recipe

Chinese New Year Cake: the delicious, easy recipe for homemade Nian Gao

Total time: 90 Min
Difficulty: Low
Serves: 8 people
By Cookist
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Ingredients
glutinous rice flour
1 pound
Ground ginger
4 tsp
Salt
1/2 tsp
brown sugar bricks
12.5 ounces
Water
1 1/2 cups
canned full-fat coconut milk
1 cup
Oil
1 tsp, plus extra
red date
1

Nian gao, or Chinese New Year cake is a fantastic steamed cake typically enjoyed during Lunar New Year celebrations. Made from glutinous rice flour, when served warm it has a sticky, chewy texture that's similar to mochi. It's a little harder and denser when enjoyed cool or at room temperature. Both ways are delicious, although nian gao is best enjoyed cool.

The reason it's a staple new year dish is that it's a traditional Chinese practice to eat dishes whose names have lucky or favorable names during Lunar New Year. Nian gao is a homonym for “year high,” symbolizing a better, more prosperous year than the last. This New Year sweet rice cake is a popular gift to give during Chinese New Year when visiting loved ones.

What is Nian Gao?

Chinese New Year cake or nian gao (pronounced “neen go”) is a beautiful, tasty steamed cake made from glutinous rice flour, coconut milk, brown sugar bricks, and oil.

Different regions in China have various versions of this wonderful dessert, and all of them are delicious. It's a popular dessert to enjoy during Lunar New Year as eating the cake is believed to bring good luck for the new year.

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Chinese New Year Cake Ingredients

If you're planning on making nian gao for the Chinese new year, it's a good idea to head down to your local Asian supermarket or specialty store for ingredients.

To make this tasty cake, you'll need glutinous rice flour (not regular rice flour), brown sugar bricks (which you can swap out for brown sugar if you're unable to find them), and red dates, also known as jujubes.

You'll also need coconut milk, oil, and ground ginger.

You can add shredded coconut if you like, but this is optional.

How to Make Chinese New Year Cake

Making the perfect nian gao is simpler than you may think. We've broken it down step-by-step so you can make this wonderful sweet rice cake with ease.

How to Make Nian Gao Batter 

To make the New Year cake batter, start by stirring the rice flour, ginger, and salt in a large bowl, then set it aside. Break up the sugar bricks into small pieces then put them in a pot with 1 1/2 cups water. Cover and allow the water to come to a boil.

Stir the mixture to help dissolve the sugar, then take the pot off the heat. Mix in the coconut milk and oil into the sugar water. Leave the mixture to cool for several minutes. Whisk the sugar syrup mixture into the flour mixture bit by bit. Stir until the batter feels loose and is mostly lump-free.

Strain the batter into a new bowl, then pour the batter into a greased cake pan.

How to Steam Nian Gao

Put a steaming rack in a large wok and add enough water to the wok so that there is about a 1/2-inch gap between the surface of the water and the steaming rack. Bring the water to a boil. While the water is boiling, wrap the top of the pan with foil. Set the cake pan on top of the rack.

Put the lid back on the wok and steam the cake over medium heat for 50 minutes to 1 hour. Add more water as necessary – you don't want it to evaporate! Once the cake has finished cooking, set it on a table, and allow it to cool overnight.

How to Know When Nian Gao is Done

You'll know your nian gao has finished cooking if you poke the center of the cake with a chopstick and the cake is browned and slightly see-through.

Using a toothpick isn't ideal for new year cake as a toothpick can come out clean even if the cake has not quite finished cooking yet.

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Can I Pan Fry Chinese New Year Cake?

Of course! Pan-frying nian gao makes it extra tasty. Cut the cake into 1/2-inch slices and lightly fry it in oil for a few minutes, until the sides begin to blister. The combination of the crispy, crunchy outside with the perfectly soft, chewy inside is a match made in heaven!

Tips for the Best Nian Gao

If you can't find brown sugar bricks, you can substitute them for 2 cups of packed dark brown sugar.

If you want a darker color to your nian gao, add one teaspoon of kansui. This common Asian ingredient is made from potassium carbonate and baking soda.

Tap the pan on your work surface to get rid of any air bubbles in the batter.

Full-fat coconut milk will give your nian gao the best flavor and texture, but you can swap it out for light coconut milk if you prefer.

Feel free to add more ginger to your Chinese new year cake if you enjoy the flavor.

For extra flavor, you can add shredded coconut to your nian gao.

Don't overfill the wok with water when steaming the cake.

Although nian gao is traditionally steamed, you can bake it instead. Bake it for 60 to 70 minutes, and let it cool overnight before serving.

How to Store Chinese New Year Sweet Rice Cake

Wrap your leftover nian gao with cling film and keep it at room temperature for up to 2 days.

It will last up to 5 days in the fridge or frozen for up to one month.

Instructions

Grease a cake pan with cooking spray or butter. Set aside.

Combine rice flour, ginger, and salt in a large bowl.

Break the sugar bricks into smaller pieces. Put them in a pot. Add in the water, then cover the pot with a lid and let the water come to a boil. Stir the mixture occasionally, and continue boiling until the sugar dissolves. Remove the pot from the heat.

Stir the coconut milk and oil into the sugar water. Leave for 5 to 10 minutes to cool.

Slowly whisk the sugar syrup mixture into the flour mixture.

Stir until the batter feels loose and is mostly lump-free.

Strain the batter into a new bowl.

Make sure to strain it well.

Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan. Tap the pan on your work surface to get rid of any air bubbles in the batter.

Wrap the top of the pan with foil.

Set a steaming rack in a large wok. Pour enough water into the wok so that there is about a 1/2-inch gap between the surface of the water and the steaming rack. Place a lid on the water and bring the water to a boil. Put the cake pan on the rack. Replace the lid and steam the cake over medium heat for 50 minutes to 1 hour. Add more water as necessary.

Once the cake has finished cooking, remove it from the wok and allow it to cool overnight. Place a red date in the center.

Serve and enjoy!

Notes

Use a 9-inch cake pan to make your nian gao.

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