Pebble effect red bean paste rice ball recipe for the Lantern Festival (Yuan Xiao/Tang Yuan)

Now that Chinese New Year is over (happy year of the monkey!), it’s time for arguably the even bigger festival of the year: the Lantern Festival (also known as Yuan Xiao festival). Yuan Xiao are basically fillings wrapped in glutinous rice flour, and the fillings can be anything from minced meat to sesame paste. I’m using red bean paste (azuki bean paste) here. If you want to make the paste from scratch, you can try this anko recipe.

There are two “schools” of making these rice ball dumplings: you can either make the fillings first, then roll them around in the rice flour to coat them in a thick layer of the flour, or you can make the flour into a sort of dumpling skin, then stuff the filling inside.

I usually use the first method, but in order to make these pebble-effect Yuan Xiao, it makes more sense to go for the latter. You can mix different ingredients into the rice flour to create all sorts of colours. I’ve only used cocoa powder and strawberry jam here, as I wanted to make brown and rose-coloured swirls.

Portions of the ingredients are fairly rough again, as is always the case when making dumplings. Please use it as a guide only. This makes roughly 10 “pebbles”.


200-250g glutinous rice flour
2 tbsp of cocoa powder
2 tbsp of strawberry jam
150g red bean paste

You’ll also need water throughout.

Step 1: spoon around 3 tbsps of glutinous rice flour into the cocoa powder, and the same into the strawberry jam. Add 2 spoons of water to the cocoa and 1 spoon to the jam and stir.

Step 2: keep adding water to the cocoa and the jam mixes until they form a dough. Add more flour if the consistency is too watery.

Step 3: add water bit by bit to the leftover flour in the main mixing bowl until this forms a plain dough.


Step 4: squeeze the plain dough into a roll and roll the cocoa and jam doughs into longer strips. Coat the plain dough roll with the cocoa and jam dough strips.


Step 5: twist the roll to blend the colours together and form swirls. Take off a chunk at the end of the roll and press flat with your hand to form the “skin”. It can be around 5mm thick and around 1 inch in diameter.


Step 6: take a lump of red bean paste and place it into the centre of the skin. Fold the skin around it and roll the skin to seal the bean paste into the skin. These don’t have to be perfectly round (unlike traditional yuan xiao), as you want them to look like pebbles.


Step 7: Repeat until all the dough is used up. Bring a pan of water to boil, and if there is leftover red bean paste, then mix this into the water.


Step 8: drop in the pebbles and wait for the water to boil again. Stir to avoid these sticking to the bottom. Once boiled, turn to low heat and heat for a further 2-5 minutes, until the pebbles float.


Step 9: spoon out and serve! Don’t throw away the soup, especially if you’ve mixed in some red bean paste.

You’d usually mix red bean paste into the soup for plain glutinous rice balls (so those with no fillings), but I like to mix a bit into the soup for the filled ones as well, just to add some flavour.

As the amounts of cocoa powder and jam are so minimal, you hardly get any of the flavours from them. You can try out other colours by using, for example, matcha for green. Let me know how you get on!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s