Nian gao in Mandarin, or “neen go” in Cantonese, literally translates to year cake. During the lunar new year, the dishes served and their ingredients carry significant meaning. The use of glutinous rice flour represents family cohesiveness because the texture of the rice flour helps all the other ingredients to stick together. Nian gao is also a homonym for year high—signifying a more prosperous, better year. One of the well wishes said is Nian Nian Gao Sheng, which mean may each year be better than the last.
Traditionally the cake is made with just a few ingredients found in the pantry—rice flour, brown sugar, water, a bit of oil, and jujubes. This recipe has been updated with coconut milk and ground ginger to represent the Chinese diaspora throughout Asia, where the lunar new year is celebrated and to incorporate the various indigenous cultures and ingredients.
The cake is usually enjoyed sliced, but I prefer pan frying the slices so the exterior develops a crispy crust and the interior softens and has a chewy pull similar to mochi. Either way may the lunar new year bring you and your family much prosperity and good health!
Yields 1 – 8” round cake
- ½ tsp Grapeseed oil
- 1 1/2 cups Water
- 1 ¼ cups Dark brown sugar
- 1 cup Coconut milk
- 2 cups Sweet rice flour, such as Koda Farms Mochiko
- 1 cup Rice flour
- 1 tsp Ground ginger
- 1/2 tsp Salt
- 1 Tbsp Vanilla extract
- 10 Jujubes, pitted
- Lightly coat the inside of 8” round cake pan with ½ teaspoon of oil.
- Place water and dark brown sugar in saucepan and bring to simmer until sugar dissolves.
- Remove from heat and whisk in coconut milk.
- Place sweet rice flour, rice flour, ground ginger, and salt in a mixing bowl. Whisk together.
- Slowly whisk in sugar mixture one cup at a time.
- Whisk in vanilla extract. Batter should be smooth and consistency thicker than pancake batter.
- Pour batter into oiled cake pan. Spread the batter with a rubber or offset spatula to smooth the top. Garnish with jujube.
- Set up steamer. Or use a pot that is wider than cake pan. Place a heat resistant sauce upside down at bottom of pot. Fill pot with 1” of water. Place cake pan on top of saucer. Place lid onto pot.
- Steam for 1 hour.
- Allow cake to cool completely before removing from steamer or pot.
- Cover with plastic wrap and serve next day.
- Store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Wrap well, sealed in freezer bag, and freeze for one month.