Chinese New Year


Sticky Cakes for Chinese New Year.

Chinese New Year was always a time to get together and eat delicious foods.  Usually we will have dumplings, Taro cake, and Sticky cake (Nian Gao). My family would always get together to have a big feast. There are many traditions around Chinese New Year and one of them is serving Nian Gao.   I asked my Aunt why we eat this during Chinese New Year.  She says that Nian Gao sounds like “higher year” or to have a better year.  I also read online it was made to feed to the Kitchen God so that he doesn’t say anything bad about your family to the High God.

There are many other recipes that follow this basic Nian Gao gao recipe such as Jin Doi (Fried Sesame Dough ball), Cha Guo (steamed stuffed rice cakes), Tang Yuan (dough balls in a sweet soup). We will try to add these recipes in later posts.

The first recipe that I made was steamed Nian Gao. This is more of a traditional recipe. It is made of glutinous rice flour, red dates, brown sugar sticks (cane sugar) and water.  Make sure you buy glutinous rice flour or it doesn’t work.


First boil 7 ounces of water and melt the brown sugar sticks. Here we used 2 sticks but we found that this recipe needed to be sweeter so we recommend using about 4 sticks.  It will also help with the colouring of the cakes.


Pour the rice flour in a bowl and pour in the water.  Make sure you don’t burn yourself!



Add the milk and kneed.  At first the mixture will feel dry.  Slowly add room temperature water until the mixture is silky and smooth. The dough will feel like playing with cornstarch and water.


To be really festive we purchased banana leaves to line the tins.  You can also use bamboo leaves.  We bought tins that came with lids so it would be easy for us to store them.  Before you pour the dough into the tins make sure you coat the leaves with oil so that the dough doesn’t stick.




Divide the dough into the tins.  Pat them smooth and add a date on top to make them look pretty.  Trim the leaves.  Place the tins in a steamer.  When ever you steam something make sure that the water is boiling before you start timing.


The cakes are ready when they start separating from the edge of the tin.

Here is another variation of sticky cake my mom makes.  This one is baked.  It uses eggs, glutinous rice flour, butter, vanilla and canned milk.


Add the butter and sugar together and blend.  Then add the eggs.  Slowly add the rest of the ingredients and blend well.  Don’t worry if you mix up the order.  It really doesn’t matter as long as all the ingredients are blended together.


For this recipe you don’t need to oil the leaves since there is butter in it. Pour the batter into the tins evenly.  While the cakes bake then the coconut will rise to the top and make a nice crust.


Bake until the cakes are nice and brown.



Yum Yum. These treats are best when they are fresh. They are chewy and warm.  You can store these cakes in the fridge for quite a long time.  When you want to eat them again, heat them up or they will be hard.  To do so you can simply pop them into the microwave for a couple seconds. Another way you can eat them is to dip them in egg and pan fry them on both sides.

Nian Gao – Sticky Cake Recipe for Chinese New Year (makes 5 small cakes or 1 large cake) adapted from
3 1/4 cups (1-400 gram bag) glutinous rice flour
1 1/3 cup brown sugar or 4 slabs (about 5 ounces) Chinese brown candy(pian tang in Mandarin; peen tong in Cantonese) (original recipe asks for 2 slabs but it wasn’t sweet enough.  Also the 2 extra slabs should help the cake become a darker color.)
7 ounces boiling water
a few red Chinese dates, softened in water
banana leaf for decoration (optional)
1 tablespoon milk
Water, as needed

1.Prepare the tins by lining them with banana leaves and oiling them.  If you are not using the banana leaves oil the tins. I used vegetable oil.
2.In a bowl, mix the boiling water and the sugar, stirring to dissolve.
3. Place the glutinous rice flour in a large bowl. Make a well in the middle and stir in the sugar and water mixture. Careful as the water is hot!  Add the milk and begin shaping the dough. Add 1 tablespoon of water to the dough at a time, until you have a smooth dough with a satiny texture.
4. Separate the dough into 5 small tins or 1 large tin.  Pat softly to smooth out the top.
5. Press a date in the middle of each cake.
6. Steam the cake over medium-high to high heat for 45 minutes, or until the edges of the cake pull away from the pan. Remove the cake from the heat and cool.

Baked Chinese New Year Cake – My mom’s variation

makes 2-3 large cakes or 11 small cakes

1 cup melted butter
2 3/4 cup white sugar
1 tsp vanilla
5 eggs
1 pkg glutinious rice
3 cups milk for richer version use 2 cans of evaporated milk
1 cup shredded coconut

Preheat the oven to 300-325 Degrees C. Beat butter, sugar and vanilla together until smooth.  Add eggs and beat well.  Slowly add glutinous flour and milk.  Finally mix in the shredded coconut. Divide the mixture evenly into the tins.  Bake for about an hour, until inserted knife comes out clean.

Check out other recipes on our blog

4 Comments Add yours

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