In Chinese, tangyuan translates to “soup balls.” The mounds of glutinous rice flour look like little white snowballs nestled in a sweet, melty puddle. Coincidentally, the words “tangyuan” are also a homonym for the Chinese phrase “getting together.” Many Chinese families make this recipe together during big holiday gatherings like Mid-Autumn Festival and Lunar New Year.
Red bean tangyuan is a deliciously warm and lightly sweet Chinese dessert. The soft and chewy balls have a mochi-like texture and the adzuki red bean filling adds creamy sweetness. Tangyuan can be made with a variety of fillings like sesame or peanut, and are commonly served with a gingery soup that adds a warm brightness.
The Red Bean Filling
Red bean, also known as adzuki or azuki bean, is a small and smooth bean with a reddish skin and white interior. It is usually sold dried and can be easily found at most Asian supermarkets and online retailers. The beans are often eaten in paste form, which is lightly nutty, earthy, and often sweetened. The texture is similar to mashed sweet potato.
Soaking allows the red beans to hydrate thoroughly so that heat can penetrate and cook the beans properly. It also shortens the cooking time. If time is an issue, you can use store-bought anko (red bean paste). It is also readily available in most Asian markets.
Note that azuki red beans are very different from red kidney beans and they cannot be used interchangeably.
Use Glutinous Rice Flour
Glutinous rice flour is made from glutinous rice, which is a short-grained rice known to be on the sweeter side. It is completely different from rice flour, which is made from medium and long-grain rice. Glutinous rice flour will give you that light chewy texture like mochi. With the addition of hot water, glutinous rice flour will transform into a thick sticky paste.
Glutinous rice flour can be found in the flour aisle of your Asian supermarket or online. Sometimes it is sold in clear square bags from either Vietnam or Thailand, and you’ll often find Japanese glutinous rice flour labeled as mochiko.
How to Make the Best Tangyuan Dough
Ensure that you’re using boiling hot water to mix up the tangyuan dough. The heat from the water helps activate the adhesive bonds in glutinous rice flour and allows the strands to stick together.
This is what gives tangyuan and mochi their soft yet chewy texture. Cold water will fail to activate the stickiness and will instead turn the dough into rice milk.
Adjusting the Sweetness
I prefer to use dark brown sugar when making the sweet ginger syrup. The molasse-y sweetness complements the ginger notes so well. Dark brown sugar is available at supermarkets, but feel free to use traditional brown rock sugar.
For this recipe, the gingery soup’s sweetness is on the lighter side since there is also sugar in the red bean filling. If preferred, add more sugar to taste.
Celebrate Lunar New Year
Red Bean Tangyuan
Although making the red bean paste might feel labor-intensive, it is worth the hassle and time. You can double or triple the red bean paste to use in other Asian desserts.
Store excess red bean paste in an airtight container in the fridge with plastic wrap pressed against the surface for up to 5 days.
For the red bean filling
2 cups water, to soak
1/4 cup dried adzuki red beans
3 cups water, to boil
1/2 cup sugar
For the dough
4 cups (470g) glutinous rice flour, plus more for dusting and rolling
1 1/2 cups boiling water
For the gingery sweet syrup
1 (2-inch) piece fresh ginger, sliced
1 cup dark brown sugar, packed, or to taste
12 cups water
Soak the red beans:
Add the red beans and water to a medium bowl. Cover the bowl and let soak at room temperature for 8 hours or overnight.
Cook the red beans:
Drain the beans and discard the water. In a saucepan, add the soaked beans, 3 cups of fresh water, and sugar.
Bring the water to a vigorous boil over high heat before lowering the heat to medium-low to maintain a gentle simmer. Cover and cook for 2 hours while occasionally checking to replenish with water if needed (the beans should never be poking above the water).
Mash and chill the red beans:
Pierce the red beans with a fork to check for doneness; they should be super soft. If they’re not, add more water if needed and replace the lid and continue cooking. Once the beans have completely softened, turn the heat up to medium and simmer with the lid off to evaporate the excess moisture.
Once almost all of the water has evaporated, smear the beans on the sides of the pot to mash the red beans into a paste. Let cool before transferring to a container and pressing plastic wrap directly against the red bean paste to prevent a skin from forming.
Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or until firm.
Make the dough:
In a large bowl, add the glutinous rice flour and boiling water. Stir until it becomes a shaggy dough and is just cool enough to handle. If the dough is too dry, add boiling water a teaspoon or two at a time as needed.
Dump the shaggy dough out onto a clean surface and knead it together to form a soft and round dough.
Divide and shape the dough:
Divide the dough in half. Wrap one half with plastic wrap and set it aside to prevent drying out. Roll the other half into a ball and divide into 8 equal pieces (I like to use a bench scraper to divide the dough).
Grab one piece and cover the remaining dough with plastic wrap. Roll out into a log and divide in half. Roll both halves into a ball and place one under the plastic wrap. Use your thumb to make an indent in the remaining dough ball.
If the dough balls feel sticky, toss in excess glutinous rice flour and roll with your hands until it is easier to work with. If they become dry, lightly wet your hands with water.
Fill the dough:
Scoop out about 1/2 teaspoon of red bean filling and place it in the center of the indent. Press the red bean filling into the center and roll the dough edges to create a small wall around the filling. Pinch the walls to seal in the filling and roll until it becomes a smooth ball.
Roll the tangyuan in excess glutinous rice flour to prevent it from sticking and place on a baking sheet. Cover loosely with a kitchen towel.
Repeat these steps with the other piece of prepared dough, then with the rest of the tangyuan dough.
Freeze or cook the tangyuan:
At this point, you can freeze the tangyuan or cook them.
To freeze: Dust a baking sheet with glutinous rice flour to prevent sticking. Spread the tangyuan apart into a single layer. Freeze for 4 hours, or until they are fully frozen, before transferring them to a freezer bag. You can cook them directly from frozen, just add a few minutes to the cook time.
To cook and serve: In a pot, add the ginger, dark brown sugar, and water. Stir over high heat and bring to a boil. Add the tangyuan and cook for 5 minutes or until they float to the top, stirring occasionally to make sure they don’t stick to the pot. For a clear soup, use a spoon to skim off any foam from the top.
This recipe makes enough gingery sweet syrup to cook and serve all of the tangyuan. If you are cooking less at a time, adjust the soup accordingly.
Serve and enjoy:
Use a ladle to scoop the tangyuan and soup into bowls. Serve warm.
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|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 0g||0%|
|Saturated Fat 0g||0%|
|Total Carbohydrate 49g||18%|
|Dietary Fiber 1g||4%|
|Total Sugars 28g|
|Vitamin C 0mg||0%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|