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Nian Gao

Served on Lunar New Year, this Chinese sweet rice cake symbolizes growth and advancement. It’s soft and chewy right out of the pan, but can also be sliced and pan-fried for a perfectly crunchy outside and gooey inside.

Tasty Team
January 20, 2023
Total Time

1 hr 35 min

1 hr 35 min

Prep Time

25 minutes

25 min

Cook Time

1 hr 10 min

1 hr 10 min

Total Time

1 hr 35 min

1 hr 35 min

Prep Time

25 minutes

25 min

Cook Time

1 hr 10 min

1 hr 10 min

Ingredients

for 1 7-inch round cake

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided, plus more for frying (optional)
  • 3 cups water (720 mL), divided, plus more as needed
  • 2 slices peeled fresh ginger
  • 12.5 oz brown rock sugar (360 g), or 2 cups (packed) dark brown sugar
  • 1 lb glutinous rice flour (425 g)
  • 1 dried jujube
  • roasted sesame seed, for garnish

Preparation

  1. Grease a 7-inch round, nonstick baking dish with 1 tablespoon of the oil.
  2. In a medium saucepan, combine 2½ cups (500 ml) of water and the ginger and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes.
  3. Uncover the pot, add the rock sugar, and continue simmering until the sugar melts completely, stirring occasionally (if using rock sugar bricks, break the bricks into smaller pieces with your hands to allow it to melt more quickly).
  4. Remove the pot from heat and discard the ginger. Stir in the remaining ½ cup of water to help the syrup cool down, then let sit until the temperature reaches 120˚F (50˚C), about 10 minutes.
  5. While the syrup is cooling, prepare a steamer by filling the bottom with water (make sure there is enough to steam the cake for about 1 hour, but not so much that it touches the bottom of the pan) and bringing the water to a boil over medium heat. Alternatively, you can use a rice cooker to steam the nian gao (see instructions below).
  6. Add the glutinous rice flour to a large bowl and drizzle in the remaining tablespoon of vegetable oil. Mix the oil in with your hands.
  7. Once the syrup has cooled, gradually add it to the flour mixture, mixing with your hands or a rubber spatula to combine as you go. Once all of the syrup has been added, continue mixing until the batter is well-combined and no lumps remain. It should be thin enough to drizzle; if needed, stir in additional water, ¼ cup at a time. Pour the batter through a mesh strainer into a separate large bowl to remove any remaining clumps of flour.
  8. Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish and tap on the countertop to release any air bubbles. If needed, puncture any air bubbles on the surface with a chopstick. Cover the pan with aluminum foil, if desired (this will prevent any condensation from dripping onto the cake).
  9. Place the nian gao in the steamer, cover, and steam for 45–60 minutes, adding more water to the steamer as needed, until the cake is light brown and sticky when a wooden skewer is inserted into the center, but holds its shape. The cake may puff up, but will settle once cooled. Carefully remove the pan from the steamer and let the cake cool for about 20 minutes.
  10. If desired, invert the pan onto a plate to remove the cake (or serve directly from the pan). Place the jujube at the center of the cake and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Slice and serve fresh for a sweet, sticky, and chewy texture. Alternatively, if left covered at room temperature for a day, the cake will become firmer. Slice and pan-fry the pieces in a bit of neutral oil for a crispy and chewy treat.
  11. Leftover cake will keep covered at room temperature for up to 3 days, or in an airtight container the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
  12. Rice cooker instructions: Pour the batter into a pan that will fit inside the basin of the rice cooker (make sure it is deep enough to hold all of the batter). Set a ceramic ramekin or stacked mason jar lids in th bottom of the rice cooker, place the pan on top, then pour water into the base of the rice cooker until it reaches just below the nian gao pan. Close the lid and cook the cake on the white rice setting.
  13. Enjoy!

Ingredients

for 1 7-inch round cake

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided, plus more for frying (optional)
  • 3 cups water (720 mL), divided, plus more as needed
  • 2 slices peeled fresh ginger
  • 12.5 oz brown rock sugar (360 g), or 2 cups (packed) dark brown sugar
  • 1 lb glutinous rice flour (425 g)
  • 1 dried jujube
  • roasted sesame seed, for garnish

Preparation

  1. Grease a 7-inch round, nonstick baking dish with 1 tablespoon of the oil.
  2. In a medium saucepan, combine 2½ cups (500 ml) of water and the ginger and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes.
  3. Uncover the pot, add the rock sugar, and continue simmering until the sugar melts completely, stirring occasionally (if using rock sugar bricks, break the bricks into smaller pieces with your hands to allow it to melt more quickly).
  4. Remove the pot from heat and discard the ginger. Stir in the remaining ½ cup of water to help the syrup cool down, then let sit until the temperature reaches 120˚F (50˚C), about 10 minutes.
  5. While the syrup is cooling, prepare a steamer by filling the bottom with water (make sure there is enough to steam the cake for about 1 hour, but not so much that it touches the bottom of the pan) and bringing the water to a boil over medium heat. Alternatively, you can use a rice cooker to steam the nian gao (see instructions below).
  6. Add the glutinous rice flour to a large bowl and drizzle in the remaining tablespoon of vegetable oil. Mix the oil in with your hands.
  7. Once the syrup has cooled, gradually add it to the flour mixture, mixing with your hands or a rubber spatula to combine as you go. Once all of the syrup has been added, continue mixing until the batter is well-combined and no lumps remain. It should be thin enough to drizzle; if needed, stir in additional water, ¼ cup at a time. Pour the batter through a mesh strainer into a separate large bowl to remove any remaining clumps of flour.
  8. Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish and tap on the countertop to release any air bubbles. If needed, puncture any air bubbles on the surface with a chopstick. Cover the pan with aluminum foil, if desired (this will prevent any condensation from dripping onto the cake).
  9. Place the nian gao in the steamer, cover, and steam for 45–60 minutes, adding more water to the steamer as needed, until the cake is light brown and sticky when a wooden skewer is inserted into the center, but holds its shape. The cake may puff up, but will settle once cooled. Carefully remove the pan from the steamer and let the cake cool for about 20 minutes.
  10. If desired, invert the pan onto a plate to remove the cake (or serve directly from the pan). Place the jujube at the center of the cake and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Slice and serve fresh for a sweet, sticky, and chewy texture. Alternatively, if left covered at room temperature for a day, the cake will become firmer. Slice and pan-fry the pieces in a bit of neutral oil for a crispy and chewy treat.
  11. Leftover cake will keep covered at room temperature for up to 3 days, or in an airtight container the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
  12. Rice cooker instructions: Pour the batter into a pan that will fit inside the basin of the rice cooker (make sure it is deep enough to hold all of the batter). Set a ceramic ramekin or stacked mason jar lids in th bottom of the rice cooker, place the pan on top, then pour water into the base of the rice cooker until it reaches just below the nian gao pan. Close the lid and cook the cake on the white rice setting.
  13. Enjoy!

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