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In this article, I’ll walk you through how to make black sesame glutinous rice dumplings or tang yuan, the traditional dessert eaten during the Lantern Festival at Chinese New Year. These round, white dumplings resemble the full moon and symbolize the virtues of unity and family togetherness.
Transport yourself back to ancient China for a moment to consider the work required to grind glutinous rice and sesame seeds into fine powders and you’ll understand why making tang yuan was an activity reserved for special occasions. It was an all day affair. Today, you can buy both glutinous rice flour and ground sesame seeds for just a few dollars at any Chinese market.
With the labor intensive aspects put aside, making tang yuan becomes a really fun holiday cooking project that can easily become a family tradition like baking cookies around Christmas. Kids will especially love sitting around the kitchen table with you rolling the dumpling dough into delicious little balls.
Black sesame seed paste is probably the most popular tang yuan filling, though these days you can find a dizzying array of choices ranging from chocolate to sweet potato to fruit jam. Making tang yuan has three main steps, each of which takes about 10 minutes: a) making the black sesame filling; b) preparing the sweet ginger syrup; and, c) making and filling the dumpling dough.
The finished dumplings get boiled for five minutes, before being dunked into the sweet ginger syrup bath. The resulting dessert you’ve created is somehow equally light, chewy and rich. With each warm bite, the gingery syrup, chewy dough and nutty sesame filling blend together into something that’s really quite incredible. There’s nothing better than a bowl of tang yuan on a cold winter day.
Here’s how to make black sesame glutinous rice dumplings, step-by-step. The detailed tutorial with pictures and directions is at the bottom of the page.
Your turn! What tips can you share from your family’s recipe? Want to ask a question before you start cooking? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below!
Black Sesame Dumplings Recipe
Makes: 16 Dumplings | Prep Time: 30 Minutes | Cook Time: 10 Minutes
1 cup glutinous rice flour
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons black sesame seeds
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups water
3/8 cup Chinese rock sugar (about 75 grams)
2 thin slices of fresh ginger
1. Combine the syrup ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce to low and simmer for 20 minutes.
2. Toast the sesame seeds in a pan over low heat for 2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and cool.
3. Grind the sesame seeds into a powder using a stick blender, mortar and pestle or rolling pin.
4. Melt the butter in a pan, add the sugar and ground sesame seeds and stir to form a thick paste. Remove from the heat and refrigerate until cool.
5. Place the glutinous rice flour into a mixing bowl. Slowly add the water, mixing well, then knead the dough into a smooth ball. Stop adding water before the dough becomes sticky.
6. Divide the dough into 16 equal portions, each roughly the size of a one inch diameter marble. Flatten a piece of dough in the palm of your hand until about 1 1/2 inches in diameter, then spoon 1/4 teaspoon of the black sesame paste into the center of the round.
7. Gently close the edges of the dumpling, then roll into a ball. Continue until all the dumplings are complete.
8. Bring a pot of water to a boil. In small batches, drop the dumplings into the boiling water and simmer for 5 minutes until they float to the surface. Remove and immediately plunge the dumplings into a bowl of iced water. Continue until all the dumplings are cooked.
9. Divide the warm syrup into serving bowls and add dumplings to each bowl. Serve immediately.
Start by gathering your ingredients. You’ll need butter, sugar and black sesame seeds for the filling, water and glutinous rice flour for the dough and water, sugar and ginger for the syrup.
Combine the syrup ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes. The liquid should have the consistency of simple syrup, that is, thicker than water, but not as thick as honey.
Toast the black sesame seeds over low heat for two minutes until fragrant, then remove immediately as they burn easily. Transfer the seeds to a bowl to cool.
Grind the sesame seeds into a powder. I put the sesame seeds into a plastic bag and then use a rolling pin. A stick blender or mortar and pestle work, too.
Melt the butter in a pan and add the sugar and ground sesame seeds to form a thick paste. Remove from the heat and refrigerate until cool.
Place the glutinous rice flour in a mixing bowl. Slowly add the water, mixing all the while, until a smooth dough begins to form. The dough will go from clumpy and bone dry to sticky and unmanageable quickly — drizzle the water in slowly and monitor closely to make you sure you don’t overshoot. You’re aiming for a smooth, pasty dough that doesn’t stick to your fingers.
Retrieve the black sesame paste from the refrigerator and prepare a large, flat surface for dumpling making.
Divide the dough into 16 equal portions, each roughly the size of a one inch diameter marble. Flatten a piece of dough in the palm of your hand until it’s about 1 1/2 inches in diameter, then spoon 1/4 teaspoon of the black sesame paste into the center of the round. Fill your dumplings conservatively — you don’t need a lot of filling to get the taste you want and an overstuffed dumpling is more likely to burst during cooking.
Gently close the edges of the dumpling, then roll it into the shape of a ball. Of course, you want an unblemished white ball, but the black sesame seed paste increases the likelihood you’ll end up with a few that look like spotted hen eggs. Don’t worry!
Continue until all the dumplings are complete. Arrange the dumplings on a plate as you go.
Bring a pot of water to a boil. In small batches, drop the dumplings into the boiling water. You’ll notice that the dumplings stick to the bottom of the pot when you drop them in.
Simmer the dumplings for 5 minutes until they float to the surface. (It’s pretty cool — the bubbles from the simmering water will actually shake the dumplings loose from the pot once they’re done cooking.) Remove and immediately plunge the dumplings into a bowl of ice water. Continue until all the dumplings are cooked.
Divide the warm syrup into serving bowls and add dumplings to each bowl. Serve immediately.
HT: Recipe adapted from Chinese Feasts & Festivals: A Cookbook.