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Yuanxiao Dumplings



Yuanxiao Dumplings are a specialty of Nanjing, China.

They are white rice flour dumplings about the size of apricots, served as a dessert.

They are named after the "Yuanxiao" Lantern Festival (15th day of the 1st lunar month), for which they are particularly made.

The filling is made of sugar, minced osmanthus flowers, ground sesame seeds and five kinds of kernels. Other ingredients might be walnuts, rose petals, tangerine peel, bean paste, etc. This filling mixture is pressed into a cake, then cut into cubes.

From here, there two different methods of preparing the dumplings. In Northern China, a common method is to put the cubes on bamboo baskets, where the cubes are sprinkled with water and coated in sticky rice flour. They are sprinkled with water and rolled in the flour repeatedly until the desired layer is built up.

In Southern China, they are more likely to be made by taking a small ball of rice flour dough, poking a hole in it, inserting a cube of the filling, then sealing the hole.

The dumplings are then placed gently into some moderately boiling water. In a few minutes, they will rise to the surface. When they do, you lower the temperature of the water right away by adding some cold water to it, then simmer then gently for a few more minutes (you don't want to cook them too vigorously at this stage or they may fall apart.)

The water they are simmered in may be plain or flavoured. If the water is plain, then the dumplings are served in a bowl, with some sugar sprinkled on them. 

The simmering water may be sweetened with flavour, and flavoured with items such as osmanthus flowers, jujubes, candied dates or longan pulp. In this case, some of the liquid is served in the bowl with the dumplings.

Savoury ones with meat and vegetable fillings can also be made.

History Notes

Yuanxiao Dumplings have been made since the late 300 ADs.

Language Notes

"Yuan" means first; "Xiao" refers to night. Together, they mean the first full moon in the new year.

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Also called:

Tangyuan Dumplings; Tangyuan, Yuanxiao (Chinese)

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