The Chinese new year is around the corner and I plan to end the year by making a lovely steamed Nian Gao recipe. Every year, Chinese people worldwide celebrate their new year with a traditional dessert called "Nian Gao cake." It's a type of sticky rice cake that has been enjoyed for centuries and is said to bring good luck for the coming new year.
What Is Nian Gao?
Nian Gao cake (年糕) translates literally to " the year cake" and is made from glutinous rice flour, regular rice flour, or sometimes with other extra ingredients like brown sugar and coconut milk. The texture is slightly chewy and dense.
White Nian Gao VS Brown Nian Gao Cake
Nian Gao cake also comes in many different shapes and sizes. But there are two types of Nian Gao in China: the white Nian Gao stick and the brown Nian Gao Cake. One is the white one and the other is a brown sugar-colored year cake. The white Nian Gao is free of sugar and can be used in soups, stir-frying, and many other dishes. While the brown sugar-colored version usually contains a large amount of sugar, it can be served directly or after being pan-fried.
Why Do Chinese People Eat Nian Gao?
The tradition of eating Nian Gao to celebrate the Chinese new year dates back centuries in China. According to folklore, eating Nian Gao was believed to bring good luck and prosperity for the upcoming year—hence why it's become so popular during the Lunar New Year celebrations. This tradition has continued through generations to honor ancestors who celebrated this special time of year with Nian Gao as well.
Nian Gao cake is mainly popular in Southern China including Guangdong cuisine. It can be made with coconut milk or even with desiccated coconut.
How to serve Nian Gao cake
The cake is quite delicious when it is still hot but the common way of serving it is sliced and pan-fried. Sometimes the cake is used as a new year decoration and may be kept for a while. Then it will be hardened! Pan-frying will make the cake slices become soft and aroma again.
- You can pan-fry the Nian Gao slices with just a small amount of oil. This gives a lovely crispy shell.
- You can also choose to pan-fry the Nian Gao slices after dipping them in egg liquid. This gives a stronger aroma.
How to store the leftovers
If you have leftovers, wrap them with plastic wrapper and then freeze. Next time before serving, slice them and pan frying until crispy and soft again.
Glutinous rice flour
The main ingredient for Nian Gao cake is glutinous rice flour. Glutinous rice flour is made from glutinous rice with a special treating method named "水磨". To produce glutinous rice flour, firstly glutinous rice shall be immersed in water for about two to three hours until it can be easily mashed by hand. On the aspect of appearance, glutinous rice flour is similar to wheat flour or starch, but they are with different characteristics. Food made from glutinous rice flour is usually more sticky and chewy compared with food made from regular rice flour.
Rice flour is made from common regular plain rice instead of sticky rice. In this Nian Gao recipe, rice flour is used to make the cake stronger to hold its shape.
Brown sugar slab (片糖)
You may find brown sugar slab is widely used in many Chinese desserts. They are slabs with a lighter color than regular brown sugar. Compared with regular brown sugar, the slabs also have lighter sweetness.
In addition to sugar water, I highly recommend adding coconut milk because it can enhance the flavor of the Nian Gao cake and give it a very rich aroma.
Melt the sugar
In a pot, add 2 cups of water, add slices of ginger, brown sugar, and brown sugar slab together. Heat over the slowest fire until the sugar dissolved completely. And then add 1 cup of coconut milk. Let the liquid cool down for 10 minutes.
To make the batter
In a large bowl, mix glutinous rice flour, rice flour, and salt well. And then strain the sugar liquid into the sticky rice flour in 3 batches.
Mix with egg whisker until the batter become sugar smooth. Add vegetable cooking oil.
Strain the batter into a greased baking pan (I use a 9-inch baking pan).
Bring water to boiling and then slow down the fire to the middle fire. Make sure you get enough water because we will steam for quite a long time. Steam for 50 minutes on middle fire.
Then let the Nian Gao cake cool down for a while, and place it in the fridge overnight so it becomes hardened.
Cut the cake into strips and pan-fried with a very small amount of oil. Leave some space among each other and don't let them attach to each other. Otherwise, they may stick together.
The pan-fried version has a lovely crispy shell and super aroma and sweet inside.
You can also choose to dip the Nian Gao Cake in egg liquid before pan-frying.
Other Chinese New Year Recipes
- How to Make Chinese Dumplings (Jiaozi)
- Chinese Almond Cookie
- Chinese Spring Rolls
- Chinese Sesame Cookie Balls (Fried Sesame Balls)
- Chinese Fa Gao (Fortune Cake)
- Peanut Dumplings (Tang Yuan)
- Dumpling Wrappers
- 450 g Glutinous rice flour
- 150 g regular rice flour
- very small pinch salt
- 2 cups water
- 1 cup coconut milk
- 4 slices ginger
- 2 pieces sugar slab
- 100 g brown sugar
Melt the sugar
- In a pot, add 2 cups of water, add slices of ginger, brown sugar, and brown sugar slab together. Heat over the slowest fire until the sugar dissolved completely. And then add 1 cup of coconut milk. Let the liquid cool down for 10 minutes.
To make the batter
- In a large bowl, mix glutinous rice flour, rice flour, and salt well. And then strain the sugar liquid into the sticky rice flour in 3 batches.
- Mix with egg whisker until the batter become sugar smooth. Add vegetable cooking oil.
- Grease the container, no matter baking pan, bowl or moulds. Strain the batter into a greased baking pan (I use a 9-inch baking pan).
- Bring water to boiling and then slow down the fire to the middle fire. Make sure you get enough water because we will steam for quite a long time. Steam for 50 minutes on middle fire.
Cook for serving
- Then let the Nian Gao cake cool down for a while, place in fridge overnight so it becomes hardened.
- Cut the cake into pieces and pan-fried with a very small amount of oil. The pan-fried version has a lovely crispy shell and super aroma and sweet inside.
- You can also dip the Nian Gao pieces in egg liquid before pan-frying.
How to store the leftovers
- The leftover Nian Gao pieces can be packaged and freeze for later serving.