Chinese New Year Sweet Rice Cake

During Chinese New Year, it is comforting to see pictures of the New Year Sweet Rice Cake, also known as nian gao.

In the expectation of a prosperous new year, this sweet is a must-have for any Chinese New Year party. Also, it’s a common presentation to provide to loved ones when you go see them over the holidays.

Please note that this recipe for Chinese New Year Sweet Rice Cakes deviates slightly from the norm. Please hear me out before passing judgment.

The standard method for making sweet rice cakes is something I am well familiar with. You’ll need sugar, water, and standard and glutinous rice flour.

Please feel free to follow the recipe as written and prepare the classic dish using the few simple items I’ve included. I know a lot of folks are on the lookout for nostalgic or comforting flavors.

But I think the classic nian gao recipe could use some tweaking; it seems a little too simple to me.

Thus, I derived this recipe by incorporating certain standard techniques from western baking. I’m pretty happy with it, maybe even proud of it. The nian gao gets a bold boost in flavor from the inclusion of ginger and orange zest.

Thus, this recipe is based on the classic but with a little extra kick! As I’ve had many requests for a Sweet Nian Gao recipe over the past year, I hope you like my take on this traditional Chinese New Year dessert. It’s quite pretty, in my opinion.


  • 6 dried dates
  • 4 slices of ginger
  • 1½ pounds of glutinous rice flour
  • ½ pound of rice flour
  • 3½ to 4 cups of water
  • 2 cups of dark brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon of dark molasses
  • 2 teaspoons of vegetable oil
  • ½ teaspoon of allspice powder
  • zest of 1 large orange


  1. Brush the bottoms and edges of two 8-inch round baking pans with vegetable oil and set aside.
  2. Pour the ginger and 2 cups of water into a medium-sized pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and allow the mixture simmer, covered, for 10 minutes. Once the sugar has dissolved, remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the brown sugar and spices.
  3. Take out the ginger slices, please. Now, to make the mixture warm rather than hot, add 1 1/2 cups of cold water.
  4. Combine the flour in a large bowl, then add the sugar water mixture in a slow, steady stream, stirring constantly. The batter should be smooth after a vigorous stirring (without any lumps).
  5. Next, whisk in the vanilla extract, molasses, orange zest, and 2 teaspoons of vegetable oil. The finished batter ought to be thick and syrupy, like condensed milk. Add extra water, a tablespoon at a time, if the batter is too thick to pour.
  6. Put the mixture into two identical foil pans. Lightly tapping the pans against the counter can release any trapped air. If using, place three ornamental dates in the middle of each pan.
  7. Set up a double-level bamboo steamer and steam the pans for about an hour over high heat. In order to keep your bamboo steamers from catching fire, you may need to add water to them midway during the steaming process.
  8. When the rice cake has cooled for an hour, test it with a toothpick. Like any other cake, it’s done when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. For this dish or any other that calls for steaming, the choice of vessel is irrelevant.
  9. The use of a bamboo steamer, for instance, necessitates the use of a pot that snugly fits the steamer, lest steam escape. To steam using a bamboo steamer when you don’t have a pot big enough, you can place the steamer inside a larger pot with a lid and suspend it over the water with a rack. In the best-case scenario, you shouldn’t be able to observe any steam emerging from your chosen method.
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