Learn how to make this traditional Chinese nian gao with steamer, slow cooker, or Instant Pot pressure cooker. This recipe is so easy and no fuss.
CHINESE NIAN GAO AND CHINESE NEW YEAR
Having some kue bakul or known as nian gao in Chinese around the house for lunar new year celebration is not unusual in our house and I know for many others too. Like I’ve mentioned before, lots of Chinese food carry auspicious meaning. The reason many people wants to have nian gao for lunar new year celebration because they want a “higher year”. By just saying the word “nian” means “year” and Gao means “high/tall” in this context. I think you can see what I’m trying to say here. Nian gao symbolizes a high year, an increased in prosperity 🙂 We simply call it “ti kue” in Hokkien, which means sweet cake.
WHAT’S THE STORY BEHIND NIAN GAO?
My mom told me one story behind the reason for having nian gao around during lunar new year. Most Chinese believe that the “Kitchen God” resides in every house. He will do “yearly report” on how each family is doing throughout the year. So, by offering the nian gao, the Kitchen God will have trouble saying too many things (not so good things we’ve done), because the mouth is full of pretty sticky rice cake 😉 I sure don’t mind a prosperous year and a good report from the Kitchen God. I thought that was a pretty entertaining story 🙂
INGREDIENTS TO MAKE NIAN GAO
Basic nian gao only needs 3 ingredients to make: glutinous rice flour (sticky rice/sweet rice flour), sugar, and water. This recipe is completely naturally gluten-free. The three are mixed together and then steamed until it’s cooked through.
PRESSURE COOKER NIAN GAO IS MY FAVORITE METHOD
Like I’ve mentioned above that you only need 3 ingredients to make nian gao. It’s pretty time-consuming to make it if you do it the traditional way by steaming. Over the years, I’ve tried to make them using slow cooker and Instant pot pressure cooker. The two latter are pretty convenient as I don’t have to attend to the steamer and keep refilling water because I had to steam for 3-4 hours. I only need 1 hour of high-pressure cooking to make this nian gao. Pretty sweet eh? save lots of gas 🙂
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SIZE OF ROUND PAN TO MAKE NIAN GAO
I recommend aluminum-based pan because they cook faster compares to when I use round glass dish.
For 6-quart or larger pressure cooker or steamer, I recommend this aluminum round cake pan. It’s 7 inches in diameter and 3 inches in depth, which is perfect.
For slow cooker, you need something smaller to fit into the slow cooker. I recommend this 3×3 or 3×2 aluminum round cake pan. You may need 2-3 of these, depending on how big your slow cooker is.
HOW TO STORE AND REHEAT NIAN GAO ?
Glutinous rice gives you a very filling sensation and no matter how big of an eater you are, let’s face it, no one can eat 2 to 3 large nian gao in one day (not a good idea to do so either!). Here’s what to do:
1. They can be stored at room temperature for up to one week. If it’s really humid where you are, probably 3 days max. After that, they can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 6 months
3. When ready to serve them just reheat with steamer or microwave if you want to eat them plain
4. If you are going to cook them with eggs, just proceed with the recipe below and no need to be reheated.
But another reason why I wanted to make this nian gao is simply because I want my kids to know about this tradition. Yes, they are 5 and 2 years old! A bit young to understand much, but my 5 year old described it as “squishy, mushy, and delicious” ha..ha…!! I don’t think they are mushy, but hey…I’ll take the delicious !
My mom usually cut some red paper to put on top of the nian gao and usually on fruits too. The Chinese love red for an important celebration like Chinese New Year 🙂 You can put red dates/jujube in the middle of the cake too.
*Recipe is written for 6-quart Instant Pot. Cooking time should remain the same for 8-quart size but will take longer to pressurize. For mini duo (3-quart), I recommend to half the recipe and use the same amount of time to cook*
Nian Gao Chinese New Year Cake (Kue Bakul)
Learn how to make this traditional Chinese nian gao with steamer and slow cooker method. This recipe is so easy and no fuss. Instant-pot recipe is included.
- 300 gr glutinous rice flour
- 300 ml water
- 300 gr white sugar
- 300 gr dark brown sugar or coconut sugar
- 4-5 long sheets of banana leaves if frozen thawed first
To pan fry nian gao with eggs (for 300 gr of nian gao):
Size of pan you need:
- 7 x 3 inch round cake pan perfect for steamer and 6-quart instant pot
- 2 -3 of 3 x 3 inch round cake pan to fit in slow cooker or steamer or pressure cooker
Prepare the banana leaves (if using):
Blanch the banana leaves in hot boiling water for about 5 minutes to soften it. Then pat dry and set aside
Cut the banana leaves into 7-inch width and about 7-8 inch length. Line the leaf horizontally and then vertically like a "+" (overlapping at the bottom of the dish) and then diagonally like an "X" to make sure I cover all the side and bottom of the dish. Repeat this pattern for 2 more times. For slow cooker, skip down to slow cooker to read the instruction
Prepare nian gao batter:
Place the sugar and water in a saucepan and bring to a gentle simmer or until sugar is melted. Remove from the heat and let it cool down completely
Gradually stir in the glutinous rice flour into the sugar mixture. Stir to mix until they are smooth. You should have a pale brown color batter. The color will darken when you cook it. Strain this batter into the container you've lined with banana leaves (if using)
Prepare the steamer by bringing the water to a rolling boil. Pour nian gao batter into prepared pan and cover with aluminum foil. Place inside the steamer and steam on high heat for 1 1/2 hours and then lower the heat and let it steam for another 1 1/2 hours. You need to refill the water in the steamer throughout the cooking process. Don't let it dry out
The nian gao will still appear very soft at the end of cooking time and that's very normal. You need to let the nian gao cool down completely. Wrap them up with plastic wrapper and they will be ready in 2 days. At day 3, the nian gao will be much more firm and can be sliced. After day 3, I recommend to wrap them up and keep them in the refrigerator or they can start to get moldy (because we don't put preservatives). They can keep for months in the freezer however
Slow cooker method :
For slow cooker, you need a smaller round pan or cans lined with banana leaves that can fit in your slow cooker. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Place the nian gao inside the slow cooker, cover with aluminum foil and then very carefully pour in the boiling water into the slow cooker up to the point where you fill up the batter. Cook on low for 8-10 hours. It will still appear somewhat soft, but that's normal. Remove from the slow cooker and let it cool down completely
Instant pot method:
Pour 1 cup of water into the inner pot. Set the trivet. Place the nian gao on top of the trivet. Cover with aluminum foil. Close the lid. Pressure release valve to seal and press pressure cooker, high pressure. If you are using round aluminum pan, set timer to 45 minutes and then wait 10 minutes to release pressure. If you are using glass container like I do, set the timer to 60 minutes and then wait 10 minutes to release pressure. The glass container takes longer to cook
The cake will still appear very soft. If you use a chopstick to poke the middle of the cake, nothing should stick to the chopstick, if there is, the cake is not cooked through yet
Cooling down and storing:
Let it cool down completely and then wrap with aluminum foil. Let it sit at room temperature for at least 24 hours before unmoulding or attempting to cut. They will get slightly firmer. They can be kept at room temperature for up to 1 week if it's not humid. They can be refrigerated for up to 6 months
Pan frying with eggs:
Whisk all ingredients listed to pan fry nian gao with eggs, except for oil
Dip the nian gao slices into the egg batter and fry them until golden brown. Serve immediately
You can use the nian gao to make this Fried Nian Gao Sweet Potato Sandwich too