Chinese New Year Cake (Nian Gao)

In two days, Chinese and Vietnamese around the world will be ringing in the Year of the Dragon on January 23rd.    It is a very festive time of the year and their celebration involve many special foods that hold symbolic meanings for the new year.  One of the traditional dishes you will find in Vietnamese homes during this time is Banh Tet, which is a steamed rice cake stuffed with mung beans, meat, spices and wrapped in banana leaves.  Nian Gao is a very important traditional New Year foods in Chinese culture because Nian Gao literally means “yearly advancement” or “increasing good fortune every year.”  This cake uses very few and simple ingredients to make.  Because glutenous rice flour is a ground form of sweet rice, this cake is gluten-free.


520g glutenous rice flour

300g Brown sugar bars (4 bars) or 250g brown sugar

2 pinches of salt

2 c water **


1.  In a medium pot, bring water to a boil.  Then add in sugar and let it simmers in medium heat until sugar all dissolved.  Remove the pot from the stove and let the sugar mixture cools down to lukewarm.

2.  Pour the cooled sugar mixture into a big mixing bowl then add the rice flour to the mixture.  Whisks until well blended (If there are clumps, run a hand blender through it several times).

3. Grease a  heat proof  8 x 3 spring form cake pan or souffle bowl  (Cake cooks faster in metal type pan than ceramic).   Fill the batter to the greased pan to 3/4 full.

4. Place the pan in a big wok or pot, add in cold water until the water level reach half way of the pan.  Put on a lid and bring the water to a boil then reduce heat to medium or medium-low.  Steam the cake for 20 minutes.  Watch for water evaporation.  If water in the pot gets too low, add more water to half way mark again.  Bring the water to a boil again, reduce heat and continue to steam until the cake is done.  To check for doneness, stick a toothpick or thin pairing knife to the center of the cake.  If it comes out clean, it is done.  Remove pan from water bath and let it cool before serving.  Watch out for the steam!

Our family eats the cake as it is or slice them into small rectangles and pan-fried them.  My favorite is pan-fried Chinese New Year cake.

Enjoy and Happy New Year!

**Note:  For a more elastic and sticky rice cake that you can eat without pan frying,  use 3 cups of water.  For a more denser rice cake so you can pan fry and it won’t melt into a glob, use 2 cups of water.

6 comments on “Chinese New Year Cake (Nian Gao)

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