Tangyuan, or chewy rice balls, are traditionally eaten as a dessert during the family reunion dinner on Chinese New Year's Eve. Each bowl of tangyuan symbolizes unity; and the smoothness of each ball represents how smooth the family's year will be. The rice balls have a soft and slightly bouncy texture and a sweet surprise in the center. The traditional filling for tangyuan is made with black sesame seeds, but we chose a less typical version--a sweet, nutty and luscious peanut filling. Kneading in a small amount of cooked rice ball (very similar to a flour paste used for Japanese milk bread) helps to lock in moisture and make the wrapping process easier. Tangyuan are usually white, but we couldn't resist the eye-catching effect of tinting a batch pink and arranging them like petals around a single white ball.
Lightly toast the peanuts in a small saute pan over medium heat, tossing occasionally, until the peanuts are hot, about 3 minutes.
Transfer the peanuts to a food processor, add the sugar and salt and process on high, stopping and scraping down the bowl if necessary, until a paste forms, about 3 minutes. Pulse in the butter until very smooth, about 30 seconds. Transfer to a small bowl and chill in the freezer until firm enough to handle, about 45 minutes.
Mix the rice flour and boiling water in a medium bowl until the water has been absorbed and the dough is soft and not sticky.
Meanwhile, bring a medium pot of water to a boil over medium-high heat.
Remove a small piece of dough (about 1 teaspoon), roll it into a 1/2-inch ball, add it to the pot of water and boil until it floats, about 2 minutes. Drain the ball, then knead it back into the original dough until smooth. If the dough is still sticky, work in a tablespoon of rice flour.
Remove three-quarters of the dough with gloved hands and knead with 5 drops of pink gel food color until the dough is evenly pink. Divide the pink dough into 20 pieces, roll into balls and cover with a damp towel. With clean hands, divide the remaining white dough into 4 pieces, roll into balls and cover with another damp towel. Set aside.
Divide the chilled peanut filling into 24 portions onto a plate lined with plastic using a heaping 1/2-teaspoon measuring spoon. Freeze until firm, about 15 minutes. Roll each piece into a ball and freeze until firm, about 10 minutes.
Flatten each piece of dough into a 2-inch disc and place a ball of peanut filling in the middle. Gently wrap the dough around the filling until completely sealed and roll into a smooth ball. If the peanut filling starts to get too soft, freeze for another 10 minutes. Once all the rice balls have been rolled, place under a damp towel to keep them moist and soft.
Bring a large pot of water to a gentle simmer and cook the rice balls in batches, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, until the balls start to float, 5 to 7 minutes. Serve 1 white ball surround by 5 pink balls in a small bowl with some cooking water to make a flower. Enjoy warm.
You can substitute black sesame seeds for the peanuts. If you want to skip food coloring, you can use 1 tablespoon beet juice instead.
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