Marika's Menu - Mom's Favorite Nian Gao

Credit: Marika Yang/Publisher Credit: Marika Yang/Publisher

With the Lunar New Year, many countries in Asia celebrate the new year according to the traditional lunar calendar. In China, nian gao is a popular rice cake made to celebrate the New Year, which is also known as the Spring Festival. Nian gao literally translates to “sticky cake,” but can also mean "year cake" or "higher year" due to the homophonic nature of the language.

There are many types of nian gao, according to the different cuisines of various regions of China. Shanghai nian gao is savory and white, stir-fried with beef, pork, and vegetables. Northern nian gao is sweet to taste, usually steamed or fried. Guangdong’s (Canton) version is also sweet, with a distinct dark color due to brown sugar. It is steamed first, then fried, and dipped in egg. Traditionally, nian gao is steamed or fried because most families did not have ovens. In the United States, the prevalence of ovens led to the popularity of baked nian gao. This recipe is a gluten-free Chinese American baked concoction, closest to the Guangdong style that has been refined through thirty years of trial and error.

Yield: 25-30 pieces | Prep time: 15 minutes | Cook time: 50-60 minutes


  • ½ cup of rice flour
  • 3 cups of sweet rice flour*
  • 1 tbsp of baking powder
  • 3 large eggs
  • ½ cup of granulated sugar
  • ¾ cup of butter
  • 2½ cups of milk
  • ½ can of red bean paste, whole or mashed
  • vegetable oil (for greasing pan)

*Also known as glutinous rice flour (which is gluten free), sticky rice flour, or mochiko.

Note: Using an electric mixer is recommended.

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9x13-inch glass baking dish. Set aside.
  2. Sift the rice flour and sweet rice flour into a large bowl. Mix with the baking powder.
  3. Whisk together the eggs, sugar, and melted butter into the flour mixture until combined into a crumbly mixture.
  4. Add in the milk one cup at a time, stirring each time for two minutes. Continue stirring until the batter is a creamy, light-yellow color and completely blended (more liquid than solid). There may be small, bead-shaped clusters of flour in the batter that are difficult to mix well. Use your fingers to knead these clusters into the batter.
  5. Set aside a ½ cup of batter. Pour the rest of the batter into the greased baking dish.
  6. Use a teaspoon to scoop out the red bean paste and carefully drop into the batter, spreading the chunks throughout the dish. Do not mix the paste in the batter. With a new spoon, lightly spread the batter (previously set aside) over the chunks to create a smooth surface.
  7. Place dish in the oven and bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, or until the surface is golden. If desired, broil in the final 2 minutes for a darker, golden brown color. Slice into small squares and serve. Can be stored at room temperature for up to 3 days.