Nian Gao (Chinese New Year Cake) 年糕

Nian Gao Recipe (Chinese New Year Cake): Make this traditional Chinese New Year Food! Bless your loved ones with this Sticky Sweet Chinese Rice Cake gift.

Make this traditional Chinese New Year Food – Nian Gao Recipe (Chinese New Year Cake) 年糕! Bless your family & friends with this Sticky Sweet Chinese Rice Cake gift that symbolizes prosperity.

Jump to: Cooking TipsRecipe

Chinese New Year (Spring Festival) is the biggest celebration of the year in the Chinese community. It’s like Christmas to us! 😀

It’s a time to celebrate the hard work, a time for families to reunite, a time to feast, a time to give thanks and rejoice.

Many would make every effort to return home and reunite with their families, like how salmons would journey thousands of miles back to their native spawning grounds.

Amy Celebrating Chinese New Year
Photo taken in Lunar New Year Fair 年宵花市 when I was 7.

GET FREE TRIED & TRUE RECIPES + TIPS

Delicious Tested Recipes Sent To Your Inbox Weekly. 100% Free!

We respect your privacy and take protecting it seriously. Please read our privacy policy here

My parents are traditional and BIG on celebrating Chinese New Year, even after we moved to North America.

So, Chinese New Year is the BEST time of the year as a kid!

Chinese New Year meant…

…holidays = no school (when I was still in Hong Kong)!

…delicious Chinese New Year Food & Desserts (endless candies & Ferrero Rocher – my favorite!!)

…red & gold glitter, festivities like visiting the Lunar New Year Fair 年宵花市, the fire crackers, the lion dance…

…flooded with love from family & relatives – the gifts, new clothes, and best of all…the Red Pockets!! (until your parents say they’ll “save” them up for you until you’re old enough) 😛

Nian Gao Recipe (Chinese New Year Cake): Make this traditional Chinese New Year Food! Bless your loved ones with this Sticky Sweet Chinese Rice Cake gift.

Living was tough back in the days, so many Chinese New Year Food, decorations, or customs are meant to bring good luck, health & blessings for the coming year.

My dad often told us how during the tough days when he was a kid, Chinese New Year was the only time they got to eat meat.

Nian Gao or Nin Gou in Cantonese (“higher year”), is a sweet glutinous sticky rice cake that is enjoyed year round, but often a must-have during Chinese New Year, as the name sheds light to give progress, advancement, higher or taller, promising a better year ahead.

So, this easy to make & frugal Cantonese style Nian Gao is inevitably a popular Chinese New Year Food in many households!

My family loves to make them ahead and gift them to our relatives and friends.

Wish You & Your Family a Happy Chinese New Year!!

 

10 Ingredients for Nian Gao (Chinese New Year Cake) 


Nian Gao Chinese New Year Cake IngredientsDry Ingredients:
wheat starch 澄麵 (left) & glutinous rice powder 水磨白糯米粉 (right)
Wheat Starch 澄麵 (left) & Glutinous Rice Flour 水磨白糯米粉 (right)

Sugar Mixture:

Sesame Coconut Mixture:

Other Ingredients:

Our Secret Ingredient


Chinese sesame paste/sauce 芝麻醬

Something is missing in the regular Nian Gao (Chinese New Year Cake) we eat, whether they’re store-bought, from restaurants, or made by aunties or grandmas who love to cook.

We were searching for that missing something…

Yes! The Chinese rice cakes lack of body and substance…

So, we turned to our pantry…Oh yes! 

Chinese Sesame Paste 芝麻醬!

Sesame’s fragrant and flavors work well with coconut.

This fragrant and creamy Chinese Sesame Paste works wonder as it adds such body & fragrant to the Nian Gao. 

Don’t miss out on this Secret Ingredient!!

Side Note: this is one of our must-have dipping sauce for Hot Pot 😀 hehe~

Tools for Nian Gao (Chinese New Year Cake) 


Instructions for Nian Gao (Chinese New Year Cake) 


Step 1
Melt the Sugar

Ingredients & Tools

Small saucepan
250 grams cane sugar (roughly 3 pieces) 蔗糖
60 grams (roughly 1 piece) Chinese Brown sugar in pieces 冰片糖
1 ½ cup of cold water

Nian Gao Chinese New Year Cake Recipe: Melt the sugar in a saucepan

In a small saucepan, melt 250g cane sugar, 60g brown sugar in pieces in 1 ½ cup of cold water slowly over medium heat.

Pro Tip #1 – To Speed Up the Process: break down the sugar pieces once the water starts to warm. The sugar should be completely melted just before it’s about to boil. You don’t have to bring the sugar mixture to a boil.

Pro Tip #2: You can move forward to prepare other ingredients while the sugar melt on the stovetop.

Step 2
Prepare Dry Ingredients

Ingredients & Tools

300 grams Glutinous Rice Flour 水磨白糯米粉
110 grams Wheat Starch 澄麵
A pinch of fine sea salt or table salt
Fine Mesh Strainer
Silicone Spatula

Nian Gao Chinese New Year Cake Recipe: sift dry ingredients through a strainer

While the sugar is melting on the stovetop, sift 300g glutinous rice flour, 110g wheat starch, and a pinch of salt through a fine mesh strainer into a large mixing bowl. Mix well with a silicone spatula.

Step 3
Prepare Sesame Coconut Mixture

Ingredients & Tools

Small mixing bowl
1 1/3 tablespoon (20g) Chinese Sesame Paste/Sauce 芝麻醬

3/4 cup (188ml) 100% unsweetened coconut milk

Nian Gao Chinese New Year Cake Recipe: mix Chinese sesame paste 芝麻醬 and coconut milk together

In a small mixing bowl, mix 1 1/3 tbsp (20g) Chinese sesame paste/sauce and ¾ cup (188ml) coconut milk together. Yum! 

Step 4
Create Coconut Sugar Mixture

Ingredients

Sesame Coconut Mixture (from Step 3)
Sugar Mixture (from Step 1)

Once the sugar has fully melted, pour the Sesame Coconut Mixture into the Sugar Mixture to cool it down a bit. Mix well.

Step 5
Create Nian Gao Batter

Ingredients & Tools

Coconut Sugar Mixture (from Step 4)
Dry Ingredients (from Step 2)

Large mixing bowl
Silicone Spatula

Nian Gao Chinese New Year Cake Recipe: pour the Coconut Sugar Mixture into the dry ingredients & mix well to create the Nian Gao Batter

Pour all the hot Coconut Sugar Mixture into the large mixing bowl filled with dry ingredients and mix well with a silicone spatula.

Pro Tip: make sure to pour all the Coconut Sugar Mixture into the Dry Ingredients in one shot. After testing pouring in intervals vs. pouring all at once – we found pouring it all at once created less lumps.

Less lumps = less work in the next step! 😛

Step 6
Remove Lumps in Batter

Ingredients & Tools

Silicone Spatula
Fine Mesh Strainer
1 tablespoon (15ml) vegetable oil

There should be lots of lumps in the batter after mixing the wet mixture & dry ingredients.

Important Step: take a bit of time to break up the lumps by pitching them against the mixing bowl with a silicone spatula. This is a critical step to ensure a smooth & successful Sweet Rice Cake! 🙂

Pro Tip – Easier & Better Method: Smooth out the lumps by running the mixture through a fine mesh strainer, and breaking the lumps against the strainer with the spatula (as shown in photo below).

Nian Gao Chinese New Year Cake Recipe: smooth out the lumps in nian gao batter by running the mixture through a fine mesh strainer

Once you have smoothed out all the lumps, add 1 1/2 tbsp (22.5ml) of vegetable oil and mix well.

Pro Tip: The oil will give the Nian Gao a smoother finish.

Step 7
Pour Batter into Cake Pan

Ingredients & Tools

Vegetable oil
Fine Mesh Strainer

Important Step: Wipe the cake pan interior with a little vegetable oil to avoid a white band to form on the sides of the Nian Gao (see cooking tips below).

Pour the Nian Gao Batter into the cake pan through a fine mesh strainer.

Nian Gao Chinese New Year Cake Recipe: pour the nian gao batter into the cake pan

Step 8
Pressure Cook the Nian Gao (Chinese New Year Cake)

Ingredients & Tools

Trivet/Steaming rack
1 cup (250ml) of water
Instant Pot Electric Pressure Cooker
Aluminum foil sling

Method #1: Start with Boiling Water (For Relatively Smooth Surface)


Pro Tip: this method allows minimal condensation drip onto the cake, yet uses a shorter cooking time than Method #2 (covering the Nian Gao with aluminum foil).

Place a trivet and pour 1 cup (250ml) of water in the pressure cooker.

Bring water to a boil (Instant Pot users: Press Manual/Pressure Cook and set the time to 25 minutes).

When the water begins to boil, place the cake pan on the trivet with a foil sling right away.

Immediately close the lid and pressure cook:

  • Pressure Cooking Method: High Pressure for 25 minutes
  • Pressure Release Method: Full Natural Release (~8 minutes)

Method #2: Cover with Aluminum Foil (For Ultra-Smooth Surface)


Pour 1 cup (250ml) of cold water in the pressure cooker.

Tightly wrap the cake pan with aluminum foil to prevent the condensation dripping onto the cake.

Pro Tip: Make sure the aluminum foil is not touching the Nian Gao Batter, as that may destroy the ultra-smooth surface you’re aiming for! 🙂

Nian Gao Chinese New Year Cake Recipe: cover with aluminum foil to avoid condensation

Place the cake pan on top of a trivet.

Close the lid and pressure cook:

  • Pressure Cooking Method: High Pressure for 35 minutes
  • Pressure Release Method: Full Natural Release (~8 minutes)

Step 9
Test Doneness

Ingredient

1 Jujube Red Date for decoration

Nian Gao Chinese New Year Cake Recipe: place jujube red date in the center for decoration

Open the lid carefully, check the doneness by sticking a chopstick in the center of the Nian Gao. Nothing should stick to the chopstick if it is done.

Place a red date over the hole for decoration.

Step 10
Chill the Nian Gao (Chinese New Year Cake)


Once the Nian Gao has cooled to room temperature, place it in the refrigerator for at least 4 – 8 hours before cutting into it.

Step 11
Serve


Cut the Nian Gao (Chinese New Year Cake) into pieces.

The most common way to enjoy it is to serve it cold/room temperature or pan-fried.

Enjoy!

Nian Gao Recipe (Chinese New Year Cake): Make this traditional Chinese New Year Food! Bless your loved ones with this Sticky Sweet Chinese Rice Cake gift.

Cooking Tips for Nian Gao (Chinese New Year Cake) 


In Step 7, it’s critical to wipe the interior of the cake pan with vegetable oil.

After testing wiping the interior with oil and without wiping oil, we found that it’s important to do so!

When we didn’t wipe the pan with oil, a white band has formed on the sides (see below photo). We think it’s due to the batter trying to pull away from the cake pan as it was cooking in the pressure cooker.

Nian Gao Chinese New Year Cake - white band on the sidesCraving more? Subscribe  to Pressure Cook Recipes to get our newest recipes delivered straight to your inbox.

5.0 from 5 reviews
Nian Gao Recipe (Chinese New Year Cake) 年糕
 
Prep
Cook
Total
 
Make this traditional Chinese New Year Food - Nian Gao Recipe (Chinese New Year Cake)! Bless your loved ones with this Sticky Sweet Chinese Rice Cake gift.
Author:
Recipe type: Dessert, Snack, Easy
Cuisine: Chinese
Serving: 1
Ingredients
Dry Ingredients:
Sugar Mixture:
Sesame Coconut Mixture:
Other Ingredients:
Instructions
  1. Melt Sugar: In a small sauce pan, melt 250g cane sugar, 60g brown sugar in pieces in 1 ½ cup of cold water slowly over medium heat. To speed up the process, break down the sugar pieces once the water starts to warm. You don’t have to bring the sugar mixture to a boil.
  2. Prepare Dry Ingredients: Sift 300g glutinous rice flour, 110g wheat starch, and a pinch of salt through a fine mesh strainer into a large mixing bowl. Mix well with a silicone spatula.
  3. Prepare Sesame Coconut Mixture: In a small mixing bowl, mix 1⅓ tbsp (20g) Chinese sesame paste/sauce and ¾ cup (188ml) coconut milk together.
  4. Create Coconut Sugar Mixture: Once the sugar has fully melted, pour the Sesame Coconut Mixture into the Sugar Mixture to cool it down a bit. Mix well.
  5. Create Nian Gao Batter: Pour the hot Coconut Sugar Mixture into the large mixing bowl filled with dry ingredients and mix well with a silicone spatula.
  6. Remove Lumps in Batter: There should be lots of lumps in the batter. Break up the lumps by pitching them against the mixing bowl with a silicone spatula. Another way to smooth out the lumps is to run the mixture through a fine mesh strainer. Once all the lumps have smoothed out, add 1½ tbsp (22.5ml) of vegetable oil and mix well.
  7. Pour Batter into Cake Pan: Wipe the cake pan interior with a little vegetable oil. Pour the Nian Gao Batter into the cake pan through a fine mesh strainer.
  8. Pressure Cook the Nian Gao (Chinese New Year Cake):
    Method #1 for relatively smooth surface: Place a trivet and pour 1 cup (250ml) of water in the pressure cooker. Bring water to a boil (Instant Pot users: Press manual/pressure cook and set the time to 28 minutes). When the water begins to boil, place the cake pan on the trivet with a foil sling right away. Immediately close the lid and let it pressure cook at High Pressure for 28 minutes and Full Natural Release (~8 minutes).

    Method #2 for ultra-smooth surface: Pour 1 cup (250ml) of cold water in the pressure cooker. Tightly wrap the cake pan with aluminum foil. Place the cake pan on top of a trivet. Close the lid and pressure cook at High Pressure for 38 minutes and Full Natural Release (~8 minutes).
  9. Test Doneness: Open the lid carefully, check the doneness by sticking a chopstick in the center of the Chinese New Year Cake. Nothing should stick to the chopstick if it is done. Place a red date over the hole for decoration.
  10. Chill the Nian Gao (Chinese New Year Cake): Once the Nian Gao has cooled to room temperature, place it in the refrigerator for at least 4 – 8 hours before cutting into it.
  11. Serve: Cut the Nian Gao (Chinese New Year Cake) into pieces. The most common way to enjoy it is to serve it cold/room temperature or pan-fried. 🙂
Nian Gao Recipe (Chinese New Year Cake): Make this traditional Chinese New Year Food! Bless your loved ones with this Sticky Sweet Chinese Rice Cake gift.
Food Lovers in our 30s who worked directly with Instant Pot CEO, Manufacturers, and 35+ Restaurants. Culinary Families & Food Magazine Publishers.
  1. Hi,

    I found an aluminum foil pan 6.56” x 1.5” (which can fit into my 6Qt) to make this for gifting. How long do I put it in? Still 35 mins or less?

    Thanks!

  2. I was so happy to actually see a recipe for Nian Guo as I’ve wanted to try to make it for a long time. I noticed with a bit of alarm that you mention Chinese sesame paste contains peanuts and wonder if you are aware that so many people are highly allergic to peanuts. Perhaps there should be a caution noted at the beginning of your recipe that the paste contains peanuts. I haven’t looked at any Chinese sesame paste container to see if it’s noted there. I consider this very important information. Is there a substitute for the Secret Ingredient (Chinese sesame paste). Thanks so much.

  3. Hi Amy + Jacky:
    I don’t usually write comments but… today is a new day..!!!
    I cannot resist telling you that you, Amy, look so cute and pretty at age 7. Reminds me of me at that age, I am 66, and just learning to cook all the unami foods. My partner likes it so much. I cook IP foods 4 days a week, so its like going to a restaurant to eat, only I know the ingredients in my food. I am on Chemo, so I don’t cook with soy products. Except the Japanese Chicken Curry which I think the roux have some soy. Keep up the good work. God Bless you both. I hope you have success in all your endeavours, good health and lots of good children.

    1. Hi Mabel,

      Hope you had a wonderful New Year 🙂
      Thank you so much for spending the time to write this super kind comment to us!!

      We wish you and your husband good health <3

      Please take care and be well soon.

      Happy New Year!
      Jacky

    1. Hi Ann,

      Hope you had a wonderful New Year 🙂
      Thank you for your question. It will depends on the cake thickness so I will say the cooking time will be roughly the same.

      Happy New Year & please take care
      Jacky

    1. Hi Marie,

      Hope you had a wonderful New Year 🙂
      Thank you for your question. The starch will add texture to the cake so I recommend using it.

      Happy New Year & please take care
      Jacky

  4. Thank you for your reply! Quick question, what size cake pan did you use for this recipe? Will the batter be enough for two 7 inch Nian Gao’s? I am planning to use stainless steel steamer trays from amazon that stack on top of each other on a sling so I can pressure cook two pans at once if the recipe makes enough batter.!Thanks again!

  5. Love all your recipes (just discovered your site) and I can’t wait to try them all, especially this one since Chinese New Years is coming. I read that cooking with aluminum foil causes Alzheimer’s/dementia – do you recommend any substitute aside from the aluminum foil tray containers pictured? One of the comments mentioned using a Pyrex glass container but it took over 100 minutes in the instant pot?! Is there anything else I can use so I don’t need to cook with aluminum foil? I was planning to use method #1, perhaps I could steam it instead in a glass container in my uncovered wok? If so how long should I steam for? Thank you

    1. Hi Bee,

      thank you for your question.

      A cake pan or springform pan will also work fine as well!

      I will say it will take roughly 45 – 50 minutes on stovetop.

      Please take care & have fun cooking
      Jacky

  6. I used tahini because my son is allergic to peanuts. It tasted fine. I also accidentallyt omitted the oil at the end and it still tasted chewy and yummy. I let if refrigerate overnight and we pan fried it. I also used regular sugar instead of cane and lowfat coconut milk. I didn’t have a red date so I used a red M&M. Thanks for the recipe —-now my Mom wants the recipe!

    1. Hi Maysan,

      Sorry for the late reply as we are in the middle of moving.

      Thank you for your question. Using cornstarch instead of wheat starch will change the texture of the Nian Gao.

      Take care & have fun cooking
      Jacky

  7. Hi! Thanks for this recipe. My family and I enjoyed this a lot. Made this twice already. Just a quick question though, how come there is a sort of white ring around the edge on top of my cake? I use the aluminum foil to cover, 35min pressure and 8min NR. Maybe the NR is too long?

    1. Hi Belle,

      Happy Chinese New Year to you and your family!

      thank you for your kind word and question 🙂

      Wiping the interior of the cake pan with vegetable oil should eliminate the white ring!

      Take care & have fun cooking
      Jacky

  8. What causes the surface of the nian gao to be smooth and flat??? Every time I tried, the top would be uneven and the edge of the cake rises like rings. Please help.

    1. Hi Alan,

      Sorry for the delay in response as we are in the middle of moving!
      thank you for your question 🙂

      The steam maybe getting in direct contact with the Nian Gao. Try to wrap the Nian gao tightly with aluminum foil.

      Take care & have a great week
      Jacky

  9. I have some questions about the cane sugar and the brown sugar pieces.
    In a prior comment, you mentioned the cane sugar is the darker brown piece in your photo. Can you show the actual packaging? I’m not sure what to look for.

    I’m assuming the lighter brown pieces in your photo are the brown sugar pieces. The link you have in the recipe leads to an a picture of a package that says rock candy. Is that the same as rock sugar?

  10. If we were to make this gluten free, would you recommend just substituting the wheat starch with an equal amount of rice flour?

    1. Hi Deborah,

      thank you for your question 🙂

      Haven’t tried rice flour, but you should be able to find gluten free wheat starch!

      Have a great weekend
      Jacky

  11. Can the sesame paste and coconut milk be optional? I would really like to make my parents a more traditional nin gao. They are typical Chinese grandparent types but I want to impress them with nin gao from the instant pot.

    Thanks!

    1. Hi Nadia,

      thank you for your question. Yes, they can be optional 🙂

      Maybe you can make two of them (one with the ingredients and one without) and see which one they like better?

      take care & have fun cooking!
      Jacky

  12. Hi Amy and Jacky,

    I tried this recipe earlier this week and it was so good! Love the chewiness! I do have two questions though. Mine stayed very sticky and it was hard to cut into nice rectangular pieces. How did you get your nian gao to become firm like the piece that was held by chopsticks in the picture for step 2 of pan fried nian gao. Also, it took my pot 28 minutes to natural release instead of 8 in your direction. Would you why there is such a big difference in release time? Should I have done a QR after 8 minutes?

    Thanks!

    1. Hi Shay,
      It’s great to hear from you!
      thank you for your kind words and questions 🙂

      Mine stayed very sticky and it was hard to cut into nice rectangular pieces. How did you get your nian gao to become firm like the piece that was held by chopsticks in the picture for step 2 of pan fried nian gao

      The nian gao should firm up after being in the refrigerator for 4 – 8 hours. It will be easier to cut that way 🙂
      It will become sticky and soft again after pan-frying.

      Also, it took my pot 28 minutes to natural release instead of 8 in your direction. Would you why there is such a big difference in release time? Should I have done a QR after 8 minutes?

      A few possible reasons on why it took so long to natural release:
      1) It would happen if the venting knob was turned to the sealing position when placing the lid on (Not a good habit)
      2) It would happen if the lid was pushed down to make the floating pin to go up. (Not a good habit)
      3) More water was used.

      Doing a QR after 8 minutes should be fine 🙂

      Take care & Have fun cooking!
      Jacky

    1. Hi Sandra,

      Thank you for your question 🙂

      This will keep for about a week in the fridge. We typically try to finish them in 3 – 4 days.
      The safest way is to refrigerate it if the cake is going to be at room temperature for more than 2 hours.

      Take care & have fun cooking!
      Jacky

  13. Overall, the little bit that i tasted that stuck on the chopstick tasted super yummy. Can’t wait to pan fry them later today 🙂

    But, I searched high and low for a 7″ round pan yesterday and settled on a pyrex 7″x3″ round glass container. I had to cook the nian gao 3 times (3 x 35min High pressure + Full Natural Release) before the center wasn’t sticky. Is it because of the Pyrex container I used?

    Also what cane sugar did you use? Your recipe calls for about 3 pieces…Did you mean rock sugar? If so, that’s a lot more than 3 pieces, it was about half the box…

    1. Hi Iva,

      the pyrex container is a lot thicker so it will take longer, but 105 minutes + Full natural release sounds like too long.
      Make sure the sealing ring is properly in place or not too old.

      The cane sugar is the darker one in this picture and the brown sugar in pieces is the brown one

      Have fun cooking!
      Jacky

  14. Can we use multiple smaller foil pans and layer them inside the instant pot so we can give mini nian gao’s out as gifts?

    Also, for the sesame paste are you using the brown one or black one?

    1. Hi Iva,

      sorry for not replying earlier! Yes, you can layer them as a cross in the Instant Pot 🙂

      We used the brown sesame paste that frequently used in Hot Pot sauce.

      Happy Chinese New Year & Have Fun Cooking!
      Jacky

  15. Thank you SO much for posting this recipe! This brought back memories of my popo making gao when I was a child. (Sadly, I never learned how to make it before she passed away). I do have one question… to get all the lumps out of the batter, do you think it would be okay to use a blender or food processor (instead of straining it out).
    Thanks again!!

    1. Hi Kim,

      thank you for your question.

      I don’t think a blender or food processor will work as it will create too much air bubbles in the batter!
      You can just push the lumps to the side of the mixing bowl with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula to break them up 🙂

      Happy Chinese New Year & Have Fun Cooking!
      Jacky

  16. Hi Amy & Jacky,
    If I am steaming the Nian Gao in a wok instead of using a pressure cooker, how long should I steam it for? Thanks.

    1. Thank you. I just made this and it was delicious!! My first time making Nian Gao and I didn’t expect it to be this easy and yummy. The guests were pleased too.

    1. Hi Jojo,

      Thank you for your question.
      It will come out differently as the Chinese sesame paste also contain peanuts.

      I was also thinking how it would come out with tahini when we were making the recipe.
      Perhaps you can give it a try and let us know 🙂

      Happy New Year & Have Fun Cooking!
      Jacky

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Rate this recipe:  

Send this to a friend