Chinese steamed sticky rice cakes (nián gāo)

Happy Chinese New Year, or 恭禧發財! The lunar calendar marks the year of the snake, which is particularly special to me because it represents the year I was born. According to Chinese horoscopes, people born in the year of the snake are acute, aware, cunning, proud, vain and vicious. Awesome – that is just how I want to be described (sarcasm). I guess it’s somewhat true since I can see those characteristics in my personality, though I like to think that I’m not always those things (especially the ones with the negative connotations).

Because we are celebrating Chinese New Year with only the three of us, I’m not cooking up a huge feast. We will have noodles (unbroken ones, to symbolize long life), clementines (traditionally oranges, to represent luck and wealth) and a steamed sticky rice cake, or nián gāo (年糕), which symbolizes a long, sweet life with a rising abundance for the coming year.

Nián gāo can be steamed or baked, and it’s usually pan-fried afterwards to achieve the traditionally sticky texture. I found this recipe on Little Corner of Mine that did not require pan frying, so it was an automatic winner for me. And because we didn’t need an entire pan of nián gāo to eat at home, I halved the recipe (adjustments are shown below).

Hope the year of the snake is prosperous and sweet for all of you!

Chinese steamed sticky rice cakes (nián gāo)

Steamed sticky rice cakes are a traditional dessert served for Chinese New Year
Prep Time10 minutes
Cook Time1 hour
Total Time1 hour 10 minutes
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: Asian, Chinese
Keyword: Asian
Servings: 2
Author: Eva Bakes


  • 200 grams glutinous rice flour about 8/10 of a cup
  • 150 grams light brown sugar packed (a little over 1/2 a cup)
  • 100 ml hot water a little under 1/2 cup
  • 100 ml room temperature water a little under 1/2 cup


  • In a large bowl, whisk together the brown sugar and 100ml of hot water. Keep whisking until the sugar dissolves. Then mix in the 100ml room temperature water until fully incorporated.
  • Slowly add in the glutinous rice flour and mix until a smooth batter is formed.
  • Grease a large pan, bowl or individual ramekins (alternatively, you can line your container with parchment paper).
  • Pour the batter in your container and steam over high heat for about an hour. Check your nián gāo about 40 minutes in by inserting a toothpick near the center of your pan. The mixture should no longer be watery and bits of the nián gāo may start sticking to the toothpick - this is good.
  • Once the nián gāo is done steaming, you can invert the cakes onto a flat plate to allow it to cool (or you can keep it in the container).


Store the nián gāo by keeping it in an airtight container or wrapping it tightly with cling wrap. It can stay in the refrigerator for about a week, but it can also be stored at room temperature for about 3 days.
Source: Little Corner of Mine

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