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Chinese New Year Cake [Mrs. Leong's Nian Gao]

Ring in the Lunar New Year with Chinese New Year Cake. Nian Gao is the luscious dessert you didn't know you were craving!
Prep Time1 hr
Cook Time1 hr
Cooling time (for sugar water + red bean filling)4 hrs
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: Chinese
Keyword: Chinese New Year's Cake, Leen Goh, Nian Gao
Servings: 3 7 inch cakes
Author: Mrs. Jenny Leong

Equipment

  • 3-tiered Steamer Baskets
  • Wok or big pot (to fit steamer baskets)
  • 3 7-inch tinfoil cake pans
  • Instant Pot (for red bean paste)
  • Cast Iron Skillet or thick bottomed/non-stick pan (for red bean paste)

Ingredients

Red Bean Filling:

  • 1/3 cup/ 2.5 oz/ 70 g (dried) red beans
  • 1 1/3 cup water
  • 40 grams/ 1 oz bar sugar
  • 2-3 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup Coconut Milk Filling

Sugar Water:

  • 15 oz rock sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups water

Batter:

  • 2 cups/ 10 oz / 280g Glutinous Rice Flour
  • 1 1/4 cup/ 6 oz / 170g Wheat Starch
  • 1 cup/ 8 oz/ 250ml coconut milk (from a can)
  • 1 tsp coconut extract
  • 3 Tbsp vegetable oil (any neutral oil will work)

Instructions

Red Bean Filling:

  • Add dried red beans and water to the Instant Pot. Secure the lid and set Instant Pot to Bean function, 25 minutes. When the timer beeps, release the steam manually. If there's liquid, drain the beans in a sieve.
  • Transfer cooked beans to a food processor. Pulse until fully pureed and smooth, scraping down the sides once or twice.
  • Heat a cast iron skillet (or any other thick bottomed or non-stick pan) to medium heat and add 2 Tbsp oil. Add the pureed beans and sugar. (You can use a mortar and pestle or rolling pin to break the bar sugar into smaller pieces.) Using a spatula, cook down until a thick paste forms. In the beginning, the red bean puree will look loose and thin. After 10-15 minutes of constant stirring, it will thicken. When the red bean paste holds its shape and the spatula comes out clean, it's done. Cover and set aside to cool completely. (You can complete this step the day before.)
    red bean paste in white bowl

Sugar Water:

  • In a small saucepan, heat water on medium heat. Add rock sugar and melt until fully dissolved, about 5-10 minutes. Stir from time to time. Boiling is not necessary. Cover and set aside to cool completely. (You can complete this step the day before.)
    sugar water in container

Coconut Milk Batter:

  • In a large bowl, add glutinous rice flour and wheat starch. Add sugar water and whisk until smooth. Add coconut milk, coconut extract, and oil. Whisk until smooth and no lumps remain.
    coconut milk batter in white bowl with whisk
  • Transfer 1/2 cup of the Coconut Milk Batter and add to the red bean puree. With a stiff spatula, mix until smooth. The texture should be similar to chocolate pudding. Roughly divide into thirds.
    red bean filling in bowl

Steam Cakes:

  • Set up your steaming station. Stack a 3-tiered bamboo basket into a wok and fill with water. Heat the water on medium heat and wait until there are thick, steady clouds of steam.
    steamer baskets placed inside wok
  • Note: the water should not be a roiling boil but it's not a gentle bubble either. There should be enough bubbles coming from the bottom of the wok/pot to provide steady, consistent steam. But not so much that it bubbles furiously and touches the bottom cake pan.
  • Grease 3 tinfoil cake pans well with vegetable oil. (Any neutral oil works.) When the water is steaming, add 3/4 cup of Coconut Milk Batter to each pan. I transfer batter into a measuring cup, making sure it measures 3/4 cup exactly. Then I use a small spatula to scrape into the tinfoil cake pan. The batter is quite thick so scraping is a necessary step for measurement accuracy. Repeat for all cakes.
    first layer of chinese new year cake
  • Steam until the first layer sets, about 7-9 minutes. Gently shake the pan -- there should be no jiggle. It's ok if it looks bumpy. If the first layer is too soft, the red bean filling will sink through the batter and be difficult to spread.
  • Remove from heat and layer red bean filling on top. Make sure the red bean filling is evenly leveled and leave a 1/2-inch edge for sealing. Repeat for all cakes.
    red bean filling layered on top of cake
  • Add additional 3/4 cup of Coconut Milk Batter directly on top. It should cover the red bean filling and go all the way to the edge. Repeat for all cakes. Steam until cooked through, an additional 45 minutes. Check the water, from time to time, to make sure the water does not run out. When a skewer comes out clean, it's done.
    pouring in coconut milk batter on top of red bean filling
  • Cool completely and invert onto a platter. Serve and enjoy! This cake tastes best the day it's made. Leftovers should be wrapped tightly with plastic wrap and placed in a air-tight container.
    chinese new year cake on plate with slices

Notes

*The recipe makes 3 cakes. If you think 3 cakes is too much, remember that the Lunar New Year is a time for sharing and gifting. Make one cake for yourself and give two cakes away! Or, make all 3 cakes and bring them to your extended family gathering for the Lunar New Year.
**The cake will harden over time, even if well-wrapped. Once the cake loses its soft and pillowy texture, dip in egg wash and fry in a non-stick pan.