Jan 192012

[photo-tang yuan for chinese new year]

Tang Yuan for Chinese New Year

Time is flying by fast this month for me. It was only about two weeks ago that we celebrated the New Year to welcome 2012. And now, with only four more days to go, Chinese Lunar New Year will descend upon us to kick off 2012 (again)! =)

To celebrate Chinese New Year and the Year of the Dragon, I promised in my last post that I will share some recipes to celebrate this very special occasion. And keeping to my promise, I decided to create my very own version of the classic sweet rice dumpling called Tang Yuan (湯圓), *but* with a fresh new twist. And I am very happy to share that the result is just scrumptious! (And it had better be.)  This is because I experimented with my Tang Yuan recipe 3 different times this week before I arrived at my final recipe below. Each time, I tweaked varying amounts of some ingredients while adding or removing other ingredients to get the best flavor and texture!

[photo-purple sweet potato tang yuan]

Tang Yuan made with purple sweet potatoes

Before I get to my recipe though, I’d like to remind you that there is only 3 more days to enter in my Lunar New Year Giveaway! Three lucky winners will be selected at random to win one of three prizes which total $100 in value. There are also six different ways you can enter to increase your odds of winning. So be sure to submit your entries todaybefore you leave this site! Good luck! =)

Getting back to my Chinese New Year food recipe. Sweet rice dumplings, or Tang Yuan, is a very traditional Chinese sweet dessert that is similar to the Japanese mochi in appearance. Like mochi, Tang Yuan is typically made out of glutinous rice flour and some water to form a smooth al-dente dough which is rolled into round balls. While mochi is typically served dry, Tang Yuan is always served moist with a sweet gingery syrup, either hot or cold. Tang Yuan is also never filled with ice cream as some popular versions of delicious mochi are. Instead, Tang Yuan is typically filled with a sweet delectable black or white sesame paste, red bean paste, or ground peanuts and coconuts stuffing. And sometimes, no filling is used at all in the rice dumplings. Some people *love* this plain version because of the soft chewy texture of the al-dente glutinous rice balls. For me, I always prefer the type with a sweet filling inside.

[photo-my tang yuan of different flavors]

My Tang Yuan of Different Experimental Flavors

Determined to create my own new variation of the traditional Tang Yuan recipe, I decided to make my rice dumpling out of purple sweet potatoes and sweet figs. Why use purple sweet potatoes? I have always loved it for its beautiful, deep, intense purple color and its natural, sweet, delicious flavor. The resulting Tang Yuan gets a beautiful purplish-lavender color too without a drop of chemical color additives. Also, I have always said to my husband that this sweet potato would make a wonderful sweet paste for a new trendy version of classic Chinese pastries. And when I came across a rice dumpling recipe made with purple sweet potatoes by Lily’s Wai Sek Hong, I was instantly inspired to create my very own variation.

[photo-sweet potato tang yuan with sesame]

My Sweet Potato Tang Yuan with Sesame

In my version, I used a different ratio of glutinous rice flour to regular rice flour which I thought gave a chewier, more al-dente texture to the rice balls. I also wanted to make the Tang Yuan as healthy as possible by using the least amount of added sugar in the paste filling without sacrificing flavor. The solution? Sweet figs! After several trial and error, I discovered that figs not only added the best flavor to my sweet potato filling, they also gave the otherwise soft and mushy filling a much better texture and mouth-feel. I had experimented with a few other ingredients for the stuffing.  I even coated the outside of the Tang Yuan. But the clear winning combination for me is my final recipe below.

Enjoy and Happy Chinese New Year to you and your family!!

5.0 from 7 reviews
Recipe: Purple Sweet Potato Dumpling (Tang Yuan)
Recipe type: Dessert, Dessert Soup
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 14 balls
  • 4 cubes of ice
  • ½ cup glutinous rice flour (sticky rice flour)
  • 1 tbsp (regular) rice flour
  • ⅓ cup mashed purple sweet potato (~4 oz purple sweet potato)
  • 4 tbsp water
  • ½ cup mashed purple sweet potato (~4.5 oz purple sweet potato)
  • 2 tbsp cane sugar
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil (I used canola oil)
  • 3 dried figs, grated / minced (despite 5 shown in photo =) )
  • 3 cups of water
  • 4 big slices of ginger
  • 1 golf-ball sized rock sugar
  1. Wash the outside of the purple sweet potato. Place into a steamer and steam for 25 minutes. When done, peel off the skin with a knife and cut the sweet potato to small pieces and mash in a bowl with a fork.
To Make the Dough:
  1. In a mixing bowl, mix the rice flours with a fork first. Add the rest of the dough ingredients to the bowl. Mix and knead the dough until it looks like soft clay.*
  2. Cover with saran wrap and set aside.
To Make the Filling:
  1. In a separate mixing bowl, combine all ingredients for the filling to form a paste.
To Make the Sweet Potato Dumplings (Tang Yuan):
  1. Separate the dough to 14 equal pieces and roll them to 1.5 inch wide balls.
  2. Flatten a dough ball with your palms. Using a small spoon, scoop about ½ tsp of the filling onto the center of the dough. Fold the edges up to seal the opening and gently roll to a ball shape with your palms. Be careful not to roll too hard or the wrap will burst.
  3. Repeat the process until you have 14 balls that are filled and about 2 inches in diameter each.
  4. To make the sweet ginger syrup, boil 3 cups of water in a small pot. Add the ginger when the water boils and cook with the lid on for about 5 minutes. Add the rock sugar. Continue to cook covered until the sugar melts completely. Turn off heat and set aside.
  5. To cook the dumplings, fill half of a small pot with water and bring it to a boil. In the meanwhile, prepare a bowl of cold water (~ 2 cups) and add the ice cubes in.
  6. When the water boils, put the dumplings in gently and lower the heat to Medium. Cook for about 3 minutes or until all of the dumplings float to the surface of the water. Turn off the heat.
  7. Gently scoop the dumplings into the bowl of ice water. If the water does not completely cover the dumplings, add more cold water to the bowl. Let the dumplings cool in the ice bath for at least 5 minutes.
  8. Drain the dumplings from the ice water and add to a bowl of the ginger syrup. Serve.
* The dough should not be too dry and crack, or be too wet and stick to your hands.


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  18 Responses to “Purple Sweet Potato Dumpling (Tang Yuan)”

  1. These are so pretty! I haven’t had tang yuan, but I would love to try – I haven’t encountered a Chinese sweet treat yet that i haven’t loved, and purple sweet potatoes were wonderful when I had a chance to try them. :)

  2. What a beautiful treat to ring in the Chinese New Year! Love that you used the purple potatoes to get this gorgeous color =)

  3. Sharon, your sweet dumplings turned out beautiful. 3 attempts but it was so worth it. Xian Nian Kuai Le!!

  4. What a wonderful idea! Never thought you could combine purple sweet potatoes with tang yuan. They look beautiful and yummy. Certainly a new twist to a traditional dessert item.

  5. Wow, what a creative recipe! And you put so many thoughts and trials into it!

    I only know the traditional Japanese mochi cakes with red bean filling. Those are nice. I had no idea that making rice cake balls is so easy, I think I shall try this myself. :)

    Have a wonderful celebration of the Lunar New Year! :)

  6. I love sweet purple potato not only for it’s flavor but also for it’s beautiful color. Must taste wonderful as fillings for those dumplings. Happy New Year, Sharon!

  7. It looks really beautiful and very unusual for someone who is doesn’t know Asian desserts. I have heard about the Japanese mochi cakes, but haven’t tasted them. Happy New Year!

  8. Wow, these are so impressive and so beautiful! I love the creativeness you used here :)
    Happy Chinese Lunar New Year!

  9. I’ve had mochi before, but never tang yuan–they sound delicious, especially with the gingery syrup! These are so beautiful too.

  10. Wow the purple sweet potatoes give it such a beautiful color! And I imagine it’s delicious with figs. Happy lunar new year!!

  11. Happy Chinese New Year! Your potato dumplings look wonderful — I love their stunning color! Definitely the perfect way to celebrate! :)

  12. I’d love to have a bowl of this, please!!

  13. These are so beautiful and festive. Perfect for easter.

  14. This purple sweet potato dumpling is amazing. SO pretty! I’d put red bean for sure… =) We have similar dish and hope to share it one day.

  15. Lovely tang yuan…. =)

  16. I’ve never had such a thing and it looks so gorgeous and delicious!

  17. Palm sugar + ginger + pandan leaves also make a great syrup.
    I’m using white potato for bland tan yuan + ginger syrup.

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