Yuanxiao for a Sweet New Year

Yuanxiao (glutinous rice ball) or Tangyuan is the special food for the Lantern Festival (Chinese people usually call it Yuanxiao Festival, which takes place at the end of the Chinese New Year Celebration). It is believed that Yuanxiao is named after a palace maid, Yuanxiao, of Emperor Wu Di of the Han Dynasty (BC140- BC86). Yuanxiao is a kind of sweet dumpling, which is made with sticky rice flour filled with sweet stuffing, cooked in boiling water and served in syrup water. Yuanxiao is sticky, sweet and round in shape, symbolizing family unity, completeness and happiness.

Yuanxiao can be unfilled or filled, fillings can include red bean paste, chopped peanuts and sugar, sesame paste (ground black sesame seeds mixed with lard), rock sugar (which would create a hot, melting caramel-like filling), etc. Although it is commonly associated with the Chinese New Year and the Lantern Festical, it is now eaten as a popular dessert all year round. 

Northern and Southern Chinese do differ in how they make these tasty little morsels. In the south, balls of glutinous rice flour dough will have a hole poked into it, filled with whatever filling and then rolled once more to close the whole. In the north, the filling is pressed into a hardened core which is lightly wetted and then rolled in dry glutinous rice flour. This snowball coating method is repeated till the desired thickness of coating is reached.

You can find Yuanxiao in oriental food stores. If you enjoy cooking, here is a recipe of Yuanxiao for you.

 4 1/2 cups (500 g) sticky rice flour
butter 7 oz (200 g)
black sesame powder 7 oz (200 g)
sugar 8 oz (250 g)
1 tsp wine

1. Mix the butter with sesame powder, sugar and wine together. You need to heat a little bit. Make small balls about 0.3-0.4 oz (10 g) each.

2. Take 1/2 cup of sticky rice flour. Add water into the flour and make a flatten dough. Cook it in boiled water and take out until done. Let it cool down. Then put it in the rest of the sticky rice flour. Add water and knead until the dough is smooth.

3. Make the dough into small pieces about 0.3-0.4 oz (10 g) each. Make it like a ball using hands first and then make a hole in the ball like a snail. Put the sesame ball into it and close it up.

4. Cook them in boiled water. Make sure to keep stirring in one direction while cooking. When they float on the water, continue to boil for about one minute using less heat.

Source: http://chineseculture.about.com/