Chinese New Year’s Cake (年糕)

Kung Hei Fat Choy! Happy Chinese New Year everyone! What did you all do to celebrate? Since most of my family is overseas at the moment, I just had dinner with family and relatives at our place on the weekend. We’ve never been too traditional when it comes to celebrating Chinese New Year – there is no extensive cleaning of the house prior to the day, no buying of new clothes or getting haircuts, and no new year temporary vegetarianism. There is however, lots and lots of food and the giving and receiving of red packets.

Though my family doesn’t engage in a lot of Chinese New Year festivities or practices, I’ve been lucky enough to be introduced to some of the more delicious ones through friends. A few years ago, Queen Chu introduced me to Chinese New Year’s Cake (nian gao or neen gow). This is a sweet and sticky glutinous rice cake which is an auspicious food at Chinese New Year since the word 年糕 sounds similar to “high year”, symbolising an advance towards higher achievements and increasing prosperity each year.

I had a go at making my own this year and found it was surprisingly easy to make with very few steps (most of it was just waiting time). You can eat it as is but I like to pan fry it by itself, or dip it into some beaten egg and pan fry it. This not only warms it up but makes it deliciously crispy on the edges while retaining a soft, pasty texture on the inside. During Chinese New Year, it’s usually served alongside other similar yum cha dishes such as radish cake and taro cake.

Chinese New Year Cake (recipe from here)

1 cup water
250g brown sugar in pieces (片糖)
80ml (1/3 cup) coconut cream

30g oil, plus extra for greasing
200g glutinous rice flour (糯米粉)
70g wheat starch (澄麵粉) (I omitted this since I didn’t have any and it turned out fine; it just makes the texture a bit more chewy)

1. Bring water to the boil in a saucepan and add the brown sugar. Stir until completely dissolved, then add the coconut cream and 30g oil and stir. Strain through a fine sieve and leave to cool.

2. Sift the glutinous rice flour and wheat starch twice together, then gradually add to the cooled sugar mixture. Stir constantly as you add in the flour until it is well combined. You may need to use a whisk to get rid of all the lumps of flour but try not to incorporate too much air into the mixture. If you want a very smooth batter, strain through a sieve again.

3. Pour batter into a greased 5 inch cake mould (I used 3 smaller moulds about 10cm in diameter) about 3/4 of the way up. Transfer to a wok filled with boiling water and steam on a rack covered for about 60 minutes. To obtain a smooth surface, place a piece of baking paper on top of the moulds so that water droplets don’t touch the surface of the cake. It’s difficult to tell when it’s cooked through because the cake is sticky and will stick to a skewer inserted through the centre even when cooked; as long as you can’t taste raw flour then the cake is ready.

4. Remove from steamer and allow to cool. Place in the fridge for 3 hours or overnight to solidify it – this will make it easier to unmould and slice. To serve with egg, whisk one egg and dunk slices of the cake into it before placing on a frying pan. Fry on medium heat until both sides are brown.

15 thoughts on “Chinese New Year’s Cake (年糕)”

  1. ooh ive never had it fried before!!! is it more awesome? it must be. frying makes everything awesome. mmm awesome.

  2. Sounds delicious the brown sugar and coconut cream would be like a delicious coconut caramel, then fried, yum.

  3. That looks fabulous! I'm having some tomorrow that my mum made last week, albeit from a grocery store. Still yum though! :-)

  4. I bought my first ever one this year, as I'm now married and can no longer claim my mother's purchase as the household's =p Mind you, I really should bother to make my own in future if it's this simple!

  5. That eggy sticky cake looks delicious! I ate the exact same thing when I visited my mum on the weekend – nice effort on your part to make it yourself!

  6. My mum makes this religiously every year but hers are huge cake pan sized things that take literally a year to eat! I really love your delicate version and I'm going to surprise her and make some for her next year. Thanks for sharing the recipe! :D

  7. I've eaten my way through two New Year cakes already. I love this stuff! I keep meaning to make my own. We pan-fry ours too but I've only recently discovered this egg variation. Must try it out too – for research purposes!

  8. i love this cake! I was actually figuring out what it was called so I CouLd buy one, since growing up my chinese friends would share them with me! they are delicious, and so easy to make too! hope you had a great chinese new year!

  9. Hi Stephcookie – Hehe me too, I love how it's so sticky and chewy :)

    Hi chocolatesuze – Yes it is more awesome! Awesome tastes awesome!

    Hi sara – The coconut flavour is quite subtle but I think if you like it more coconutty you can add more!

    Hi Joy – Thanks! Hope you like it!

    Hi joey – I've never actually had a store bought one before, we usually get some from family friends. I think I should buy one next year for research purposes =P

    Hi mademoiselle delicieuse – Oh the joys of being married =P I didn't actually realise it was this easy to make until I googled it!

    Hi Paula – hehe it's surprisingly filling so as long as you nibble on it, then you should be able to eat it all day long :)

    Hi OohLookBel – I do love tasty CNY traditions!

    Hi Gummi Baby – I think they are usually huge but I knew I wouldn't be able to finish it in one go (let alone have the cake tin fit in my steamer!). Glad you liked the post!

    Hi Helen – Haha good work on the CNY cake consuming! I still have one left in the fridge which I'm tempted to go and eat now…

    Hi Gianna – Aren't we all glad for our Chinese food-sharing friends? hehe hope you had a lovely CNY too!

    Hi Quay Po Cooks – ooh I've never tried it with yam and sweet potatoes but it sounds delicious! Thanks!

  10. Does anyone know where I can buy this in Sydney (hopefully near the CBD). I’m new to the city and don’t even know where to source my Asian ingredients yet!

    1. Hi Denise – You can buy the ingredients from any of the Asian grocers in the CBD. Off the top of my head, there is a CitySuper in Town Hall, and an Asian supermarket in World Square and Market City in Haymarket. Hope that helps!

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