Chinese New Years starts tomorrow and if you’re looking for an easy recipe to kick off the celebrations, then I have the “cake” for you. If you like mochi, then you’re going to like nian gao. If you don’t, well…maybe give it a try because you’re opened to trying new things. Nian gao is a traditional cake you eat for Chinese New Years and it’s meant to be lucky for the year ahead.

The character “nian” means year, and the character “gao” means cake, hence the “year’s cake,” but both characters are homophones as well, which describe the cake’s texture (nian meaning sticky, which the cake certainly is) and its fortuitious association (gao, which also mean high or great), which the Chinese are so fond of.

Like many Chinese desserts, it’s an incredibly simple recipe. Generally the ratio of glutinous rice flour to rice flour is either about 5 to 1 or 4 to 1 depending on the texture you like. Obviously glutinous rice flour makes the cake a little softer and gummier, while the rice flour gives the cake a stiffer texture. It’s a preference thing, so play around with the amounts. I also recommend adding a couple tablespoons of vegetable oil to keep the cake supple. I did not do it here since I added coconut milk, which has enough fat content in it.

Green Mung Beans

Because this is such a simple recipe, many people do add additional ingredients like azuki or green beans to introduce a contrasting texture. Some people add flavoring like almond extract or coconut. The one I’m doing today uses coocnut milk, which gives the cake a creamier flavor and texture, which I like. You could certainly do the whole cake with just water or the flavoring of your choice.

Directions

1. Boil water and slab sugar until melted. Let cool.

2. Meanwhile, combine glutinous rice flour with rice flour.

3. Pour in coconut milk and cooled sugar mixture into the flour. Stir until smooth.

#####Mixture starts out lumpy

#####Turns smoother as you stir

4. Oil pan and spread beans over the bottom of the pan.

6. Gently pour batter into the pans. Individual ramekins may be used. Steam cake for 45-50 minutes.

6. Cake can be sliced and eaten as is or cut into 1/2-inch slices and pan fried with a little bit of oil until a crispy crust forms.

Recipe

(Serves 6-8 people)

  • 2/3 cup water
  • 2 pieces of slab sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups glutinous rice flour
  • 1/3 cup rice flour
  • 1/3 cup coconut milk
  • oil for coating pan
  • 1/4 cup cooked mung beans