Friday, June 29, 2012

Sweet Potato & Green Tea Glutinous Rice Balls (Tangyuan 汤圆)

This is something that has been on my to-do-list for a long time and I finally did it last week. Tangyuan (汤圆) or chinese glutinous rice balls are typically eaten during Yuanxiao (15th day and 1st full moon after chinese new year) and Dongzhi (winter solstice) and also sometimes during chinese weddings. But I am making them now as comfort food for summer, hehehe.

I remember when I was young, I would help my paternal grandma roll the tiny white and pink glutinous rice balls, but they were tangyuan without fillings, which I didn't really fancy. Then when I started working, I used to go to Alexandra Village Food Market during lunch breaks to frequent a particular stall which sold fantastic Ah Balling, which is essentially glutinous rice balls with peanut, black sesame or red bean fillings served in a sweet peanut soup. There was also one legendary Ah Balling stall in Chinatown Food Centre called Hai Seng Ah Balling which unfortunately has closed down recently in Feb 2012.

However, the tangyuan which I prepared last week was not Ah Balling (tangyuan served in a sweet peanut soup base) cos I have not mastered the art of making Ah Balling Peanut Soup yet. Rather they were glutinous rice balls made using 2 types of dough, namely sweet potato (番薯) and green tea powder (绿茶粉), and the fillings were made of black sesame (黑芝麻). 番薯绿茶黑芝麻汤圆 Yummy yummy!

The recipe for the glutinous rice ball skin is adapted from Carol's blog.

Ingredients (sweet potato skin, makes 10 balls)
100g glutinous rice flour
130g sweet potato (steamed and mashed) *

* Note that the water content of different sweet potatoes will vary, so you should adjust accordingly.

Ingredients (green tea skin, makes 10 balls)
100g glutinous rice flour 
3/4 tsp green tea powder for baking
80g water

1. Remove the skin of the sweet potato and steam it for 10-15 min till cooked. Then use a fork to mash the sweet potato and set it aside to cool.

2. Put the glutinous rice flour in a big bowl and dig a hole in the centre. To make the sweet potato dough, add the mashed sweet potato into the centre of the flour and knead it slowly till it becomes a pliable non-stick dough. To make the green tea dough, add the green tea powder and water into the flour and do the same. You can add more water a little at a time if the dough is too dry, or more glutinous rice flour if the dough is too wet.

3. Pinch a small ball of dough (about 15g) from the sweet potato dough, flatten it and add it into a pot of boiling water. Do the same to the green tea dough. Scoop up the 2 little pieces of dough once they float to the water surface. Drain off the water, and let them cool down a little before adding each to the main dough. Each little piece of dough acts like a starter dough (粿粹). Add each starter dough to the main dough, mix and knead them together until it becomes a pliable non-stick dough. Add some glutinous rice flour during kneading, if necessary.

The starter dough (粿粹) will make the tangyuan more chewy in texture and less prone to breaking apart during kneading. You may skip this step if you wish.

4. Roll the dough into a long stick and cut it into 10 equal pieces. Each piece of dough should be about 2x the size of the filling.

5. Roll each piece of dough into a small ball, flatten it with your hands, add in the desired filling (black sesame, peanut or red bean paste), then pinch and seal the dough properly and roll it into a small ball.

6. Drop the finished glutinous rice balls into a big pot of boiling water (with pandan leaves, pieces of ginger and brown sugar or gula melaka added to taste). The tangyuan are cooked as soon as they start floating to the surface of the water.

The recipe for the black sesame filling is adapted from here.

Ingredients for black sesame filling (makes 20 small balls)
50g black sesame powder (I used black sesame seeds, ground into powder)
50g fine sugar (I used castor sugar, ground into fine sugar)
30g lard (I used butter)

The ideal ratio of black sesame powder to sugar to butter should be 1: 1: 0.7

1. Put the black sesame powder and fine sugar in a big bowl and mix well.

2. Add in softened butter and mix thoroughly into a smooth paste.

3. Roll into small balls and put in the fridge to harden for at least 30 min. Or you can put in the fridge to harden for 30 min first before dividing and rolling into small balls of filling.

Note :
- To make peanut filling, you can substitute peanut powder for black sesame powder. Peanut powder can be bought (I bought mine from NTUC supermart in Singapore) or obtained by grinding toasted skinless peanuts in a food processor.

- You can make a big batch like what I did, and if you can't finish them at one go, put the uncooked tangyuan in ziploc bags and freeze them in the freezer. Then a day before eating, take them out from the freezer and thaw them in the fridge, before boiling them in syrup.


  1. I actually made these for the first time this week! I'd never heard of them before, I was just looking for things to make with glutinous rice flour.
    I first made the very similar "onde onde", but I didn't have pandan, palm sugar and fresh coconut on hand, so I'm not sure if I can use the name. Not that my tangyuan were authentic. I wanted something savoury, so I made a pork/onion filling rather than the traditional options. Yum.
    I may try black sesame sometime though, it does sound good.

  2. Hi Mokka

    Thanks for visiting my blog. :)
    The next time you make the onde onde, you can use pandan essence instead of fresh pandan leaves, brown sugar instead of palm sugar and canned coconut milk instead of fresh coconut milk. Try the black sesame filling for this recipe, it is pretty easy.

  3. Hi, this looks very interesting, I have never come across sweet potato and green tea glutinous rice balls. Very creative.

  4. Love the natural coloring that makes the colorful tang yuen =)


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