In the Chinese Lunar Calendar, winter solstice falls on December 22 or 23 (solar calendar) every year.
For the past 22 years, I never knew Chinese Winter Solstice Festival was more important than Chinese New Year. I just knew that no matter what you must do whatever you can to have at least one tang yuan for good luck. I remember a few years ago my grandma called my family in Australia to remind us it was the Chinese Winter Solstice Festival and that we needed to eat tang yuan. We clearly forgot and my grandma must have been pretty insistent because my mum drove out just to buy a bowl of tang yuan dessert from Dessert Story (a Taiwanese dessert shop). My grandma would tell us that “one grows a year older once we eat tang yuan” ❤
To me, my sis and my cousins, all we really knew about this Chinese Winter Solstice Festival is a day we called “ball ball day” where we get to eat tang yuan. “Tang yuan” was probably a massive tongue twister for us kiddos so we ended up calling it “ball ball”.
Tang yuan in direct translation is “soup ball” – probably because the glutinous rice balls (aka tang yuan) are served in some sort of sweet soup (clear ginger syrup, red bean soup or black sesame soup). Sometimes the glutinous rice balls are stuffed with crushed peanuts, sweet red bean paste or black sesame paste. In Hong Kong, they serve glutinous rice balls with a side of crushed sweet peanuts to dip it into. So good! My cousin has made a pumpkin glutinous rice ball once too for my grandma who loves pumpkin, like reaally love.
I’ll always remember my grandma giving us a packet of glutinous rice flour, a bowl for mixing and a cup of water and telling us to make tang yuan for dessert. I’m pretty sure it was her way of keeping us entertained ;). We (my sis, cousins and I) would crowd around the dinner table; make the glutinous rice dough and roll the dough into all sorts of shapes and sizes just for the fun of it.
The traditional shape is a round ball as round shapes symbolise family reunion and togetherness. But this was also our opportunity to showcase our creativity. Our top favourites are snakes, squares, swirls of different colours (kinda like a Yin and Yang type thing) and cylinders.
Sometimes we would deliberately make massive ones and super tiny ones just so we can say we won by size! The whole process from making the dough, rolling the dough into balls (or other shapes), cooking the tang yuan and eating them is fun and very therapeutic 🙂
To be honest, I don’t really have a recipe because we were never taught to use one but we were given a few very handy tips 😉
It is literally flour and water mixed into a dough that has a texture that is ‘tacky’ and does not stick to your fingers/hands when kneading.
Tang yuan in ginger syrup
- Glutinous rice flour
- Hot water
- Room temperature water
- Food colouring (green, red, purple etc)
- For the tang yuan balls: In a small mixing bowl, mix 1/3 of the glutinous rice flour with hot water.
- In a medium size mixing bowl, mix 2/3 of the glutinous rice flour with room temperature water. Very gradually add water.
- Mix Step 1 into Step 2. Knead and dust extra flour into the dough if necessary.
- Divide the dough ball into 3 parts. Each part for 1 colour. Add a drop of colouring to the dough. Knead the colour through the dough until mixed thoroughly.
- Roll the dough into small balls. Lay the balls on a tray that is layered with kitchen towel/tissue paper (See Tip 2).
- In a boiling pot of water, put the balls in. Lower the fire to medium heat and allow the balls to cook. The balls will float up when they are cooked.
- For the ginger syrup: In a small pot of water, add sugar and ginger. Allow the sugar to melt and the ginger to infuse in the syrup.
- Add the cooked balls into the ginger syrup.
- Serve warm or cool.
Tip 1: Roll small balls. They have greater surface area so the moisture in the balls can evaporate and be drier when it comes to the boiling stage.
Tip 2: Place the balls on a kitchen towel or tissue so that it will soak up some moisture from the balls. Less moisture = More chewy.
Tip 3: Use hot water for 1/3 of the flour. It seems to maintain the chewy-ness of the glutinous rice balls if serving the next day.
Tip 4: Gradually add the water to the flour mixture when making the dough. We’ve sometimes added too much at a time and have you add tonnes more flour to ‘dry’ out the dough. Too much tang yuan by the end of the night!!