Nian gao

One of my favourite sweets during Chinese New Year is nian gao, which literally means “sticky cake”.  It is considered good luck to eat nian gao during this time of year because the name sounds like “higher year” (the word nian sounds like “year” and gao sounds like “high”) or a more prosperous year.

The Cantonese style nain gao that I am used to is made with glutinous rice flour, with a hint of sweetness from brown sugar.  The mixture is steamed and then pan-fried so that it’s crispy on the outside, but chewy on the inside.

It’s as simple as that.  Luckily, Chinese New Year is a two week long affair, which still leaves me a few more days to enjoy these goodies!

Ooey gooey goodness!

Recipe (adapted from Cooking with Alison):

  • 4 1/2 cups glutinous rice flour
  • 3 1/4 slabs brown sugar
  • vegetable oil
  • dried red date (optional)
  • pinch of sesame seeds (optional)
  1. Chop brown sugar into small pieces.  Place in heat proof bowl.
  2. Pour 1 1/2 cups boiling water over sugar, cover and set aside to dissolve, mixing occasionally.  Let cool completely.
  3. Grease one 9″ x 1.5″ pan lightly with oil.
  4. Add flour to bowl of stand mixer* with paddle attachment.
  5. On the lowest speed, add syrup gradually.
  6. Mix for 30 seconds.
  7. Add 100 ml of cold water.
  8. Mix on lowest speed for 5 minutes.
  9. Pour into pan.
  10. Pat pan and spread mixture to evenly distribute.
  11. Press date into the centre and sprinkle with sesame seeds (if using).
  12. Steam for 60 minutes.  During steaming, it will expand above the pan, but will collapse during cooling.
  13. Let cool completely on rack.
  14. Wrap with saran wrap and refrigerate overnight.  This will make it easier to slice.
  15. Invert onto cut board and slice.
  16. Heat oil in pan on medium heat.
  17. Add nian gao slices to pan, making sure they don’t touch each other to prevent sticking.
  18. Fry a few minutes on each side until golden.  An egg can be cracked onto the nian gao if desired.
  19. Serve hot.

* All mixing can be done by hand if no mixer is available.

11 thoughts on “Nian gao

  1. Wow! I love learning about different culture’s recipes- this is something I’ve never heard of but it looks delicious. Especially if it brings good luck for the new year! I happen to have white rice flour in my pantry- is that different from what you are using? Also, how much is a slab of brown sugar? Cups, ounces, grams… I can measure that way 😉

    • Unfortunately, rice flour is different from the glutinous rice flour needed to give nian gao it’s gooey, chewy texture. One slab of brown sugar is about 65g. I hope you like this simple dessert! 🙂

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