Now, you can make this easy quintessential Asian dessert at home! Sticky chewy glutinous rice balls (tang yuan, 汤圆) are served in a warming ginger and osmanthus flower sweet soup with silky swirls of egg. The perfect way to celebrate a reunion with family and friends during the Chinese Winter Solstice Festival, Lantern Festival or Chinese New Year.
- What’s to Love
- Chinese Dessert Soup
- Substitutions - Chinese Rice Wine
- Different Flours
- Step By Step
- Why is my dough too dry?
- Why is my dough too wet?
- Cooking Tips
- Variations and Substitutions
- What to Serve with Tang Yuan
- How to Store
- Frequent Asked Questions (FAQ’s)
- More Chinese Dessert Soups
- Chinese New Year Recipes
- Glutinous Rice Balls in Osmanthus Sweet Soup
The Chinese Winter Solstice, Dongzhi 冬至 (dong jer) Festival celebrates winter’s arrival with the longest night and the shortest day, and it usually happens around the third week in December according to the Chinese calendar, and lasts 15 days. Eating tangyuan together cements family unity and prosperity. In addition, the sweet soup is warming and nourishing on a cold winter’s day. Other popular dishes around this festival are dumplings and hot pot to enhance the Yang (warm) when the weather is so Yin (cool).
The Lantern Festival, also known as the Yuan Xiao 元宵节 (yuan shao) Festival, celebrates first full moon after the Lunar New Year. The round shape of a glutinous rice ball is considered auspicious and represent the moon. These and are eaten to symbolizes wholeness and unity within the family.
What’s to Love
We can’t wait for you to try that first bite! Those fun chewy sticky mini mochi balls-of-awesomeness are completely addictive - just like mini dumplings without the filling. If you ever tried our Baked Black Sesame Mochi Donuts or Mung Bean Daifuku Mochi you know that special texture that only comes from glutinous rice flour recipes.
This quick and easy tang yuan recipe makes about 2 whole cups of plain sweet glutinous flour rice balls. You can make them in advance and freeze them for later. Then, any time you have last minute guests you can have a quick and easy dessert ready in about 10 minutes flat. In addition, this sweet dessert soup is gluten-free, dairy-free and vegetarian.
A special thank you to Wang Xiao Yu, for sharing her family Chinese dessert soup recipe with us today.
Chinese Dessert Soup
Have you ever tried a Chinese dessert soup like our Hot Black Sesame Cereal or Chinese Pear Dessert Soup? These Cantonese specialties fall into a category called tong sui 糖水 (tong sway), which literally translates to “sugar water”. Unlike western desserts, they are only lightly sweet, a little bit healthier and are quick and easy to make.
Glutinous Rice Flour – is also known as sweet rice flour or sticky rice flour. Although its name sounds odd, it is completely gluten free. Please do not confuse glutinous rice flour with “plain” rice flour. These are 2 completely different kinds of flour. Glutinous rice flour gives the glutinous rice balls and our Sweet Sticky Rice Chinese New Year Cake that addictive chewy texture.
If you want to save time, sometimes you can find premade glutinous rice balls in the freezer section of an Asian food market.
Sugar – yes, just plain old, granulated sugar is used to sweeten the sweet rice balls. You can of course substitute with a sugar alternative of your choice.
Honey – or your favorite sweetener to sweeten the soup broth. You can use brown sugar, rock sugar, or your favorite sweetener of choice.
Ginger – fresh is best but you can also substitute with dried ground ginger. It adds warmth and depth to the dessert.
Dried Goji Berries – also known as wolf berries add a little sweetness to the sweet soup and to recipes like our Goji Berry and Red Dates Herbal Tea.
Osmanthus flowers – adds a delicious light floral flavor to the dessert soup. Of course, this is optional but really does make this dessert special. If you have extra osmanthus flowers, you might like to try our Framboise Osmanthus Rose Dressing.
Egg – add light swirls of silky egg to give the soup the texture of an egg drop soup.
Sweet Alcohol – Traditionally, tang yuan soup broth is made with a fermented Chinese rice wine (sweet rice wine, tian mi jiu 甜米酒,). This fermented sweet rice wine is made with glutinous rice that is fermented with yeast. It does not have a very high alcohol content but gives the dessert soup a slight sweet and tang taste.
Substitutions - Chinese Rice Wine
If you are not living in Asia, fermented Chinese rice wine can be very difficult to find. Our suggestion is to use a sweet alcohol substitution like a plum wine, passionfruit liquor, Elderflower Liquor, or any sweet liquor you desire.
We used Umeshu which is Japanese plum wine that is slightly tart, sweet, and delicious. Alternatively, you can just skip this ingredient and add a little more honey or sweetener to the tang yuan soup broth.
There are many different Asian glutinous rice flour brands on the market.
- One Japanese type of glutinous rice flour is called Mochiko flour. It is ground very fine. We used it to make tang yuan and also our Homemade Snowy Moon Cakes.
- Shiratamako flour is also another Japanese type of glutinous rice flour, but it is milled more course.
- Erawan is a glutinous rice flour from Thailand and is also very good for this recipe. (Please note, it’s the one in the green package and not the red package)
- Chaphsal flour is a Korean brand of sweet rice flour.
Step By Step
For the full recipe and video, please scroll down to the recipe card below.
- Make the glutinous rice balls. Add the glutinous rice flour, sugar and hot boiling water and mix. Then add the cool room temperature water. (Adding the boiling water, starts the cooking process of the dough before they are boiled.)
- Form into a dough ball. Knead for a couple of minutes. Wrap with plastic and place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or until cool.
- Put a little extra glutinous rice flour on your clean surface to prevent sticking. Cut into 4 sections.
- Roll each section into a rope about ½ inch in width and then cut into ½ inch sections. Roll into mini balls with your hands.
- Set the balls on a parchment paper or waxed paper lined plate to prevent sticking. Cover the balls with a damp tea towel while you are working on the rest of the balls, so they do not dry out.
- If serving 4 people. Reserve 1 cup of the glutinous rice balls for the sweet dessert soup and freeze the rest.
- Boil water with fresh ginger, Umeshu (sweet rice wine or sweet alcohol of choice) honey, goji berries for 3 to 5 minutes for the ginger flavor to shine through. Adjust to your preferred sweetness level. The soup becomes a sweet ginger syrup perfect for slurping.
- Add the fresh prepared glutinous rice balls into the soup broth and cook over a medium boil until they float to the top of the soup – around 3 to 5 minutes. Be sure to stir them so they do not stick together. Then continue to cook for about another 1-2 minutes for the best results.
- If cooking frozen glutinous rice balls, you will bring them to a boil 3 times and add a little bit of room temperature water with each re-boil just like we do for our Homemade Chinese Boiled Dumplings. Readjust the sweetness level to your liking.
- Then, add osmanthus flowers to the soup. Slowly add a beaten egg to the soup broth as if you are making an egg drop soup or hot and sour soup.
Why is my dough too dry?
If your tangyuan dough is too dry or cracking, don’t worry. Just add a teaspoon of room temperature water at a time and knead the dough gently until it is soft and pliable. It should be soft and not sticky.
Sometimes, there is a significant difference between weighing and measuring ingredients. We have included both weight and US cup measurements for your convenience, but it is best to weigh. Weighing is most accurate.
Why is my dough too wet?
The glutinous rice flour dough should not be wet or stick to your fingers. Add a teaspoon of glutinous rice flour at a time and gently knead the dough until it is soft and pliable and no longer sticky. Sometimes, if you rest and cool your dough in the refrigerator covered with plastic wrap that will firm it up.
- Do not over work the dough as it will make the little tangyuan dumplings tough. Just enough to make it elastic and smooth.
- Letting the dough rest covered in plastic wrap in the refrigerator until it cools makes it less sticky and more manageable.
- Make sure to keep the glutinous rice balls covered with a damp tea towel while you are working on rolling the rest to prevent drying out.
Variations and Substitutions
- Add Chinese red dates also known as jujubes (红枣, hong zao) to the sweet soup. They are very nourishing, helps to tone blood deficiencies and strengthens spleen qi.
- We chose to keep the glutinous rice balls their natural white color. However, you can also add natural food dyes, if desired. Some families like to dye their balls pink, green, purple or the colors of the rainbow. However, avoid food gel dyes as these can change the consistency and flavor of the rice balls. If you add flavors like pandan, matcha or ube extract, it may overwhelm the delicate traditional flavor of the tangyuan.
- Try adding a filling inside the tang yuan like black sesame, red bean, peanut or even Nutella. However, you must have a ratio of blended nuts or seeds with fat like butter or even coconut oil to create that gooey and soft center. Of course, a little sugar too.
- Explore different sweeteners like brown sugar, rock sugar, coconut sugar or sugar alternatives as they all add a little different flavor to the ginger syrup soup broth.
- Try it with fermented Chinese sweet rice wine. We think it add that addictive spunky funky flavor. We have noticed that you can even purchase this on Amazon if you can’t find it at the Asian market.
What to Serve with Tang Yuan
As the weather is cool during these Chinese festivals, it is custom to eat and drink warming or ‘yang’ foods and beverages like Cassia wine (sometimes also called osmanthus wine or Kuei Hua Chen Chiew). It’s a low alcohol Chinese Baijiu (white alcohol) that is flavored with the sweet almost apricot flavored osmanthus flowers.
How to Store
Cooked Glutinous Rice Balls in Osmanthus Sweet Soup can be stored in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days if covered in the ginger syrup soup. Otherwise, they will dry out and get hard. The soup can be reheated on the stovetop until warm and toasty.
Uncooked Glutinous rice balls can be stored in the freezer for up to 2 months. After you finish rolling out your tang yuan, place them on a lined baking sheet or plate so they are not touching. Freeze uncovered for 1 hour, so they do not stick together. Then, place them in a sealed freezer safe baggie or container.
Frequent Asked Questions (FAQ’s)
Do not thaw out the frozen glutinous rice balls. Instead, place them frozen directly into the boiling water or soup broth. When you place them in the boiling water, stir them so they do not stick together.
You will notice that the soup will stop boiling at first because the cool glutinous rice balls dropped the temperature. Once the soup broth comes up to a rolling bubble, you will add a little cool water to the soup pot. Allow the soup to come to a rolling boil again. Repeat the process a total of 3 times or until the glutinous rice ball dumplings float to the top of the pot. Then, cook at least one minute longer.
There is no perfect substitute for glutinous rice flour (also called sweet rice flour or sometimes sticky rice flour). However, you can make your own using short grained glutinous white rice. You will need a high-powered blender, spice grinder or food processor to pulverize the dry raw glutinous white rice into a fine powdered flour. It is best to do this process a little bit at a time to allow the blades to move freely.
Alternatively, but not quite the same chewy and sticky texture of glutinous rice flour, is to substitute Tapioca flour in a 1:1 ratio in the recipe. Tapioca flour is chewy but can take on a translucent color like in boba balls or tapioca pearls for our Homemade Cream Earl Grey Bubble Tea.
Another option is to buy pre-made frozen glutinous rice balls in an Asian market.
More Chinese Dessert Soups
Chinese New Year Recipes
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Glutinous Rice Balls in Osmanthus Sweet Soup
Glutinous Rice Balls (Tang Yuan)
- 250 grams glutinous rice flour 2 cups and 4 tablespoons (also known as sweet rice flour) and about 2 tablespoons extra set aside to dust your board to prevent sticking.
- 100 grams granulated sugar ½ cup
- ½ cup boiling hot water
- ½ cup room temperature water
Osmanthus Sweet Soup
- 4 cups water
- ⅓ cup goji berries
dried also known as wolfberries
- 2 inch knob ginger peeled and sliced or ½ teaspoon dried ground
- ½ cup Chinese rice alcohol or a sweet dessert wine like Umeshu.
- 1 cup glutinous rice balls tang yuan (recipe above)
- 5 tablespoons honey
to taste or can substitute sweetener of choice
- 1 teaspoon Chinese Sweet Osmanthus Flower Tea
- 1 whole egg
Glutinous Rice Balls (Tang Yuan)
- Add the glutinous rice flour, sugar and hot boiling water and mix together. Then add the cool room temperature water and mix. (Adding the boiling water first, starts the cooking process of the dough.)
- Form into a dough ball. Knead for a couple of minutes. Wrap with plastic and place in the refrigerator for 10 to 30 minutes or until cool.
- Put a little extra glutinous rice flour on your clean surface to prevent sticking. Cut into 4 sections. Roll each section into a rope about ½ inch in width and then cut into ½ inch sections. Roll into mini balls with your hands.
- Set the balls on a parchment paper or waxed paper lined plate to prevent sticking. We also sprinkled a little of the glutinous rice flour on the plate too. Cover the balls with a damp tea towel while you are working on the rest of the balls, so they do not dry out. If serving 4 people. Reserve 1 cup of the glutinous rice balls for the sweet dessert soup and freeze the rest. (Freezing direction in the recipe notes below.)
Osmanthus Sweet Soup Broth
- Boil water with goji berries, fresh ginger, fermented Chinese sweet rice alcohol (or Umeshu like we did or sweet alcohol or wine of choice) and honey for 3 to 5 minutes for the ginger flavor to shine through. Adjust to your preferred sweetness level.
- Add EITHER 1 cup fresh OR frozen glutinous rice balls to the osmanthus sweet soup broth!FRESH TANG YUAN: Add the FRESH prepared glutinous rice balls into the soup broth and cook over a medium boil uncovered until they float to the top of the soup – around 3 to 5 minutes. Be sure to stir them so they do not stick together. Then continue to cook for about another 1-2 minutes for the best results. FROZEN TANG YUAN: If cooking FROZEN prepared glutinous rice balls, do not unthaw them. Place them frozen directly into the boiling soup broth. Stir them so they do not stick together. You will notice that the soup will stop boiling at first because the cool glutinous rice balls dropped the temperature. Once the soup broth comes up to a rolling bubble, you will add a little cool water (2 tablespoons) to the soup pot. Allow the soup to come to a rolling boil again. Repeat the process a total of 3 times or until the glutinous rice ball dumplings float to the top of the pot. Then, cook at least one minute longer. Cook uncovered. Taste the soup and adjust the sweetness level to your liking.
- Then, add osmanthus flowers to the soup. Slowly add a beaten egg to the soup broth as if you are making an egg drop soup. Serve and Enjoy!