Baked Chinese New Year Cake (Nian Gao)

Glutinous rice flour cake
Getty Images/MelindaChan
Ratings (10)
  • Total: 60 mins
  • Prep: 10 mins
  • Cook: 50 mins
  • Yield: 10 servings
Nutritional Guidelines (per serving)
338 Calories
6g Fat
60g Carbs
13g Protein
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

Nian Gao is a traditional Chinese New Year cake that is somewhat unique. It is steamed instead of baked and does not contain butter, eggs, or other ingredients normally found in a cake batter. This recipe is Westernized in that it is baked and includes the expected cake ingredients. It is also an ideal recipe if you are short on time, or don't like standing over the stove worrying if the steamer will boil dry, or if you want to share this dessert with non-Asians who might be used to a more familiar type of cake. Even with these alterations, however, this baked cake will give you the taste of traditional Nian Gao, if not the same texture.

Asian American Village Online

Ingredients

  • 16 ounces Mochiko sweet rice flour (glutinous rice flour), plus a bit extra for sprinkling on the baking dish
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, or 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 1/2 cups milk
  • 1 to 1 3/4 cup sugar (depending on how sweet you like it)
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  • One can red azuki beans

Steps to Make It

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish 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 Chinese New Year’s Cake after all!). If it comes out clean, it is done.

Tips for Making Nian Gao

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 liquidy—a milkshake-like consistency is accurate. 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.

A Traditional Nian Gao

A Nian Gao is made for the Chinese 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 3 hours.