Chinese New Year rice cake recipe
The familiar image of a New Year Sweet Rice Cake (红糖年糕), or nian gao, is a welcome sight during Chinese New Year. Nian gao 年糕（高) symbolizes progress, advancement, and growth. Every family inevitably buys or makes this for their Chinese New Year celebration, in the hopes of having a better year ahead. It’s also a popular gift to give when visiting family and friends during the holiday.
Just so you know, this New Year Sweet Rice Cake recipe is a bit non-traditional. Before you think harshly of me, allow me to explain.
I know all about the traditional sweet rice cake recipe–it takes three to four ingredients: sugar, water and rice flours. Feel free to follow the cooking instructions and make the traditional version using just those basic ingredients listed below. I know many people are looking for that taste from home or from their childhood.
But to me, I just feel that the traditional recipe is a bit too plain and could use some improvement, so I adapted some western baking elements to come up with this recipe, which I’m quite pleased with (or, dare I say, that I’m actually proud of!). The addition of ginger and orange zest really enhances the subtle flavor of the nian gao.
So this recipe is basically based on the traditional version, but has a bit of oomph! Many readers have asked for a Sweet Nian Gao recipe over the past year, and I hope you’ll like my version of this Chinese New Year staple. I think it’s quite lovely!
A few things you might want to know:
2) If you want to give these away as gifts, use a foil pan!
3) You can eat the rice cake once it’s steamed…just remember that it’s very sticky and gooey when it’s hot. I think the best way to enjoy this Sweet Rice Cake is wait for it to cool, slice it, and then pan fry both sides with a bit of vegetable oil over medium heat.
4) You can refrigerate or freeze Sweet Rice Cakes. They will harden, but they reheat nicely in a pan when sliced (as described above).
5) This recipe makes two 8” rice cakes.
- 2 teaspoons vegetable oil, plus more for brushing baking pans
- 3½ to 4 cups of water (depending on humidity levels where you are)
- 2 cups dark brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon dark molasses
- zest of 1 large orange
Add 2 cups of water and the ginger to a medium-sized pot, bring it a boil, then let it simmer for 10 minutes over low to medium heat with the lid covered. Turn off the heat, and stir in the brown sugar and allspice until the sugar is dissolved completely. Remove the ginger slices. Now add 1 1/2 cups of cold water to cool down the mixture so its warm, not hot.
In a large mixing bowl, mix the two kinds of flours together and then slowly add in the sugar water mixture.
Stir thoroughly until the batter is smooth (without any lumps). Now stir in the vanilla extract, molasses, orange zest, and 2 teaspoons of vegetable oil until thoroughly combined.
The resulting batter should have a consistency similar to condensed milk. If the batter is too thick, add a bit more water a couple tablespoons at a time until the desired consistency is reached.