How To Make Nian Gao | 年糕 | Chinese New Year Cake

Updated: Feb 29

As far as I can remember, I made some pineapple tarts and shortcakes for Chinese New Year in 2017. This year, however, I decided to make something traditional, without all the fancy fusion extravaganza. Perhaps I was feeling nostalgic about this sticky glutinous rice cake. I recalled how my grandmother used to make everything from scratch and I mean literally everything. She would grain the rice into powder and steam the cake for at least 12 hours. I would hang around in the kitchen, excitedly and curiously waiting for the cake to be done.

There are a few notes on the ingredients which I wanna point out. Please try to get your hands on some dates sugar, it will make all the difference as it will add a new depth of sweetness to the cake. Do not substitute wheat starch with potato or corn starch, by doing so will change the texture of the cake completely. You probably can find wheat starch in any Asian grocery store. My grandmother used to grind up some toasted sesame seeds into a paste and add into the cake batter. The sesame paste enhances the flavors to a whole new level. I am using a store-bought sesame sauce tho; you can try using tahini sauce too.

I, of cos, on the other hand, didn't actually follow her footsteps; I even tried baking the sticky rice cake instead of steaming. The end result? After final bake, the top seems to dry out even tho I'd covered the cake with foil while baking, but the cake is still beautifully caramelized evenly nonetheless. As for the steaming process, I went for the minimum steam time, which is about 4 hours (the skewer check). Hence mine isn't as deep dark caramelized as the usual sticky glutinous rice cake.

If you would ask why I didn't go the full length, my answer would be, my gas was running low. Lol! I also found out that the baking process actually turned out better than the steaming process. Altho it is on the dry side, but it holds its shape pretty well. What surprises me is that the flavors seem to be more intensified than the steamed ones. Guess you have to be the judge of that by giving this recipe a try. Here I wish all you fine people a very happy Chinese new year!


(Make 8 small rice cakes)

  • Dates Sugar, 250g

  • Brown Cane Sugar, 60g

  • Water, 375ml

  • Glutinous Rice Flour, 300g

  • Wheat Starch, 110g

  • Sea Salt, Pinch

  • Coconut Milk, 188mlChinese Sesame Sauce / Tahini Sauce, 20g

  • Canola / Peanut / Vegetable Oil, For Greasing

  • Banana Leaves Cleaned and Dried, A Handful

  • Chinese Dried Dates Pitted, 8


  • Steamer / Oven

  • Sauce Pot

  • Fine Strainer

  • Heat Proof Ramekins, 8


  1. In a sauce pot over medium heat, add in sugar and water.

  2. Stir to combine well and until the sugar has dissolved.

  3. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

  4. In a large bowl, sift in rice flour, wheat starch and salt.

  5. Add the sugar syrup into the flour mixture all at once.

  6. Whisk to combine well and until no lumps. Whisk, whisk, whisk.

  7. Add in coconut milk and sesame sauce.

  8. Whisk to combine well.

  9. Strain the batter into another large bowl.

  10. *This is to further break up any small lumps.*

  11. You should have a smooth batter without any lumps.

  12. Grease ramekins with oil.

  13. Line ramekins with banana leaves.

  14. Grease the leaves with more oil.

  15. Pour the batter into the ramekins.

  16. Garnish each cake batter with a dried date.

  17. If you decided to steam:

  18. Prepare a steamer.

  19. Cover the ramekins with aluminum foil.

  20. Steam for 4 hours or until when you insert a skewer into the cakes and it comes out clean.

  21. If you want your cakes to be deep dark caramelized, continue steaming for another 8 hours.

  22. *Top up the water in the steamer from time to time.*

  23. If you decided to bake:

  24. Preheat oven to 200 degrees celsius or 400 fahrenheit.

  25. Place ramekins onto a baking tray.

  26. Cover the ramekins with aluminum foil.

  27. Bake for about 1 hour or until when you insert a skewer into the cakes and it comes out clean.

  28. Remove from steamer or oven.

  29. Set aside in room temperature for at least 48 hours before unmolding, slicing and serving.

  30. The cake can be kept in the fridge for 1 month.

#年糕 #niangao #chinese #chinesenewyear


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