Recipe: Auntie Din’s Nian Gao for Chinese New Year
Happy Chinese New Year! Today we are so excited to share our Auntie Din's Nian Gao recipe with you.
Growing up across continents meant that we often met people who had roots across the world too. Our recipe for Nian Gao (or sticky rice cake) is from a family friend whose first interaction with me and my sister involved an excited screech shortly followed by an embrace and the words, “call me auntie, little ones”. Her name was Din, half Burmese and half Chinese, she taught us about the cooking adventures that had woven their way into her life’s tapestry and the difficulties that we would face being half of one place, and half of another. She is an inspiration to us, and this year she has asked us why we haven’t yet shared her recipe for Nian Gao with you yet.
Nian Gao is usually made a few days in advance of Chinese New Year and, while our recipe, is free from some major allergens, it’s always safe to check whether the Nian Gao you are being served is safe for you to eat. As Din says, there are as many variations of recipes as there are people in the world...which is maybe too much maths for us right now.
So to make sure you can eat this today, we’ve made some adaptations:
Instead of using a family sized cake tin (12” in), we suggest splitting the recipe between 3 x 4”in ramekins, or smaller if you are in a huge rush...but beware; if you don’t oil the ramekin/tin well enough it will be really difficult to get the nian gao out in one piece.
If you are planning on using a 12” in cake tin, make sure that you have a pan large enough to fit it in. Nian Gao is steamed. If you are using small ramekins any pan should do, you can always split the ramekins between pans if there isn’t enough room or cook the mixture in batches.
Auntie Din’s Nian Gao Recipe
200g Chinese brown sugar or another brown sugar (see tips below)
200ml coconut milk (you can replace this with water or another dairy free milk if you are sensitive or allergic to coconut. You could also substitute fruit juice if you are feeling adventurous!)
250g glutinous rice flour
Optional: 1 tsp vanilla extract and/or almond extract
Fat/oil of your choosing to grease the ramekins.
1) Break the Chinese brown sugar, if using, into small pieces and place in a pan with the water. Heat, stirring every minute or two until dissolved, and simmer for 5-10 minutes.
2) Remove from the heat and whisk in the coconut milk, and extract/s if using.
3) Whisk together the glutinous rice flour with the coconut milk, water and sugar syrup until there are no lumps. It should resemble thick pancake batter.
4) Grease the ramekins or cake tin. Pour in the batter, remembering to smooth out the top.
5) Sit the ramekins in a large saucepan with a lid and add water until it comes to half way up the sides of the dishes (1-2” inches). Cover and set on a low heat for 30-60 minutes.) Remove from pan and leave to cool. Wrap in greaseproof paper, and refrigerate until ready to serve.
With each day the cake becomes less sticky and more firm. Generally speaking, Auntie Din recommends leaving it for 2 days tops. If it becomes too dry and hard, it can be steamed again.
Pan fry slices in oil, or dip slices in aquafaba or a free-range egg wash and fry until lightly brown on each side.
You can substitute the Chinese brown sugar... with ordinary brown sugar, raw cane sugar, jaggery, maple sugar or coconut sugar.
It’s better to mix this by hand or to use an immersion blender. When it cools, it thickens and this makes whisking harder. But if this does happen, add a little bit (1-2 tbsp) of boiling hot water and mix quickly!!!