Looks familiar to you? This is a traditional Chinese New Year delicacy known as Steamed Sticky Rice Cake, or Nian Gao (年糕), made from glutinous rice flour. If you’re in the UK like us, you might have realized that it’s not easy at all to obtain this Chinese New Year goodie anywhere. I reckon some shops in Chinatown (London, Manchester, Newcastle etc) would stock imported or home-made versions for deprived hungry Nian Gao lovers but it is definitely very expensive, not so good for poor students on a budget. Good news then, it’s actually not that difficult to recreate this in your kitchen using the “short cut” method of caramelizing the sugar first. What’s more, you need less than 5 ingredients, and a hardy steamer. It’s mostly sugar, flour, some time and a lot of patience – Try making it yourself too!
Ingredients for Chinese Steamed Sticky Rice Cake / Nian Gao (Makes 3-4)
Chinese Steamed Sticky Rice Cake / Nian Gao
400g Glutinous Rice Flour
400g Sugar (Of which 200g is Brown Sugar, 200g is Caster Sugar*)
2 tablespoons Water
2 tablespoons Vegetable Oil
Banana leaves – If you can find them! They impart a lovely fragrance and authenticity.
*Feel free to replace with Granulated White Sugar although this might mean a longer caramel-making process, see below.
Step 1: Glutinous Flour Mixture
Mix together glutinous rice flour, 400g of water, brown sugar and vegetable oil in a large bowl.
Step 2: Caramelize Caster Sugar into Caramel syrup
Set at medium heat and begin melting the caster sugar on a large non-stick pan. With a wooden spoon or spatula, stir until sugar starts melting into a syrup, then switch to low heat immediately. As it starts to darken into a mahogany brown shade with no solid lumps, turn fire off and pour in 1 tablespoon of water to prevent further darkening of the syrup.
For a step-by-step guide on how to produce caramel from sugar, do refer to Step-By-Step: Crème Caramel.
Step 3: Combine glutinous flour mixture with caramel
And quite lusciously sticky. Do not over-mix lest there are too many air bubbles.
Step 4: Steam on high heat for approximately 3-4 hours
Line your ramekins or steaming bowls with banana leaves if you managed to find them. They’re a great indicator of authenticity – Do a simple check in the supermarkets selling Nian Gao and you’d realize those with banana leaves normally tend to sell for much higher prices. The traditional one is made that way, and the banana leaves impart a lovely fragrance! Unfortunately for us, we found none. :(
Before pouring the batter into the ramekins, grease with vegetable oil for easy removal later. Cover ramekins with cheese cloth or aluminium foil if your steamer tends to accumulate excess water. This prevents vapour from falling onto the surface of the cakes making them un-smooth.
After steaming, the colour darkens since the glutinous rice flour has cooked through. This is a far cry from the light murky brown before cooking. It also becomes slightly translucent, with a soft but firm texture.
The steaming hours might appear to be excessively long but it’s necessary since glutinous rice flour requires a longer cooking time. Remember to replenish your steamer or cooking pot with fresh water for the steaming every 30 minutes or so!
This is the Nian Gao after a mere 2 hours of steaming. As you can tell, only the top is cooked through and the bottom is only 80% done. We left it this way because it keeps slightly better (and we had other plans with these goods – Fried Nian Gao with egg, Fried Nian Gao with a special batter, Steamed Nian Gao with Red Dates)? Cool these cakes for a day or two until they firm up, before you do other things with them. Please stay tuned for our upcoming recipes on TummyTroll. :) Meanwhile, Happy Chinese New Year once again!
Note: Traditionally, in the olden days, steaming Nian Gao can go up to 12 hours or even days. This is because they leave the “browning” of the sugar in the steamer while modern methods like ours caramelize the sugar first. We’re not experienced enough to attempt it the traditional way, but let us know if you usually do it that way – Is there a taste difference in the sticky rice cakes produced?
Posted by #phangchewfat