Friday, November 11, 2011

Tong Yuen

My apologies. This post has been sitting in my queue for…well, since the Super Bowl. I didn’t want to publish it until I could successfully use it to make my own tong yuen. And tonight…I did it! Tong Yuen are very simple, if you know what you’re looking for. Simply combine glutinous rice flour with enough water to make a dough. Easy peasy.

February 2011 037

Tong Yuen are one of my favorite Chinese treats. One of my companions introduced them to me when I was a missionary in Hong Kong. We were both craving something sweet and, since I was freshly arrived from America, my sweet companion was scouring the grocery store for ice cream that didn’t cost half of our weekly food budget. “No,” I said. “I don’t want something that sweet…” Right after she picked her jaw up off the floor (she knew I had a sweet tooth!), she grabbed a package of tong yuen from the freezer department. “Try these!” she said. We brought them home and boiled them up. They were delicious! Soft and chewy, filled with sweet black sesame seed paste, they were amazing. They are still one of my favorite ways to satisfy a sweet tooth, but I rarely get to enjoy them. They aren’t too expensive ($4 a package for the good ones), but I always seem to want to save them for a Special Occasion.


When my mother in law came to visit this month and told me she knew how to make them herself, I was so excited! She whipped these up, literally, an hour before we took her to the airport to fly home. They come together quickly, but create a lot of dirty dishes as there are several components coming together.


The trickiest part is, of course, making up the tong yuen. They are a simple mixture of glutinous rice flour and water. That’s it!

February 2011 032

This is too dry.


February 2011 034

This is too wet.

February 2011 035

This is just right! It should resemble…playdough? It’s similar to the Gaak you might have played with in elementary school (cornstarch and water). It stretches if you pull slowly, but snaps off if you pull quickly. You need to be able to roll it out into firm balls that will hold their shape. Just keep adding glutinous rice flour, or water, until you’ve got it right. My MIL started out with 2 cups of flour, and then decided to just mix up the whole bag. We made it our lunch. Yum!

February 2011 038

The boiled, and syruped, tong yuen waiting in a pan to be eaten.

February 2011 039

Our “dipping plate.”

February 2011 042


One very excited Lo Gung. He hadn’t had his mothers homemade tong yuen in years! (I was smarter than him, though. While he was busy watching the Super Bowl, I was hovering near his mother in the kitchen, hoovering up any unclaimed tong yuen as fast as I could. Heh.


These are very “traditional”. MaMa laughed when I said I wanted to learn. These are the treats of her youth, not the lovely filled ones you can find in Asian grocery stores now. However, I think these are just perfect. If you like fillings in your dumplings, you could definitely use this recipe to wrap up some red bean paste or sesame seed paste.


MaMa’s Tong Yuen

Makes enough for 4-6 people



2 Tbsp. sesame seeds

3 tsp. white sugar

1/4 cup nuts (cashew, peanuts, almonds, etc. Whatever you want.)



2 bars Chinese brown sugar (pin tong) (these are sold in Asian grocery stores and look like small bricks)

1/4 cup water


Tong Yuen:

2 cups glutinous rice flour, plus extra for adjustments

1/2 cup water, plus extra for adjustments


1. Prepare a medium sized pot and fill it about half way with water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and let it simmer until you are ready to cook your tong yuen.


2. In a small sauce pan, combine your pin tong (Chinese brown sugar) and water. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is completely dissolved. You may need to help it along by breaking up the sugar bars with your spoon.


3. In the bowl of a small food processor, pulse your nuts until coarsely ground. (Alternately, you can put your nuts in a plastic bag and use a mallet or rolling pin to bash them up.) It should look like chunky cornmeal when you are done. Combine with your white sugar and sesame seeds in a small bowl, and set aside.

4. In a bowl, combine your glutinous rice flour and 1/2 cup water.  Mix it with your fingers and adjust the water or glutinous rice flour until you have the right consistency. Do not over-mix this. Over-mixed tong yuen are chewy, gummy, dense tong yuen. Not good eats. Use three-four fingers to lightly mix the flour and water together, sort of pinching and folding until everything is right. You should be able to roll it out into balls that will keep their shape. It will look a little like spackling!


5. When your tong yuen are rolled out, carefully lower them into your simmering water. Return to a boil, and cook until the tong yuen float (about 2-3 minutes).


6. When the tong yuen are finished cooking, use a spider or slotted spoon to fish them out of the water and into the pot of syrup. Stir to coat, then use your spider or slotted spoon to remove to a serving dish. You can sprinkle with your nut/sugar mixture, or allow your guests to dip their tong yuen individually as they eat them.