Baked Chinese New Year Cake (烤年糕)

Chinese New Year was nearly two months ago, so I realize that this post is completely untimely. However, nobody ever said that it has to be Chinese New Year to eat this stuff so here I am… with some disclaimers.

Chinese New Year Cake

First of all, “cake” is a very loose term for this dessert, as it’s not a cake in the Western sense (made with wheat flour and butter). 烤年糕 (kao nian gao) is made with glutinous rice flour, the same kind in mochi, which results in its chewy texture. I know the prospect of chewy cake will freak some people out but it’s not really cake. There just isn’t a better term for it. Also, the title of the recipe is prefaced with “baked” because traditionally, there are also steamed and fried versions of nian gao.

I *wish* this was a family recipe that has been handed down for decades and laced with memories of my grandmother making this with me or something. Nope. My mom had clipped a recipe from a newspaper stashed away, and I compared it to versions I found online. I experimented a couple times and decided that I liked this version the best. It’s simple and classic, easily adaptable, and perfectly essential for your lunar new year celebration!

Recipe: Baked Chinese New Year Cake (烤年糕)



  1. Preheat oven to 350 °F. Grease a 9×13 inch baking pan.
  2. Using a stand mixer or hand mixer, blend the wet ingredients (oil, sugar, eggs, vanilla and milk). Stir in the rice flour and baking powder; mix until smooth. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.
  3. Drop red bean by scant teaspoonfuls onto the top of the cake. Don’t be too generous with each spoonful, or the red beans will sink to the bottom as it bakes. The amount of red bean here is pretty much up to your judgement. The cake itself is not that sweet, so the red bean definitely gives it flavor.
  4. Bake for 50 min-1 hour in the preheated oven, or until cake springs back when lightly touched. It should be golden.
  5. It is VERY important to let it cool completely before serving, otherwise the texture won’t be right. Serve at room temperature or slightly warmed.


My mom likes this with chopped walnuts and raisins mixed in, but it’s not my favorite. I tried it with chocolate chips one time and I liked it, but my mom thought it was weird. You can basically try it with anything!

5 thoughts on “Baked Chinese New Year Cake (烤年糕)

  1. Hi please tell me how many ml is a cup and if you can use water instead of milk. What is the shelf life if I use milk? Thanks for your reply

    1. Hi Kevin, ml should only be used to measure liquid ingredients, but if you want to convert I recommend looking up “__ cup to ml conversion” on Google. I would not recommend using water instead of milk, as milk binds the ingredients together in a different way. I store them in the refrigerator and reheat, but they never last long!

  2. hi, I am Agnes. I tried your recipe today. Well, it’s quite a unique recipe. I baked it for up to 50 mins. I would like to check how you were able to acquire such a nice smooth top surface. Mine had cracks on the surface. After baking was done, and i took them out, the cakes sank in the middle. Is that normal? Should I used a short height cake mould? I was able to make 3 cakes out of the portions. But it is a very nice cake like a kuih texture. Any advice?

    1. Hi Agnes, I’m happy you were able to try a take on this traditional Chinese recipe! Glutinous rice flour is in fact what is used in mochi, as you mentioned in your email. If the cracks are anything like what happens to cheesecake, you could try adding a shallow pan with water at the bottom of the oven for additional moisture while baking. Mine sunk a little in the middle too (if you look closely in the photos, you’ll see the edges come up slightly higher) but I used a rectangular 9×13 pan and evenly spread the batter – it should be pretty thin but the height of the pan doesn’t matter too much. Additionally, in response to your email – the red bean paste I buy at Asian/international supermarkets usually comes in a can and is a very thick texture. Hope that helps!

  3. Christina, thanks so much. Let me give it another go. Thank you for being so generous to share the recipe, so that others can try it out.

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