This EASY Chinese New Year Cake Recipe, or Baked Nian Gao, is sweet, sticky, and gooey with that mochi-like consistency when piping hot. (It's also delicious pan-fried.) Traditionally, Nian Gao is steamed but that takes forever, and you have to add the right amount of water for the New Year Cake to come out right. Baked Nian Gao is so much quicker and more forgiving and the crisp exterior-soft interior is scrumptious! Plus everything is readily available, no need to head for the Asian markets! (Dairy-free version tested.)
⭐ Why This Recipe is a Star
- Baked: the steaming method is traditional when making Chinese New Year Cake but can take up to 20 hours in a bamboo steamer! And this Chinese New Year dessert is a bit tricky, as you need to get the duration and heat exactly right. Baked fortune cake is just as delicious but so much easier.
- Delicious: I must confess, I'm not a fan of Nian Gao but when it comes to this Baked Chinese New Year cake, I can't resist the crunchy exterior with the chewy texture!
- Proven success: this sticky cake is a spin-off of one of my most popular glutinous rice flour recipes, matcha tea mochi muffins. (Also available as black sesame and vegan versions.)
Note: we're making the brown Nian Gao, not Shanghai Nian Gao which is unsweetened and thus a white rice cake (used in savory food.)
What is Chinese New Year Cake?
Chinese New Year Cake, also known as Nian Gao, is always eaten at Chinese New Year.
Like many Chinese New Year foods, it's an auspicious Symbol in Chinese culture as the name "年糕" is a homonym for "A Higher Year" (糕/ Cake and 高/ High both read as Gao) i.e. the next year will be better than the previous! Traditionally, every Chinese household would make or buy 1 of these cakes- they're often gifted too!
How to Eat
Alternatively, you can deep fry or pan fry each slice. (Coat with beaten egg for a more savory touch then pan fry both sides over mnedium heat.)
You will need a few simple ingredients to make traditional Nian Gao:
- glutinous rice flour: most Chinese people use Thai glutinous rice flour (sticky rice flour) but you can also use Mochiko Flour/ sweet rice flour. They're both made from sticky rice grains. (Sometimes flour is added too. Obviously, the less glutinous rice flour you use, the less sticky the cake will be. You can replace up to a fifth of the flour with flour, keeping the total quantity the same.) DO NOT use regular rice flour as a substitute for glutinous rice flour!
- sugar: traditionally, Chinese brown sugar, which comes in slabs, was used. Nowadays many people just use regular light or dark brown sugar. I'm using less sugar than traditionally added but if you have a very sweet tooth, you can always serve with brown sugar syrup on the side. (Or increase the sugar.)
- salt: you can omit if you don't like salt in your desserts but it's a flavor enhancer.
- coconut cream: we add some water to dilute the coconut cream but you can substitute with (a lesser amount of) coconut milk too.
- oil or melted butter: use sesame oil or a neutral vegetable oil. Do NOT use olive oil.
- eggs: beaten. This is the only leavener in the recipe.
And a 9-inch non-stick cake pan (oiled well or you won't be able to get the cake out later!) The size of the cake pan is important because it ensures the best crust: interior ratio.
If you use a smaller pan, the cake will be much thicker, so there'll be less crust. If you use a larger one, the cake may be too thin and become hard.
📖 Variations & Substitutes
- Decorated: pop seedless jujubes (Chinese red dates) on top of the sweet rice cake before gifting for good luck.
- Southeast Asian: caramelise gula melaka palm sugar with some pandan leaves (remove the leaves before baking.)
- Spiced: You can add grated ginger (with the juice) if you prefer some spice. (Not everyone does- my testers were divided between the pure coconut and the gingery versions.)
- Filled: Some people like to add red bean paste
🔪 Step-by-Step Instructions
Preheat the oven to 350F/ 177C/ 167 C fan.
1a. Mix the dry ingredients (glutinous rice flour, sugar, salt. If adding ginger, you can add it now.)
1b. Stir in the coconut cream, water, and oil or melted butter till you don't see any flour. (The batter will be a bit lumpy, don't worry.)
2a. Slowly fold in the beaten eggs. It's OK if the final batter still has lumps. The consistency will be thick, as shown above.
2b. Pour into an oiled 9-inch cake tin.
3. Bake for 50 minutes or till cooked through. (Insert a satay stick or bamboo skewer into the middle to check.)
Note: The inside will look wet and underbaked, but it should have formed a cohesive translucent dough, instead of being a wet batter. Refer to photo above.
4a. Once baked and golden brown, remove from the oven and allow to cool for about 10 minutes before removing from tin and cutting.
4b. Enjoy when hot!
🥡 How to Store
The sticky rice cake tastes best right after baking. If you have extra, wait till completely cooled before storing in an airtight container.
This Chinese cake can last for 1-2 days at room temperature. (In the past, it would be left around the house for days, but as we're not using that much sugar to preserve it, let's err on the side of caution.)
If you want to keep it for longer, store it in the fridge or freezer.
The cake turns hard when cold, so you'll need to reheat it by pan-frying or in the microwave. I do not recommend steaming, as that'll soften the delicious crust!
You could also go the traditional route, and dip in egg, then deep-fry (not tested yet.)
👩🏻🍳 Expert Tips
Tip #1: If you want a darker colored CNY 2024 Cake, you will need to use dark brown sugar, preferably caramelized, or molasses. Some people add kansui, which I have not tried.
💭 Recipe FAQs
Chinese people, in particular Hokkien people, believe that the Kitchen God will report to the Jade Emperor every Near Year about the doings of every family: whether the family's been naughty or nice. You could call him the Chinese Santa? Hence, Chinese people, being the superstitious lot we are, would offer up Nian Gao every New Year's Even. The Chinese New Year Cake is so sticky, it would prevent him from saying anything. And, even if he could, the cake is so sweet, he would only be able to say sweet things, and you'll have good fortune and a better year!
🥗 Other Chinese New Year Recipes
Enjoyed this easy Baked Nian Gao Recipe? Please leave a 5-star 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟rating in the recipe card below! If you REALLY liked these Chinese New Year Desserts, please consider supporting it by buying me a bottle of soy sauce! 🙂 (No obligation though!) Thank you and have a great day!
EASY Chinese New Year Cake (Baked Nian Gao)
- 1 Large bowl
- 1 Whisk or fork
- 1 9-inch cake tin (non-stick)
- 7.9 oz glutinous rice flour 225g. Most Chinese people use Thai glutinous rice flour (sticky rice flour) but you can also use Mochiko Flour/ sweet rice flour. DO NOT use regular rice flour as a substitute for glutinous rice flour. I'm too lazy to sift and never received any complaints.
- 1 Cup sugar 7 oz or 200g. Use light brown or dark brown sugar.
- ⅙ teaspoon salt you can omit if you don't like salt in your desserts but it's a flavor enhancer.
- 1 inch ginger peeled and grated. (Use the juice too.) Optional.
- 9.3 oz coconut cream 265g.
- 3 oz water 85g. Omit if using coconut milk. I will update with the exact quantity to substitute after testing.
- 0.7 oz oil 20g. Use sesame oil or a neutral vegetable oil. Do NOT use olive oil. Substitute: melted butter
- 2 eggs beaten
- Preheat the oven to 350F/ 177C/ 167 C fan.
- Mix the dry ingredients (glutinous rice flour, sugar, salt. If adding ginger or other spices such as cinnamon, you can add it now.)
- Stir in the coconut cream, water, and oil or melted butter till you don't see any flour. (The batter will be a bit lumpy, don't worry.)
- Slowly fold in the beaten eggs.
- Pour into an oiled 9-inch cake tin. Bake for 50 minutes or till cooked through. (The inside will look wet and underbaked, but it should have formed a cohesive translucent dough, instead of being a wet batter. Refer to the Step-by-Step for a photo of what the cooked batter looks like.)
- Once baked and golden brown, remove from the oven and allow to cool for about 10 minutes before removing from tin and cutting.
Note: the nutritional information is an estimate automatically calculated using the WPRM recipe maker and I am not responsible for its veracity.
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