These Chinese sweet dumplings, tangyuan, are filled with a peanut mixture that's a wonderful contrast to the slightly gooey outside. They are traditionally served for the lantern festival but delicious enough to enjoy any time.
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My first dumpling making experience was during a trip to Taiwan, many years ago now. I was tagging along while my now husband was at a conference and it was a pretty great arrangement that we've repeated since.
I nearly always want to do more exploring than him, so I got to see more while he was at work during the day. Then we met for dinner and managed the odd joint trips, some of which was generally a conference excursion. It's not quite as easy with kids, but still works pretty well.
Making the most of bad weather
We managed to hit a late-season typhoon in Taiwan so unfortunately I didn't get to do a lot of the hiking on the coast and other things I had planned. But, it did have a plus side as instead one day I took a cooking lesson at Jodie's Kitchen. It was a lovely few hours learning about some of the simple sauces and core ingredients of Chinese/Taiwanese cooking and Jodie made a great host.
It was so nice to try a number of flavors and I have made a couple things I learned a few times since. However while I was enthusiastic to make more dumplings, I didn't exactly get going quickly. But even with the slower start, we've at least had some a few times, including these.
These sweet dumplings are traditionally eaten during the lantern festival that marks the end of the New Year celebrations typically in March, but they really are good enough to eat more often.
About the ingredients
The outer dough is made with glutinous rice flour - the rice used to make sticky rice. Despite the name, it doesn't contain gluten at all. The name is just due to the stickiness. It is a little different from regular rice flour so do hunt it down.
You can use a range of fillings in these, with peanut or black sesame being the most popular. I have made them with both sesame and peanut and both are really tasty. Here I describe with peanut since I think it's probably easier to enjoy and you are more likely to have the ingredients on hand.
Traditionally, the small amount of fat in there would be lard but I have used coconut oil as I prefer the flavor. Using a mix of peanut butter and roasted peanuts helps give a great texture so I recommend using the mix.
Tips for making Chinese sweet dumplings
These can be a little fiddly to form, but hopefully these pointers will help -
- Be sure to use warm water for the dough. While it makes the dough softer, it also makes it less likely to crack.
- Don't roll out the dough too thinly as they will just burst when you start to roll it. In fact, you can just flatten it a little with your fingers. It's easier to have to pull the side pieces together more to get them to come together than deal with a bursting bottom part.
- The dough is relatively soft, so keep some extra flour on hand. But don't use too much as it is then more likely to burst.
- I recommend you keep the filling frozen until just before using - it's much easier to fold the sides in around a firm ball than a very soft one.
- When you put the filling in, lightly bring the sides together with your hands then join them. You can pinch together in three or four places or just join as it falls - just try to not have areas that are very thick with dough.
- Make sure you don't have air inside as you fold the sides together as it will make them more likely to burst.
- If you do get cracks, just gently press together the pieces of dough and smooth with a little water.
These cook really quickly, a bit like gnocchi. Also similarly, they are best eaten soon after cooking, so be prepared to gobble them down soon after making them. Believe me, that's not a problem.
I hope you'll give these Chinese sweet dumplings a go as they are really tasty and worth trying. They make a nice dessert or snack. The peanut filling is a lovely bold and tasty contrast to the mild, slightly gooey outer shell. It's comforting and delicious.
Try these other ideas for Chinese New Year:
- Chinese pork and cabbage dumplings
- Sang choy bao, Chinese lettuce wraps
- Yee sang, Chinese salad (known as 'prosperity toss')
- Plus get more Chinese recipes in the archives.
Tangyuan - Chinese sweet dumplings
For the outer dough
- ¾ cup glutinous rice flour 75g
- 6 tbsp water 90ml, hot
For the filling
- 4 tbsp peanuts 36g (see notes)
- 2 tbsp peanut butter
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp coconut oil (see notes)
- If not already toasted, dry roast the peanuts in a skillet until gently brown and remove any shell. Place the peanuts, peanut butter, sugar and coconut oil in a food processor and blend until combined - it doesn't have to be smooth, you want a bit of texture.
- Take rounded teaspoons of the peanut paste and spoon onto a parchment-lined plate or baking sheet in small mounds, roughly balls. Use all the mixture to make eight balls, as even as possible. Place the plate/baking sheet in the freezer for a couple minutes while you prepare the outer dough.
- Mix the rice flour and hot water for the dough to make a smooth dough.
- Divide the dough into eight equal pieces and roll into balls. Use some flour on your hands if it is very sticky.
- Flatten one of the pieces into a circle either with a rolling pin or your hands. Place one of the chilled peanut filling pieces in the middle. I recommend keeping the remaining filling pieces in the freezer and just take out a couple at a time so they don't get too soft to work with.
- Carefully bring up the sides of the dough to join together around the filling. Try not to have it doubled over but relatively even thickness on all sides. Once all joined, gently roll the dumpling in floured hands to form a ball. Repeat with the rest of the pieces of dough.
- When ready to cook, bring a pan of water to a continuous boil and add the balls of dough. Cook for a few minutes until they rise to the top (like cooking gnocchi) then remove. You can serve them as they are, but commonly served in a light sugar syrup (see notes below) or warm water.
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This post was first shared in March 2015 and has been updated with new photos, video and additional information.