Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Glutinous Rice Balls with Black Sesame Filling (Tong Yuan)

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Happy New Year of the Snake!  I can't believe I didn't mention this on my last post, so I've decided to apologize by posting a recipe for Glutinous Rice Balls filled with a Black Sesame Filling (Tong Yuan). Tong Yuan is very popular during the Winter Solstice, but I decided to figure out how they are made so I could have them for the Lunar New Year.  There are many variations on how to make Tong Yuan.  They can be found in a myriad of variations from being different colours, from unfilled to filled, and even the filling itself can vary!

This recipe is for Tong Yuan that's filled with a black sesame filling.  It is a little harder to make than the unfilled ones, but it's definitely worth a try.  The reason it's harder is because the goal is to make the outer shell as thin as possible without it breaking during the cooking process.  After all, black sesame filling all over the outside of a white Tong Yuan isn't as visually appealing.

The serving will also require us to make a syrup for the Glutinous Rice Balls.  This too can have different variations, but I prefer making a brown sugar syrup instead of a clear one.  The reason why I like using sesame powder in my recipe is that it provides a different texture than the outer later of the rice ball.  Eating glutinous rice balls is an experience!  You first start by nibbling at the outside edges because it may be very hot.  Once you're absolutely sure that the filling inside won't burn you, you bite down and release a torrent of sesame flavour.  Enjoy this recipe and don't forget to tell me how the glutinous rice balls turn out!

I use sesame powder to make a black sesame filling.  Feel free to substitute it with lotus paste or red bean paste from your local Chinese grocer.  To make the Glutinous Rice Balls with Black Sesame Filling gather the following ingredients:

For the filling (may substitute with store bought Lotus Paste or Red Bean Paste):
  • 3 teaspoons black sesame powder
  • 1 teaspoon lukewarm water
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil

For the dough:
  • 1 cup glutinous rice flour
  • 1/2 cup lukewarm water
  • 1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil

For the syrup:
  • 2 sticks of brown sugar
  • Small piece of ginger
  • Water

Start by making the black sesame filling:
  1. Mix all of the above ingredients until it forms a thick paste.  If it's too runny, then you can add more sesame powder little by little until it turns into a thick granular paste.  It's normal for the paste not to be smooth.
Then make the dough:
  1. All all of the ingredients for the dough together and knead until it forms a soft dough that does not stick to your hands.  If it's too wet then add a little bit of glutinous rice flour.  If it's too dry then add a little water.  You will need to adjust accordingly because the ambient humidity can affect the dough.
  2. Place the dough in a bowl and cover with a moist towel. Set aside the dough for about 10 minutes
Rolling the Tong Yuan:

  1. Uncover the dough and tear off enough dough to roll the dough into balls 1 inch in diameter.
  2. Push outwards from the middle and stretch out the dough.  This way you are making a small indent in the centre.
  3. Spoon some of the black sesame filling into centre of the indentation.
  4. Gently fold the sides back over and pinch the edges where the folds meet closed.
  5. Gently roll the filled dough to make a ball shape.
The rolling method I use makes a very thin outer shell but it can be hard to make it without tearing the dough if it's your first time making it.  An alternate method is to push into the centre of the dough ball with your thumb and put less filling.

To cook glutinous rice balls:
  1. Fill a small pot half full of water and bring it to a gentle boil.  This will serve as the water bath to cook the glutinous rice balls.  If the water is boiling too vigorously you risk the Tong Yuan tearing open.
  2. Gently drop each Tong Yuan into the water.  The Tong Yuan will not stick to the bottom, but once they are cooked, they will automatically float to the top of the water.  Once the Tong Yuan has floated, let them stay there for another minute, then remove the Tong Yuan and place it into a cold water bath.  This will help them retain a sticky texture when you eat them.
  3. Now we will make the syrup by filling a small pot with water and placing the 2 sticks of brown sugar and the piece of ginger into it.  Bring the water to a gentle boil and turn off the heat once the brown sugar has completely melted.  The syrup is now ready.
  4. Remove the Tong Yuan from the cold water bath and place it into the syrup.  Cover for about 5 to 10 minutes and then serve warm.

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