Carioca balls with brown sugar glaze are the perfect snack or dessert! These fried sticky rice treats are sweet, chewy, and gluten-free!
I was on my ritual afternoon phone chat with my mother last Saturday when she asked what I was cooking for my website. "Carioca," I answered. "What is that?" she asked.
I was surprised she didn't know what I thought to be a popular Filipino snack food but proceeded to explain, "Deep-fried glutinous rice balls coated with caramel."
"Ah, tungi tungi!" she exclaimed. I soon realized what caused her confusion, and that is our many Philippine dialects to blame! "Tungi" means to skewer in Kapampangan and carioca are called tungi-tungi in our region as they are commonly sold skewered in bamboo sticks.
With only four ingredients and ready in 30 minutes, these sweetened fried sticky rice balls are quick and easy snacks to prepare at home. What took a little bit more work was figuring out the right proportions for the dough.
After a few tries, I found 1 ½ cups glutinous rice flour to 1 cup of water ratio to yield the soft and chewy texture I like.
- To amp up the flavor, swap the water with coconut milk or coconut juice.
- The dough should not feel dry or too sticky. If it feels too dry, add more water a tablespoon at a time until the dough is smooth and pliable. If too wet, add more glutinous rice flour a tablespoon at a time.
- "Poke" the dough balls with the bamboo stick before deep-frying to prevent them from "exploding" and to lessen the splattering of hot oil.
- Maintain the optimal temperature of 350 to 375 F during frying. Too low and the rice balls will absorb more grease. Too hot and the rice balls will brown on the outside before completely cooked through on the inside and might cause the balls to explode.
- Use enough oil, so the rice balls are submerged. Use high-smoke point oils such as peanut oil, canola oil, and safflower which are meant for deep-frying.
- Do not overcrowd the pan. Fry in batches as needed to prevent the oil temperature from plummeting and enough space to move the balls freely.
- The dough will float to the surface when done. Cook a little longer until lightly browned to prevent them from collapsing.
How to make caramel syrup
You can either use the dry or wet method in making the caramel sauce. I like to use the wet method, which is simply adding ¼ cup of water to 1 cup of sugar and boiling off the mixture until thick and golden in color.
- Stir until the sugar is dissolved but once the mixture comes to a boil, DO NOT stir as the agitation may cause crystallization and result in a grainy caramel.
- Take the caramel off the heat when it's a shade slightly lighter than the color you like as it will continue to cook from the residual heat.
- Dip the fried rice balls in the caramel to fully coat or drizzle generously with the caramel. Work quickly as the syrup will thicken as it cools.
How to serve
- Carioca are amazing with tsokolate, coffee, tea or your favorite cold beverage for a midday snack or anytime you need a sweet treat!
- Store at room temperature for about 1 to 2 days. Depending on the ambient temperature, the balls might begin to "sweat" after awhile due to the caramel sugar.
- To keep longer, cover loosely with film and refrigerate. They'll last for about 5 to 7 days but please note the cold temperature will change the texture from chewy to hard.
For the Carioca
- 1 ½ cups glutinous rice flour
- 1 cup water (and 1 tablespoon or so more if needed)
- canola oil
For the Sugar Coating
- 1 cup sugar
- ¼ cup water
- In a bowl, combine glutinous rice flour and 1 cup of water. Stir until flour is moistened. If needed, add 1 tablespoon of water at a time to form a firm but smooth and pliable dough. Dough should not feel dry or too sticky.
- Scoop about 1 teaspoonful of dough and roll in palm of hands into 1-inch balls. Using the sharp end of one bamboo skewer, poke through each dough ball.
- In a wide pan over medium heat, heat about 3-inches deep of oil. Gently add balls into the oil and cook, stirring occasionally, until they float to the top. Continue to cook for another 1 to 2 minutes or until golden.
- With a slotted spoon, remove from pan and drain on paper towels.
- Dip carioca in the sugar syrup until fully coated. Arrange in single layer on a wire rack set over a pan or on a parchment-lined baking sheet to cool.
- Skewer in bamboo skewers if desired.
For the Sugar Coating
- In a saucepan, combine dark brown sugar and ¼ cup water. Stir until sugar is dissolved.
- Over medium heat, bring to a boil. Continue to cook WITHOUT stirring until syrup golden brown.