Tang yuan is often associated with the winter solstice, but it is also eaten during other Chinese celebrations such as weddings, birthdays and the Lunar New Year.
What many don’t know is that it is also part of the Mid-Autumn Festival, albeit with the addition of osmanthus wine.
Unlike other plants, osmanthus only comes into full bloom at the end of summer when its flowers are harvested to be brewed into wine.
The wine is consumed while very young, traditionally during the Mid-Autumn Festival together with delicacies like mooncakes, mini taro and water caltrop.
Because of the scarcity of osmanthus wine in Malaysia, I have resorted to creating my own osmanthus tincture by steeping dried osmanthus flowers in good quality rice wine for a month.
The result is an amazingly fragrant infusion that makes this tang yuan different from the usual varieties.
When using homemade osmanthus tincture, it is not necessary to make the syrup with pandan. However, adding a knob of crushed ginger will enhance the flavour thanks to its warm spiciness.
The trickiest part of making tang yuan is getting that springy texture. It takes a fair bit of kneading for the dough to develop enough gluten to make the rice balls al dente.
Some people resort to whipping in hot water a small portion of the glutinous rice flour before adding to the rest of the dough. This is unnecessary because nothing works better than elbow grease.
Once the rice balls are rolled, I usually roll them again lightly to make them a bit more compact before boiling them.
It is important to remove the balls from boiling water as soon as they float to the top.
Then plunge them into cold or iced water to prevent further cooking and leave them in for as long as needed.
You may fill the tang yuan with any of the usual fillings, such as black sesame paste, red bean paste or chopped peanuts. However, a mixture of toasted sesame seeds, sugar and peanut butter is easy to work with.
Also, adding salted egg yolk truly makes this tang yuan a dessert worthy of Mid-Autumn festivities.
Tang yuan with osmanthus wine
500g glutinous rice flour
2 cups cold water
8 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
8 tbsp light brown sugar
6 tbsp peanut butter
4 salted egg yolks, diced
2 litres cold water
125g rock sugar
a knob of ginger, optional
1 cup rice wine
2 tbsp dried osmanthus flowers
Soak dried osmanthus flowers in rice wine and allow to steep in a cool, dark place for at least one week or up to three months.
Combine all ingredients for the filling in a small bowl and set aside.
Fill a mixing bowl with glutinous rice flour and make a well in the middle. Add water and knead into a smooth dough.
The dough should be moist but not sticky. Cover the mixing bowl with a wet tea towel to keep the dough from drying out.
Shape the dough into little balls of about two centimetres in diameter.
Press a finger into the middle of the ball to create the shape of a little cup, and fill it with half a teaspoon of the filling.
Embed a dice of salted egg into the filling.
Seal the dough and roll into a ball with the palm of your hands. Repeat until the filling is used up.
Bring a pot of water to a boil, then drop the little rice balls in one by one.
Stir the water regularly to make sure that the rice balls don’t sink and stick to the bottom of the pot.
When they are cooked, the rice balls will float to the top of the water.
Once cooked, remove the rice balls immediately and plunge them into cold water.
In a separate pot, boil water and rock sugar into a syrup.
In a rice bowl or a serving bowl, put in a few rice balls and ladle over just enough hot syrup.
Add a tablespoon of osmanthus tincture and serve hot.
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