A Nian Gao is made for the Chinese New Year celebration in hopes of a good year ahead. It is considered good luck to eat Nian Gao during this time, because Nian Gao is a homonym for “higher year.” This cake is a symbol of growth, progress, and advancement. This sticky sweet snack was believed to be an offering to the Kitchen God. Today, it is commonly gifted to friends and family during the holidays. The classic ingredients that go into this toothsome confectionery are sugar, water, and rice flours. The sugary mixture is poured into a bamboo steamer which is set in a wok with simmering water; the wok is covered and the cake is left to steam until it is firm to the touch, which can take up to 3 hours.
Nian Gao can be eaten in many different ways, not just plain.
Feeling ambitious and want to dabble in some Nian Gao making this Chinese New Year? Call forth your inner domestic goddess and tie those apron strings tight. This is an ideal recipe if you are short on time, or feel a particular aversion towards standing over the stove worrying if the steamer will boil dry. This rendition will provide you with the similar taste of traditional Nian Gao, if not the same texture.
16 ounces Mochiko sweet rice flour (glutinous rice flour), plus a bit extra for sprinkling on the baking dish
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, or 3/4 cup vegetable oil
2 1/2 cups milk
1 to 1 3/4 cup sugar (depending on how sweet you like it)
1 tablespoon baking soda
One can red azuki beans
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with oil or spray with nonstick cooking spray.
Place all of the ingredients but the beans in the bowl of an electric mixer and mix at medium speed for 2 minutes. Beat for 2 more minutes at high speed.
Sprinkle the extra Mochiko flour into the baking dish and then add half of the batter.
Spread the red azuki beans on top. (You can mix some batter into the beans if they are too thick to spread).
Spread the other half of the batter over the red azuki beans. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes. Test for doneness by inserting a chopstick (this is Chinese New Year’s Cake after all!). If it comes out clean, it is done.