Chinese New Year Sticky Rice Cake (Nian Gao)

Submitted by Jun

My aunt is a retired Chinese food retailer and distributor. She used to make and sell all sorts of Chinese puddings and savoury snacks for various festive celebrations. Here is her scaled down recipe for the Chinese New Year must-have: New Year Cake (Nian-Gao). The sound of Nian-Gao also resembles a meaning of higher achievement every year. The Malay community in Malaysia has also adopted this sweet snack, and called it Kuih Bakul.

This sticky sweet snack was believed to be an offering to the Kitchen God, with the aim that his mouth will be stuck with the sticky cake, so that he can't badmouth the human's family to the God of all Gods (Yu Huang Da Di). Nowadays, the Chinese can easily buy their Nian Gao from the supermarket, but some of us still choose to cook it traditionally.

The sweet sticky cake doesn't usually get consumed completely during Chinese New Year period, due to the overwhelming choices of other food. So we often have loads of leftover of the cake. We'll wrap it up and keep it in the fridge for future use, for example fry it up, or steam it for a snack.


  • 250 g glutinous rice flour, sieved
  • 250 ml water
  • 280 g brown sugar
  • A few bamboo or banana Leaves, run over flame to drive out the moisture (but not burnt)
  • 4-5 10 cm-width round baking tins
  • Some hemp strings
  • Few layers of muslin cloths


  1. Mix glutinous rice flour and water into a smooth paste. Add in brown sugar and mix well till sugar is diluted. Leave aside while preparing the containers.
  2. Line tins with bamboo or banana leaves (make sure it is cut to a size that has excess on the top and can be folded down to wrap around the edge of the tin). Secure the lining with the hemp strings.
  3. Bring a large pot of water to the boil. Turn heat to low. If you do have a steamer, set it up according to instructions.
  4. Pour the paste mixture into the tins, and steam over the boiling water in the pot on low heat for about 8 hours. Securely warp the lid with muslin cloths so that the water condensation will not drip into the cakes.
  5. The New Year Cake will turn into reddish brown colour when cooked. Roll a little ball with a chopstick or fork, coat with some grated coconut, and enjoy it while it's hot. Alternatively, wait till it is cool to get it out of the tins.

Versatility Note:

  1. To secure the muslin cloths around the lid, wrap the cloths upward so the corners meet at the top handle. Tie these corners tightly around the handle, and secure them with string if necessary.
  2. My aunt used to place a china spoon in the boiling water through the steaming process, so she can tell that the water has not dried up (the spoon in the boiling water knocks against the inside of the pot and make continuous noise). But there was also superstitious saying about the spoon being an agent that drives away evil spirits that may cause the cake a failure.