Black Sesame Sweet Rice Balls (黑芝麻汤圆, Tang Yuan)

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Gooey sweet rice balls with a buttery runny sweet black sesame filling, they have a delightful texture and a delicate taste. It is a perfect healthy dessert for your Chinese meals or celebrating the Lantern Festival. {Vegetarian, Gluten-Free}

Chinese black sesame sweet rice balls

Sweet rice balls, or Tang Yuan (汤圆), are quite similar to mochi. The dough is made with sticky rice flour to create a soft and gooey texture. It is often filled with a sweet filling, such as peanut, sweet bea, or sesame. Different from mochi, sweet rice balls are boiled and then served in soup. When they are cooked, the rice balls turn very tender. If you use the peanut or black sesame filling, the filling will be runny and have a melty, buttery mouthfeel. 

Tang Yuan is a traditional Chinese dessert that is often served during the Lantern Festival. But since it is so delicious and frankly quite healthy, we love to enjoy it year-round as a dessert. 

Black sesame tang yuan close up with filling oozing out

Ingredients

The ingredients for sweet rice balls are simple and straightforward. 

All you need is the rice flour and water for the dough. And black sesame seeds, brown sugar and butter for the filling.

Ingredients for making black sesame sweet rice balls
Black sesame rice balls in bowls

Sticky rice flour

Sticky rice flour is also called glutinous rice flour or sweet rice flour. It is gluten-free even though it has the word “gluten” in its name. You should use the type of flour made with long grain sweet rice such as the Erawan brand. It is quite easy to find at any Asian grocery store. 

Note: Mochi flour is often made with short grain rice flour and is not suitable for this dish. I’ve never tested it, but I’ve had readers report that the result is a bit off if you use mochi flour to make sweet rice balls.

Do not confuse this with regular rice flour, which won’t work in this recipe.

Glutinous rice flour

How to make sweet rice balls

Making sweet rice balls is a fun and relaxing process.

Prepare the filling

  1. Blend the sesame seeds with brown sugar until finely ground. Note, if you blend the sesame seeds for too long, it will start to release oil and become sticky. If you notice the sesame seeds starting to stick to the edge of your food processor, you should stop.
  2. Mix in the butter and blend again.
  3. Transfer the filling onto a plate. Refrigerate for 30 minutes or freeze for 15 minutes to solidify the butter.
  4. Once the filling is firm enough to handle, make it into small balls for the filling.
  5. The filling should be easy to roll out with your hands and not collapse. If it turns too soft, transfer it to the fridge to chill.
  6. Once you have made all the filling, store it in the fridge or freezer to chill again.
How to make sweet rice ball filling

I highly recommend using a scale to measure the filling if you want your sweet rice balls to be perfectly evenly sized.

Prepare the dough

You should make the dough only after the filling is ready and fully chilled. Compared to regular doughs made with wheat flour, the sweet rice flour dough is fast to put together and easy to handle. Because it doesn’t contain gluten, you will need to use enough water to create a soft dough that is pliable. I personally prefer to make the dough a bit softer, so it’s very easy to wrap the sweet rice balls without cracking them. 

  1. Mix water into the sweet rice flour
  2. Stir until a dough mass forms
  3. Transfer the dough onto a lightly floured surface and use your hands to gather it into a dough ball
  4. Take a small piece of dough and roll it into a ball with your hands
  5. Gently press the center
  6. Add the sesame filling
  7. Slowly smooth the dough over the filing 
  8. Seal the filling where the dough pieces meet
  9. Then roll the dough again to shape a ball
  10. Boil the portion of sweet rice balls you plan to serve

That’s it!

How to make tang yuan step-by-step

How to make the wrapping process as easy as possible

Black sesame tang yuan in soup

How to serve sweet rice balls

You should always serve the sweet rice balls in the hot water you boiled them in. The hot water serves two purposes: (1) it keeps the rice balls round without them sticking to each other and (2) it keeps the filling warm and runny. When I eat sweet rice balls, I also drink a bit of the hot water in between to cleanse my palette. 

I’ve seen that people from different regions and families serve the sweet rice balls in a more complex sweet soup. I found that unnecessary because the rice balls are so delicious by themselves and extra sweetness is not really needed. But feel free to try out different styles and find one that suits you best.

Black Sesame Sweet Rice Balls (黑芝麻汤圆, Tang Yuan)

How to store sweet rice balls

Sweet rice balls are perfect for making in advance and serving later. They freeze very well and you can cook them directly without thawing them. Their texture remains the same whether you cook them fresh or frozen. 

Afterthought

If you love mochi, you cannot miss these black sesame sweet rice balls. They are quite easy to make, and the runny filling makes them very special. Yes, they do take some time to assemble. But I found the sweet rice flour much easier to handle than regular dumpling wrappers, so the process is more fun. 

The recipe calls for only 1/4 cup of sugar to make 24 rice balls, which is enough for 6 people. I found it quite amazing that this dessert uses such a small amount of sugar, yet the result is super satisfying. 

I hope you give this one a try next time when you host a Chinese-themed dinner party. It is the perfect dessert to serve at the end of the meal.

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Gooey sweet rice balls (Tang Yuan) with a buttery runny sweet black sesame filling, they have a delightful texture and a delicate taste. It is a perfect healthy dessert for your Chinese meals or celebrating the Lantern Festival. {Vegetarian, Gluten-Free}

Black Sesame Sweet Rice Balls (黑芝麻汤圆, Tang Yuan)

Gooey sweet rice balls with a buttery runny sweet black sesame filling, they have a delightful texture and a delicate taste. It is a perfect healthy dessert for your Chinese meals or celebrating the Lantern Festival. {Vegetarian, Gluten-Free}
Author: Maggie Zhu
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: Chinese
Keyword: Chinese Festival, homestyle
Prep Time: 50 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Inactive time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Servings: 6 servings (24 sweet rice balls)

Ingredients

  • 60 g (1/2 cup) toasted black sesame seeds
  • 50 g (1/4 cup) brown sugar (or regular sugar)
  • 85 g (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter , softened
  • 200 g (1 1/2 cup) glutinous rice flour , and extra for dusting
  • 200 ml (2/3 cup + 1 tablespoon) warm water (100°F / 40°C)

Instructions

To make the black sesame filling

  • Combine the black sesame seeds and sugar in a food processor. Blend until the sesame seeds are finely ground.
  • Add the softened butter to the food processor. Pulse until the butter is evenly blended. Transfer the mixture onto a plate. Use a spatula to press the filling into a thin layer so it hardens faster. Cover the plate and refrigerate or freeze until the butter is solidified enough to handle, a minimum of 30 minutes in the fridge or 15 minutes in the freezer.
  • To make the sweet rice ball filling, scoop out about 1/2 tablespoon of the filling (7 g). Use your palms to roll the filling until it forms a round ball. Keep working to make the filling balls. If the butter becomes too soft, transfer it back to the fridge to solidify it. Once done, place the plate of black sesame balls back in the fridge or freezer (*Footnote 1).

To prepare the dough

  • Add the glutinous rice flour to a medium-sized bowl and pour in the water. Mix until a dough forms. Sprinkle some flour onto a working surface and dust your hands with it. Transfer the dough onto the working surface. Use your hands to knead the dough a few times until it’s smooth and soft.(*Footnote 2) Return the dough to the bowl and cover with plastic wrap when not using.
  • Take about 1 scant tablespoon (16 g) of the dough. Use your palms to shape the dough into a round ball. Then use your thumb to press the center of the dough so it forms a small bowl shape. Place the black sesame ball in the center of the dough. Use your thumb to press the filling, while using your other hand to slowly smooth and stretch the dough over the filling. When the dough fully covers the filling, pinch the dough together to seal it. Then roll the rice ball between your hands so it’s perfectly round. Then place it onto a tray and work on the rest of the rice balls.
  • Once you’ve shaped the rice balls, you can freeze them and cook them later. Or you can cook them immediately.

To cook the sweet rice balls

  • Bring a medium-sized pot of water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the rice balls according to the number of servings you want to make (*Footnote 3). Stir gently to prevent them from sticking to the pot. Cook until the water comes to a boil again, then turn to medium heat. Once the rice balls have risen to the top, keep boiling for another 2 minutes. Then transfer the rice balls along with some boiling water to the serving bowls. The boiling water should just cover the rice balls. Serve hot and enjoy!

Notes

  1. I usually prefer to keep the filling in the freezer, where it takes only 15 minutes to solidify.
  2. The dough I made here is very soft, so it will be very pliable and easy to work with when you assemble the sweet rice balls. But if you think it’s too soft to work with, simply dust a bit more flour onto it and knead it a few more times. Also, remember that the dough will slowly harden the longer you store it. If you make a dough that is a bit tough, it will dry out and be harder to work with towards the end.
  3. The cooked sweet rice balls are harder to store. It’s possible to place them in the fridge and heat them up in the microwave later, but it’s best to freeze any portion you’re not planning to serve and cook them from frozen whenever you need them.

Video

Nutrition

Serving: 1serving, Calories: 236kcal, Carbohydrates: 20.5g, Protein: 2.7g, Fat: 16.6g, Saturated Fat: 8g, Cholesterol: 30mg, Sodium: 86mg, Potassium: 62mg, Fiber: 1.4g, Sugar: 8.4g, Calcium: 109mg, Iron: 2mg
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