Baked Lunar New Year Cake (Nian Gao)

Glutinous rice flour cake

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Prep: 10 mins
Cook: 50 mins
Total: 60 mins
Servings: 10 servings
Yield: 1 cake

A Nian Gao is made for the Lunar New Year celebration in hopes of a good year ahead. The cake symbolizes growth, progress, and advancement. It is often given as a gift when visiting friends and family during the holiday. The classic ingredients are sugar, water, and rice flours and the sugar and water are cooked together and then beaten along with the rice flours. The mixture is poured into a bamboo steamer which is set in a wok with simmering water; the wok is covered and the cake is left to steam until it is firm to the touch, which can take up to three hours.

This recipe, reprinted with permission from "Asian American Village Online," is Westernized in that it is baked and includes cake ingredients like butter and eggs. It's an ideal recipe if you are short on time or don't like standing over the stove, worrying if the steamer will boil dry. The changes also make it a great introductory dessert to share with people who might not be familiar with Asian cakes. Even with these alterations, this baked cake will give you the taste of traditional Nian Gao, if not the same texture.


  • 16 ounces mochiko sweet rice flour, glutinous rice flour, plus a bit extra for sprinkling on the baking dish

  • 1/2 cup (4 ounces) unsalted butter, or 3/4 cup vegetable oil

  • 3 large eggs

  • 2 1/2 cups milk

  • 1 to 1 3/4 cups sugar, to taste

  • 1 tablespoon baking soda

  • 1 (15-ounce) can red azuki beans

Steps to Make It

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease a 9 x 13-inch baking pan with oil or spray with nonstick cooking spray.

  2. Place all of the ingredients but the beans in the bowl of an electric mixer and mix at medium speed for 2 minutes. Beat for 2 more minutes at high speed.

  3. Sprinkle the extra Mochiko flour into the baking dish and then add half of the batter.

  4. Spread the red adzuki beans on top. (You can mix some batter into the beans if they are too thick to spread).

  5. Spread the other half of the batter over the red azuki beans. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes. Test for doneness by inserting a chopstick (this is a Lunar New Year Cake after all!). If it comes out clean, it is done.


  • Working with glutinous rice flour for the first time can be a bit challenging since it doesn't behave exactly the same as other flours. The batter is meant to be quite liquid—consider the consistency of a milkshake. The glutinous rice flour will absorb the water during baking. When adding the adzuki beans, they will sink a bit into the batter, which is fine.

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