out into a ball. Repeat with remaining dough and filling.
- Glutinous rice flour - Make sure that the rice flour is labeled "glutinous". Otherwise, the dough will not be chewy and tender like mochi. Glutinous rice flour is usually sold in the green bag, so avoid the red ones!
- Cover the dough - At any time when the dough or parts of the dough is not being used or handled. Cover it! This prevents the dough from drying out and cracking.
- Use gloves - If using the ube extract, wear disposable gloves! It will stain.
- Use plastic wrap - Line a plate, sheet pan, or whatever you're putting the glutinous rice balls on, with plastic wrap to prevent the tang yuan from sticking.
- Add water sparingly - After adding the warm water, do not add anymore until you've knead the dough. The dough may look dry and crumbly at first but when you squeeze and knead for a minute or two, it'll come together. If it is dry, add a couple teaspoons of water at a time and knead until the dough comes together. Too much water will make the dough unusable.
How to cook glutinous rice balls/ tang yuan
Add the glutinous rice balls into a pot of boiling water and gently stir immediately. This prevents the tang yuan from sticking to each other and the pot.
Let the water come back to a boil, then reduce the heat to keep it at a steady roll.
Cook the glutinous rice balls until they float the surface. Then, let it cook for another 30 seconds to a minute.
Alternative ways to serve glutinous rice ball soup
For our black sesame glutinous rice balls, we prefer to serve them with plain hot water. But feel free to make it your own with these variation:
- Plain hot water
- Rock sugar "soup" - Bring your water to a simmer and sweetened your hot water with your desired amount of crystal rock sugar. Alternatively, you can just sweeten your hot water with regular granulated sugar.
- Black sugar "soup" - Sweetened your hot water with your desired amount of Taiwanese black sugar.
- Sweetened ginger "soup" - Boil water with peeled and thinly sliced ginger for about 5 minutes. Remove the ginger and sweetened with regular granulated sugar, brown sugar, or Taiwanese black sugar to your desired sweetness.
Glutinous rice ball / tang yuan storage
You can make black sesame glutinous rice balls ahead of time or store the leftovers for later by freezing. Cooked tang yuan should be consumed within the hour.
1. Place the glutinous rice balls on a sheet pan or freezer safe plate lined with plastic wrap.
2. Freeze the rice balls until they are solid, about 1 hour.
3. Gently place them in airtight freezer safe containers or resealable freezer bags.
4. Keep frozen for up to 4 months.
Tang yuan, also known as glutinous rice balls, are dumplings eaten during Lunar New Year, Lantern Festival, and Donzhi Festival. They can be both sweet or savory.
Because tang yuan/ glutinous rice balls are round, they are eaten during Lunar New Year, Lantern Festival, and winter solstices (Dongzhi), to symbolize family reunion, completeness, and for the new year to be smooth and peaceful.
Add frozen tang yuan directly into a pot of boiling water and gently stir immediately. Bring the water back to a boil then reduce the heat so that the water is at a constant gentle boil. Cook the rice balls until they float to the surface, and let them cook for an addition minute. Serve immediately.
Cook with love!
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Black Sesame Glutinous Rice Ball (Tang Yuan - 黑芝麻汤圆)
For the black sesame filling:
- 4 ounces black sesame powder (about 1⅓ cup packed) see notes for making your own*
- 5 Tablespoons granulated sugar
- 5 Tablespoons unsalted butter melted
- 5 Tablespoons water
- For the black sesame filling:Combine the ingredients for the black sesame filling and mix until the entire mixture is a cohesive paste.
- Transfer the black sesame filling into a quart size resealable storage bag. Try to keep the filling flat and evenly spread out in the bottom half of the bag. Freeze the filling for about 30 minutes, or until it feels firmer and can hold its shape.
- Scrape the bag with a straight edge to keep the black sesame filling as compacted but equally leveled as possible. Cut open the bag and remove the block of sesame paste. Portion the filling into 18 pieces, then roll each one into balls. Freeze until needed.*For small tang yuans, divide into 36 portions*
- To make the glutinous rice dough:Bring a small pot of water to a boil. This can also be the water used later to cook the tang yuan.
- Meanwhile, mix together the glutinous rice flour and sugar in a mixing bowl. Add the warm water and knead the the dough until it comes together. *It will look really crumbly and dry at first, but do not add any more water. Keep kneading. After kneading, if it's still kind of dry and does not hold together, added a couple teaspoons of water at a time and knead until the dough can hold together.*
- Pinch off about 1½ inch ball of dough and flatten it. Add it to the pot of boiling water and give it a stir. Cook the dough for an additional minute after it floats to the surface then add the cooked dough to the rest of the dough.*Always keep the dough covered when not handling it to prevent drying.*
- Let the cool for a minute then knead it into the rest of the dough until well combined. The finished dough should be very elastic and slightly tacky. If the dough sticks to your hands, wash your hands and lightly dust your hands with some glutinous rice flour.*If you're making the ube version, add the ube extract after the cooked dough has been combined and the dough is elastic. I recommend a pair of disposable gloves because the extract will most likely stain your hands. 1 teaspoon amount of extract is the for entire dough.*
- To assemble glutinous rice balls:Prepare a sheet pan or a plate lined with plastic wrap and bring the pot of water back to a boil while assembling the rice balls.
- Equally divide the dough into 18 equal pieces and roll each one into a ball. Working with one piece at a time, make an indentation in the middle of the dough. Pinch the sides to about ⅛ inch thick.*For small tang yuan, divide the dough into 36 pieces.*
- Place a ball black sesame filling in the dough and wrap the dough around the filling. Pinch the edges of the dough to seal. Roll the rice ball in your palm to round it out. Place the finished tang yuan on the prepared sheet pan and repeat with remaining dough and filling.*Refer to the post for step by step photo reference of how to fill and shape these glutinous rice balls.*
- To cook the glutinous rice balls:Add the glutinous rice balls into the pot of boiling water and gently stir immediately. This will prevent the rice balls from sticking.
- Cook the glutinous rice balls until they float to the surface then for another 30 seconds to a minute.
- Serve the glutinous rice balls with either plain hot water, hot water sweetened with some sugar, or sweetened ginger soup.
- To make your own sesame powder, blend roasted black sesame seeds with granulated sugar until fine.
- An alternative to portioning with a resealable plastic bag, chill the sesame paste filling in a bowl until it can hold its shape and equally portion with a spoon, then shape into balls.
- Glutinous rice balls are served in many different soup variations.
- Plain hot water
- Sweetened hot water - sweeten hot water with granulated sugar to your preference
- Sweetened ginger soup - boil thinly sliced ginger with water for about 5 minutes and sweetened with your choice of sweetener to your preference.