Traditional Lunar New Year Nian Gao (sweet sticky rice cake)

Easy Nian Gao Recipe (Tikoy/Fa Gao/Kue Bakul)

Course: Chinese New Year, Dessert, Snack
Cuisine: Chinese
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour 10 minutes
Servings: 7 x 3 inch round cake
Author: Marvellina
Learn how to make this traditional Chinese nian gao recipe with steamer, slow cooker, or Instant Pot pressure cooker. This recipe is so easy and no fuss.
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  • 300 gr glutinous rice flour
  • 300 ml water
  • 300 gr white sugar
  • 100 gr dark brown sugar or coconut sugar
  • 4-5 long sheets of banana leaves if frozen thawed first

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. Cover and let the batter rest for 30 minutes

Steamer method:

  • Prepare the steamer by bringing the water to a rolling boil. Give the nian gao batter a stir and pour nian gao batter into prepared pan and cover with aluminum foil. Place inside the steamer and steam on high heat for 30 minutes and  then lower the heat and steam for 2 1/2 hours. You may 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 them 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 because it's thicker
  • 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