Chinese New Year 2015: Coconut Layered Nian Gao – Recipe

大家新年快乐- dàjiā xīnnián kuàilè! Happy new year, everyone! It's my favourite festival of the year, Chinese New Year! During - chūnjié ("spring festival") we wear red, only say positive things to people and, of course, eat lots of food. One food you absolutely must eat is a 年糕- niángāo.

 Said to be served to the ambassador to the Gods so his mouth got jammed up and he couldn't give bad reports, niángāo is a very, very sticky rice cake made from glutinous rice flour. It can be enjoyed plain, or even better- dipped in egg or pancake batter and fried!

I've always threatened to make my own- here you can see one I bought from the shops last year, and the fish-shaped one I bought for the previous year.

And of course, there's my red packet from my parents this year- traditionally given to children and unmarried family members to bring good fortune for the year.

I'm quite pleased with my first attempt at making niángāo. I added a bit of a twist to the traditional style of making it, creating two different cake batters with water and coconut milk and then steaming the cake layer by layer. Layered cakes are, after all, also auspicious, indicating long life and good fortune.

Traditional niángāo involves steaming the cake for 12 HOURS. The brown colour is supposed to come from the caramelisation of the white sugar during the long cooking time. However, my version is a cheat's version and uses brown sugar from the start. It still takes a couple of hours in total to make, but it isn't literally half a day. Ain't nobody got time for dat.

Let's get sticky! I really should have thought that statement through...


For Regular Layers: 

75g brown sugar
270ml water
225g glutinous rice flour
1tbsp coconut oil
1 pandan leaf (or a few drops of vanilla)

For Coconut Layers:

75g brown sugar
120ml coconut milk + 150ml water
225g glutinous rice flour
1tbsp coconut oil
1 pandan leaf (or a few drops of vanilla)


More coconut oil for greasing
A dried jujube (red date)


1) Make the two layer mixtures separately: first dissolve the sugar and coconut oil in the liquid over a medium heat (coconut milk in one pan, water in the other). Either pop in a knotted pandan leaf to flavour as you heat it, or a few drops of vanilla

2) Allow both mixtures to cool before adding them to the rice flours in separate bowls, stirring until there are no lumps- you should have two thick-ish batters

3) Grease a 7" round pan with more coconut oil and steam layer by layer, with about 8tbsp per layer and letting each layer steam for about 15 minutes before adding a new one

4) When you get to the last layer, steam for just five minutes before pushing a jujube into the centre so it peeks out, and then steam the whole thing for a further hour

5) Leave to cool completely, preferably overnight

6) Oil a very sharp knife, slice and serve cold, warmed up or fried!

As you can see, freeing the first slice from this sticky, sticky cake is a bit of a challenge. If it is, you know you've done it right.


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