Lunar New Year is upon us and the treat I get most excited about is Chinese Nian Gao. The mildly sweet chewy texture complemented with a sweet red bean paste is the perfect way to end a Chinese New Year feast.
Nian Gao or Chinese New Year Cake is often eaten during Lunar New Year for its auspicious name. "Nian" means year and "Gao" means cake. However, the same word in a different character means high or tall. This special treat is often gifted to family and friends to bring high hopes of a better year.
This recipe has been in our family for as long as I can remember. Each year for Lunar New Year, my aunt would bring us a foil-covered aluminum pie pan and I would instantly know there was a baked sweet treat inside awaiting to be devoured. I looked forward to the mochi-like texture with a crackly top layer and a sweet red bean filling every year.
What are the Different Types of Nian Gao?
There are a few variations of Nian Gao recipes. The most popular type of rice cake is made with glutinous rice flour and brown sugar. They are often steamed with red beans, dates, nuts or taro.
This type of rice cake is considered traditional Chinese Nian Gao. The rice cake is steamed, sliced into pieces, dipped in beaten eggs then pan fried on both sides. Fried Nian Gao is so delectable when it's freshly fried! When glutinous rice cake is warm, it starts off ooey gooey them firms up to a mochi-like texture at room temperature.
It wasn't until I became an adult that I realized my aunt's famous recipe is actually a Japanese style of baked rice cake called butter mochi or mochi cake. This version is also made of glutinous rice flour but it's a baked Nian Gao recipe that includes butter, milk and eggs, which make it sublimely rich and decadent.
How to Make Baked Chinese Nian Gao Recipe with Red Bean
This baked Nian Gao recipe is super easy to make. It's not a quick recipe as it requires a long bake time and cooling time but it's foolproof. Unlike baking a cake, it's very forgiving and you can't over-mix. It's sure to impress your guests!
1) Whisk together the wet ingredients (warm milk, melted butter, eggs and vanilla extract).
2) In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients (glutinous rice flour, sugar and baking powder).
3) Pour in half of the wet mixture with the dry ingredients.
4) Whisk until it reaches a thick, paste-like consistency. Be sure to work out any lumps.
5) Continue adding the wet mixture a cup at a time and whisk until well incorporated before adding more.
6) Once the remainder of the wet ingredients are mixed in, the result should be a smooth and silky batter.
7) Pour the batter into a greased 9" x 13" baking dish.
8) Drop in half teaspoon-sized pieces of red bean paste throughout the batter.
9) Keep the pieces of red bean paste small. It's okay if some peek out of the batter.
10) Bake at 350°F until the Nian Gao develops a golden crust.
Our family Nian Gao recipe always brings me back to my childhood. Now I create new memories by making it with my girls. The highlight of Chinese New Year is baking these sweet treats in pie pans and gifting them to loved ones. I hope you try this baked version of Red Bean Nian Gao and enjoy it as much as we do!
- 3 cups milk, warmed
- ½ cup butter, unsalted and melted
- 3 eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 lb glutinous rice flour
- ¾ cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 16 oz red bean paste
- Begin by preheating the oven to 350°F. Butter the inside of a 9" x 13" baking dish and set aside.
- In a mixing bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients (milk, butter, eggs and vanilla).
- In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients (glutinous rice flour, sugar and baking powder).
- Begin combining the the wet ingredients with the dry by adding ½ of the wet mixture to the dry ingredients, stirring well until you reach a smooth but thick consistency. Continue adding the wet mixture a cup at a time, working out any lumps before adding more. Repeat until all the wet ingredients are mixed in and you end up with a smooth and silky batter.
- Pour the batter into the buttered baking dish.
- Drop red bean paste into the batter ½ a teaspoon at a time, randomly but evenly. The trick is to keep it small enough so it doesn't sink to the bottom but large enough so that it floats in the middle of the batter.
- Bake at 350°F for 1 hour and 10 minutes. The top should develop a beautiful golden crust. Let it cool completely before cutting and serving.