Chinese New Year’s Cake (年糕 Nian Gao)

An important announcement to make before anything else: I’m featured in a food magazine! The January issue of nourish! magazine is now available for sale. I’m waiting for my own copy, but if you see one on the stand, do get one. It’s more than just an ordinary food magazine, I can promise you that.

Pic from Chasingfooddreams
Pic from Chasingfooddreams

With Chinese (Lunar) New Year around the corner, I’d like to share a few CNY related recipes. I’m not huge on celebrating the occasion anyway because all my family members are scattered around the country (and out of the country), but I do like to join in the fun by cooking/baking. The first recipe would be the sticky goodness that is synonymous with Chinese New Year itself: Nian Gao.

Nian Gao (年糕) or Chinese New Year’s Cake is an auspicious food item made during the Chinese (Lunar) New Year period. It has been around for more than 3000 years. There are many regional variations, even Korean and Japanese have their own versions but essentially this is made with glutinous rice and sugar. It’s believed that eating Nian Gao can bring us good luck because ‘Nian Gao’ is a homonym for “higher year”, thus symbolises promotions, prosperity or simply for kids: growing taller. Now that I don’t need to grow any taller, prosperity and progression in my career is what I wish for.

I’ve always thought that making Nian Gao is difficult due to the caramelised sugar. But turns out all you need is a little patience and a pair of watchful eyes. I’ve consulted my mum for the family recipe, and referred to Sonia’s recipe on her blog. The version I made is probably closest to Cantonese or Hokkien version. It’s simple, a little time consuming, but guaranteed to taste better than what you’ll get from the stores.

Freshly steamed gooey Nian Gao
Freshly steamed gooey Nian Gao

Makes three ramekins. Feel free to increase the ratio to 500:500:500 (or more)

350g Glutinous Rice flour
350ml Water
350g Sugar (I used 250g brown sugar and 100g caster sugar)
2 tablespoons peanut oil (you can use lard too, but no thanks for me)
Banana leaves
3 Red Dates

Place glutinous rice flour, water, oil and 250g of sugar in a big bowl and stir to mix well.

In a small saucepan, add 100g caster sugar and cook until sugar is fully caramelised. You will need to watch it carefully once the sugar starts to melt and stir the sugar around to distribute the heat. Once ready, turn off the heat immediately and pour into the flour mixture. Stirring to combine and then pass through a sieve to remove any lumps.

Line the ramekins or steaming bowls with banana leaves. Pour the mixture to just below the brim. Steam on medium heat for 2 hours. Watch the water level and add more when needed. Place a red date on top of nian gao halfway through. You’ll know that it’s done when the surface is quite firm.

You can definitely enjoy it freshly steamed. The texture will be super gooey (I’ll admit that I stole a few spoonfuls).

Isn't that just so tempting?
Isn’t that just so tempting?

It won’t be easy to unmold for the first couple of days or so. But after storing in the fridge for more than 5 days, it starts to firm up more. I took one of them out today to have a look.

Beautiful! My Grandma will be proud.

The banana leaves peel off easily. And it’s suitable to be lightly pan fried with egg (you won’t be able to do this when it’s still fresh… it will just disintegrate into sticky sugar syrup). Pan frying with egg adds that extra savoury note and not to mention the crispy coating. I’ve been eating them this way since I was a child.

Glorious looking Nian Gao!
Glorious looking Nian Gao!

It’s really easy. You just cut a few slices off (either with kitchen string or knife), dip each slices in beaten egg, and pan fried both side until crispy. Remove from pan and drain on absorbent paper. Enjoy while hot!

Look at that deliciousness!
Look at that deliciousness!

Yes, it is indeed a little on the greasy side, but not less so than the deep fried version!

So, how’s your Chinese (Lunar) New Year preparation coming along?

I am submitting this post to Chinese New Year Delights 2013 hosted by Sonia aka Nasi Lemak Lover.

77 thoughts on “Chinese New Year’s Cake (年糕 Nian Gao)

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      1. I love Nian Gao since I was a child. Have been put off eating them, because once I bought it fromthe shop it taste nasty. Now thanks to your recipe I am trying to make one for the chinese new year. Thanks!!!

  1. I have tried my first nian gao a few years back. I think she got it from China Town but it was from a very famous place and I really liked it (after all I love anything sticky..haha). Amazing you made your own!! Very impressive work, Kelly!

  2. Woah!!!! My mum is going to love this..I’ll show her this post! And I am going to show off to anyone around me when I flip the magazine. “Look guys…I know this girl…LOL! “.

      1. She does, and she gets impressed easily with any young girls who makes these traditional cake. And she always said it is not easy to make a good traditional one…

    1. Oh, I heard that you cannot say bad things when you make or consume it. I did this when I was home alone though so I can’t really recall whether I talked during the process… (phone calls etc)

  3. I’m ❤ it! Guess my mummy is gonna love this too since we love 'nian gao' but we usually steam then use our chopstick to coat it with grated coconut like a lollipop. Pan frying it with 'nian gao' eggs is something new Mmm…I shall try this out! Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  4. Congrats Kelly! When I see you next, I would love an autograph…. I also got it signed by Wendy too… 🙂

    Your nian gao looks awesome… I love mine steamed and coated with fresh coconut but I will try yours with egg…

  5. I have never heard of this dish but it looks sweet and delicious. Congratulations on being featured in Nourish, I will be watching out for it. I am always pleased when a fellow blogger gets mainstream media recognition. 🙂 Well done 🙂

  6. can i using high heat to steam it?if can i want to use pressure cooker to steam pressure cooker got steam method.

  7. My favourite way of eating this is deep fried with a piece of yam, like spring roll. It is addictive, especially when the nian go turn gooey and oozes out when you bite, yumms! Never tried making it myself, your recipe sounds really good and manageable, i will try and give it a go. Congrats again in being featured in the mag!

    1. I kept hearing about the deep fried version, tempted to try but I don’t deep fry food at home though. I can imagine the gooey nian gao with the crispy coating, nice!!

    2. What is the ingredients for the deep fried batter for this Nian Gao with Yam? Can you please give it to me. Thank you.

  8. Nian Gao is a must for my family every CNY. My grandma made it every year and after I got married, my grandmother-in-law made it. Since their passing, I’ve got to learn the ropes of making nian gao for my family so that the family tradition continues. We put a slice of sweet pototo on one side, a slice of yam on the other side, to sandwich the gooey goodness of nian gao. Deep fry them after coating with egg and flour till crispy!

  9. Kelly , Thanks for the mentioned. Your version is quick and looks good too. By the way , I have yet to receive your email about your entry to my event ..if you have sent me the email, could you forward it back to me. Sorry for the trouble.

  10. Your nian gao looks very good! I was just trying to make turnip cake today. Half way through, I realized that I bought the wrong flour! I even went to the supermarket, but it was sold out. Now, I am kind of down. But maybe, I will just use the glutinous rice flour to make this.

  11. Hi Kelly,

    U are amazing, saw a lot of recipe which require long steaming. By the way, can to achieve smooth surface. Got to do with fire or do I need to cover it?

    1. The heat shouldn’t be too night or else you will create the water droplets which will drop to the surface. Best thing is to watch it for the first 15 minutes or so to make sure that the water doesn’t drip into the ramekin. Good luck!

  12. Hi Kelly,

    Thanks. By the way, for caramelised caster sugar, what colour will the sugar be so that so that the caramelised is complete? Do u think is good to use those Malacca Palm sugar which is use for making Chendol?

    1. Caramel is kinda of dark amber. You might want to try googling videos on caramel making to get a good idea because if you overcook it will start to burn and taste bitter. If you use palm sugar, dissolve in water over heat but no need to caramelise it. Your nian gao will taste different though.

  13. Kelly,

    Really have to thank you, i successfully made my nian gao today… My only concern is that the colour is a little light, do u need instead of melting 100g caster sugar can think I melt 200g caster sugar and put 150g brown sugar to the flour mixture, will it help to darken the colour? Will the nian gao taste be the same?

  14. Hi Kelly, base on your expertise what will be the outcome and taste if the (caster sugar – caramelised) is more than/equal to the brown sugar? By the way, how can I achieve the chewy (like chewy gum) texture?

    1. Taste will be the same actually. I think originally nian gao is made entirely with white sugar anyway. As for the texture, if you are using the right flour (glutinous) it should naturally be soft and chewy. If you left it for a few days it will firm up more, but just re steam it or pan fry, or microwave and it will be soft again.

  15. Hi, Kelly, this is my second time making nian gao from your recipe. Thanks for posting it! Just wanted to confirm the part about sieving the batter after pouring in the caramelized sugar. You say that sieving is necessary to remove “lumps.” What I am always removing, however, are chunks of (very!) hardened caramel! Is that right? If so, with every 100 grams or so of caster sugar, I’m tossing about 40 grams of rock. A bit worried something’s not right, though I can’t imagine any other outcome since caramelized sugar will always harden when it hits the batter… Thanks for your thoughts, and happy year of the horse!

    1. That does seems like quite a lot of lumps, I would suggest for you to work quicker during that stage to incorporate the mixture together as the hardening is obviously caused by cooling of the caramel. Maybe try pouring slower but stiring fast. Or if you want to be safe, use more sugar so you have more to ‘waste’. Hope that helps. Thank you for trying out the recipe too.

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