Nian Gao

Happy Prosperous Lunar New Year 2016! 猴年大吉! (Happy Lucky Monkey Year!)

As a kid, I’ve always been told to eat more Nian Gao before and during the lunar new year. Here’s a secret: the Chinese loves puns when it comes to foods being auspicious. Here is a saying that you might often hear, “多吃年糕!年年长高!步步高升!” (Translation: Eat more Nian Gao, so that you can grow taller/wiser or advance in your career.) The word for “tall” and “cake” (gao) aurally sound the same, when pronounced.

There is also a superstition or tradition why Nian Gao is served as an altar offering — since it is a sticky rice cake, it is sticky & sweet enough to seal the lips of watchful guardian angels, so that only good deeds are reported. Cheeky, eh?

I love my mother’s homemade Nian Gao. It is very rustic and brings many good childhood memories. I haven’t been back to Brunei to celebrate the Lunar New Year in over 15 years. As my husband & I are expecting a Golden Monkey baby in 2016, I’m seizing every moment to learn as much as I could, from my mother, so that I can continue to honour as many traditions as I can.

Easy to make & you can do other things while waiting for it to cook.

This dessert requires a lot of patience to make, if you do not have a pressure cooker — steaming on a stove top, on low heat, can take up to 6 hours. My mom uses a pressure cooker and it takes her 1.5 hours. You will also need to factor in 1 hour of idle time for the gluten dough to rest. So, do plan ahead for idle time if necessary. The most important step is the first two steps of the recipe, as written below. Do not burn the sugar as burnt sugar will produce a bitter-tasting glutinous rice cake.

Nian Gao as a family tradition:

In the olden days, as my mom reminisces about her father making Nian Gao as a child, my late grandpa would say to my then-inquisitive mother, “SHHH! Be quiet. Go away.” Back then, this glutinous rice dessert would take the entire day of sitting by the fire, making sure that there was enough firewood; there was also genuine concern (or superstition) that the dessert won’t be successful if my grandpa was watched.

There is so many things you can do with Nian Gao after it’s steamed. My favourite? Pan-fry it with eggs. So easy and delicious for a lucky breakfast snack.

Note: Precautions are required if you are steaming using a pressure cooker. Read your manufacturer’s manual — it will likely tell you not to use stoneware/glassware inside the pressure cooker; stainless steel should be fine. If you are planning to steam it, you can use any round cylindrical stainless steel or stoneware/glassware containers.

I have adapted my mom’s recipe for steaming on a stove-top. You can easily use any big pot, if you can find a stainless steel steaming rack. Sunflower oil was used — any vegetable cooking oil will do.

年糕 Nian Gao
年糕 Nian Gao
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Servings Prep Time
3 cakes 25 minutes
Cook Time Passive Time
6 hours 90 minutes
Servings Prep Time
3 cakes 25 minutes
Cook Time Passive Time
6 hours 90 minutes
年糕 Nian Gao
年糕 Nian Gao
BigOven - Save recipe or add to grocery list
Yum
Print Recipe
Servings Prep Time
3 cakes 25 minutes
Cook Time Passive Time
6 hours 90 minutes
Servings Prep Time
3 cakes 25 minutes
Cook Time Passive Time
6 hours 90 minutes
Ingredients
Servings: cakes
Recipe Notes
  1. Grease your cylindrical containers with cooking oil and line with banana leaf (if available) -- or line with parchment paper. Your containers should be no wider than 3.5" to 4" in diameter for standard sized Nian Gao.
  2. Weigh your ingredients. For convenience, you can tare a pitcher before weighing your water, for easy pouring later on.
  3. Over low to low-medium heat, brown the 350 g of sugar in a pot with a clear lid. Brown the sugar until the entire round edge is golden brown. Then, stir. Do not over-heat the sugar as burnt sugar will result in a bitter product. (This can take up to 25 minutes, depending on how well your heat is conducting.)
  4. Carefully, very carefully, add water and cover immediately with the lid to prevent scalding. Stir. Turn the heat up and let it come to a rolling and soft boil.
    The longer you boil, the less likely (or less slowly) your sticky cake will become moldy.
    Once the sugar's completely dissolved in the boiling syrup, turn the heat off and let cool.
  5. In a large mixing bowl, pour 500 g of glutinous rice flour into the cooled syrup mixture. Use a hand whisk to incorporate until well-mixed -- until there are no lumps.
    Rest the dough for 1 to 2 hours; minimum of 1 hour, for the gluten to rest.
  6. Bring a pot of water to boil to prepare for the steaming step.
    After resting the dough, add 2 tbsp of cooking oil.
    Gently mix with a spatula and transfer the dough to your cylindrical molds. For aesthetically pleasing Nian Gao, be sure not to overfill the dough, as the steam will help your glutinous rice cakes rise. (Fill up to 2/3 level)
    When your pot of water is boiling, carefully place your molds on a steaming rack. Cover and steam on low heat for up to 6 hours. Steaming on low heat ensures that your water level in your pot remains constant. Your Nian Gao will transform from being white in colour to a nice golden brown.
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7 Responses

  1. Sean
    Sean / 2-5-2016 / ·

    This is awesome! I’m a lot more familiar with savoury, pan-fried nian gao. In fact, I’ll probably be posting a chao nian gao recipe later this month myself. But this is gorgeous, and looks very, very yummy! I love the simplicity and the attention to detail.

  2. Eva
    Eva / 2-5-2016 / ·

    I love nian gao! It has been my favorite items for chinese new year since I was a child 😛

  3. Evelyne CulturEatz
    Evelyne CulturEatz / 2-6-2016 / ·

    Well good thing I do have a pressure cooker, this recipe sounds amazing! Sorry I have no link to give for this occasion 🙁 Happy prosperous New Year to you all!

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