Nian Gao (Steamed Chinese New Year Cake)

Nian Gao 年糕 or New Year Cakes are sweet sticky Chinese pastries made from glutinous rice. Most popular in eastern China (Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Shanghai) because its pronunciation is a homophone (sound-alike) for “a more prosperous year.”

3 1/4 Cups “glutinous” rice flour (available at Asian grocery stores or natural/health food stores)
2/3 Cup brown sugar
7 oz boiling water
1/2 Cup dates (preferably Chinese), softened in water, cut in half, pits removed,
OR 1/2 cup other dried fruit
OR 1/4 cup dates and 1/4 cup nuts
1 Tbsp Milk
Water, as needed
1 Tbsp white sesame seeds
1 Tbsp Roasted Sesame Oil or nonstick cooking spray

Prepare a wok for steaming the cakes.

In a bowl, mix the boiling water and the sugar, stirring to dissolve. Allow to cool. Soak the Chinese dates or other dried fruit in hot water for at least 30 minutes so that they can soften. Cut the dates in half and remove the pits.

Measure the glutinous rice flour in a large mixing bowl. Make a “well” in the middle of the flour and stir in the cooled sugar-water mixture. Add the milk and begin shaping the dough.

Add water to the dough, 1 tablespoon at a time, until dough is smooth with a satiny texture.
Incorporate half – 3/4 of the softened Chinese dates, nuts or other dried fruit as you add water and work the dough.

Grease a 7-inch square cake pan with vegetable oil or a non-stick cooking spray. Pat the dough into the greased pan and spread it out to the edges. Decorate cake with the remaining dates or dried fruit, lightly pressing them into the dough. Sprinkle the white sesame seeds on top.

Steam the cake over medium-high to high heat for 45 minutes, or until the edges of the cake pull away from the sides of the pan. Remove the cake from the heat and allow to cool thoroughly.

Use a knife to loosen the edges, then remove the cake. Wrap in wax paper and refrigerate overnight.

To serve: Cut the cake into quarters, and then further slice into thin servings, 2 – 3 inches long and 1/4-inch wide. The cake can be served cold, or reheated by steaming it 4-5 minutes in the wok.

You can also pan-fry the cake, dipping the cake slices in an egg wash before frying. Use a small amount of unflavored oil, heated on medium-high to high heat. Turn the heat down to medium and brown the cake slices briefly on both sides.