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.
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)
- 1/3 cup vegetable oil
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3 cups milk, room temperature
- 1 pound glutinous rice flour (available on Amazon or at Asian grocers)
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ~8 oz sweetened red bean paste (available at Asian grocers)
- Preheat oven to 350 °F. Grease a 9×13 inch baking pan.
- 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.
- 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.
- Bake for 50 min-1 hour in the preheated oven, or until cake springs back when lightly touched. It should be golden.
- 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!