This year’s Chinese New Year happens to fall on Valentine’s Day, and it’s quickly approaching. In preparation for the celebration, there will be lots of shopping, cooking and cleaning going on. One food item that can be prepped in advance is Nian Gao, a traditional Chinese sweet sticky cake that’s eaten during the holiday.
Nian Gao is not a traditional cake. That is, it’s not a typical “western” cake like pound cake, layer cake, etc. Nian Gao is made by mixing brown sugar, water, oil and glutinous rice flour. The batter is super sticky and gooey. The cake is steamed in order to cook the raw flour and set the cake into a more stiff, mochi-like texture. At this point you could slice it and eat it, and it would be fine and perfectly delicious. However, in my household, we usually put the (covered) fully cooked cake into the fridge for a few days to get a bit hard and easier to cut. Then on the day we plan to eat it, the cake is cut into bite-size pieces, dipped into an egg/flour batter (like tempura or pancake batter), and then deep fried until golden. The contrast between the crispy, slightly salty batter, and the gooey sweet interior is out of this world.
If I could, I’d make Nian Gao throughout the year but it’s kind of messy to make so it’s really a special, once-a-year treat that I really look forward to eating annually. My family and I usually make several batches — a few for us, and a few to give away.
If you’re interested in trying out Nian Gao but the recipe and process sounds a bit intimidating, this is the perfect time of year to try it. Right now, just about every Chinese grocery store will have pre-made Nian Gao on prominently on display, as well as other Chinese New Year goodies (candies, cookies, etc).
NOTE: The photos of the Nian Gao were taken right before I put them in the steamer, so that’s why they look super gloopy. I also sprinkled some white sesame seeds and placed a dried red date on top for garnish before steaming. I’ll take some more pics after they’re done cooking, and also when I cut them up to fry in a few days. Look forward to that!
More New Year’s food blog entries coming soon: Turnip Cakes and Taro Cakes