Not Yo Chinese Momma’s Tang Yuan

Ok sorry about that title. Or maybe I’m not. I’m definitely not sorry for deviating from the traditional Tang Yuan recipe. But, hey, before we get started…

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I love that I get to say that twice this year! It’s like getting to celebrate Mother’s Day THREE times in TWO months! (Because any excuse to get breakfast and kisses delivered to you whilst still in your bed and pjs is reason enough for moi!)

Back to tang yuan. Or maybe I should just call them Ma Yuan (that’s what the fried version is called in our hot pot restaurant). Nah.

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My dad and I always used to have this thing. If we were golfing, and I got a 12 on a 5 par for example, he would get this goofy grin and proclaim, “I give you an E for effort!” If I knocked over the 5 gallon buckets in the front and back of the truck as I was learning to parallel park, I got the infamous E for effort slogan. Ok, maybe there was a little yelling when I was doing that…I wasn’t one to inspire driving confidence right away…or ever, really. The last time I was home I hadn’t driven an automatic in a while, and I may or may not have given my mother whiplash pulling out of the grocery store parking lot. Anyway, E for effort was not usually reserved for the serious mess ups, but rather the light ones that might make an onlooker giggle a little. And it became one of our things. The phrase is still used today, just to talk about things we think sound a little silly in the first place…And it never fails to make my lips curve up into the start of a smile.

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Anyway, my first two attempts at this recipe provoked that inner cry of, “E for effort.” The first ones were extremely hard to shape, and kept crumbling apart. The filling was chalky-even if you could tell there was flavor to be had. And I didn’t get proper boiling times mastered so next to the chalk, there was glutinous rice flour paste. It was a real delight to the senses.

And Juan dutifully ate that first bowl.

He was slightly less accommodating the next day when I made them again. This time, they were slightly better-I modified the filling and was almost happy with the results. I cooked them all the way through and they were good. But I’m not one for gulping down heaps of hot water after I finish a sweet dessert.

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So I wanted a tasty  broth.

Alas, it was not my destiny to make the traditional tang yuan for my first Chinese New Year. I think all of the Chinese people also wanted to make tang yuan broths, and the brown sugar had been sold out. So, I went for the deep fried version. Besides, I wanted Juan to get back on the tang yuan bandwagon. Everyone knows frying things makes everything taste a-mazing.

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I modified my original tang yuan to include baking powder, sugar, and pumpkin. I added some honey to my untraditional sesame paste. And I finally succeeded in closing them without making a mess of exploded sesame and rice flour paste all over the small piece of marble I call a counter.

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So here are some tang yuan dough tips for you. Glutinous rice flour and water will make a dough about the consistency of Play Dough. Too wet, and it will be a gloopy pile of nothing. Too dry, and it will crack and crumble. This makes it similar to working with corn tortilla dough…I kept it on the wet side and had a pile of rice flour in a bowl that I would repetedly sprinkly onto the counter and dust my hands with. I would pat a small circle onto some rice floured counter and then use little premade balls of my sticky sesame paste and close the circle around it. I pinched the edges shut a little empanada style, and then dusted my hands again and gently (GENTLY) rolled it into a perfect ball. If you make it this far without breaking it, you can set it onto a floured cookie sheet and move on to the next one. If the ball breaks…toss it. Start over.

You should be able to make about 16 of these babies. They are delicious hot, warm, or even cold. Crispy on the exterior, chewy on the inside, and intensely sesame flavored. Make this for the dessert at your next party. Make them for finger food tea time. But do make them…

Not Yo Chinese Momma's Tang Yuan
Fried tang yuan=turning a traditional Chinese New Year's dessert into my own little teatime treasure.
Recipe type: Snack, dessert
Cuisine: Chinese
  • Sesame filling:
  • ⅛ cup sugar
  • ⅛ cup tahini
  • ¼ cup sesame seeds, ground (food processor or blender)
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • Dough:
  • 1 cup glutinous rice flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • ½ cup pureed pumpkin
  • ½ cup water
  • ¼ cup glutinous flour
  • ½ cup untoasted sesame seeds to roll tang yuan into
  • Oil to submerge balls
  1. Prepare the sesame filling by combining all ingredients on the list. Then start to roll little rounds of paste with about a teaspoon of the filling. Wash your hands and set the bowl aside.
  2. In another container combine the dry ingredients. Then add the wet ingredients to the dry ones and stir, forming a paste. You can use the extra ¼ cup glutinous flour to add to the dough if it hasn’t come together to form a fairly dry, sticky ball yet. Once the dough is about Play Dough consistency, flour a work surface, and pat out a small ball (3/4 the size of a golf ball) and add the sesame paste.
  3. Close the dough around the sesame paste and gently pinch it closed. Dust your hands with rice flour and roll it in your hands. Place the ball on the floured surface of a cookie sheet. Repeat until you have 14-16 balls.
  4. Then prepare a bowl of water and another bowl with the ½ cup of sesame seeds.
  5. Quickly dip the ball into the water and then roll it into the seeds. Place back on floured cookie sheet.
  6. Preheat the grease. Fry the balls in two or three batches for 3-5 minutes. The ball should be cooked through on the inside.
  7. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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  1. says

    Awesome! I have never tried making these before but will add it to my list of Chinese recipes to attempt. Right now I’m determined to make Guo Bao Rou but my first three batches have been crap. lol. I’ll get there. SITS luv.

    • sircserreb says

      I would like to master Hui Guo Rou. I have never heard of Guo Bao Rou…a quick Google and I gotta say, let me know if you ever find that magic recipe!! I’ll take sweet and sour anything! I’ll hop on over to your blog this evening…Superbowl snack stock up and prep await.

    • sircserreb says

      Yes-not quite as sweet as the ones at Jimmy’s Buffet, a little more colorful and I made a filling for them. If you don’t think you’ll like a honey sesame filling, you could just fry the balls of dough, although you might make them a little smaller so they cook all of the way through.

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