Chinese New Year Cake

The Lunar New Year is this Friday, January 31, 2014.

One of the traditional dishes eaten during the New Year for Chinese people is a New Year Cake.

It’s a very simple steamed cake, made with glutinous rice flour for a mochi-like chewy texture and sweetened with brown sugar.

The name literally translates as “year cake.” It is supposed to be good luck to eat it because the cake name is a homonym for “higher year.” Thus, the belief is if you consume the cake, you will have a successful upcoming year. I always eat it simply because I love it, especially with its chewy texture.

The cake is readily available in Chinese markets around this time of year, but you can also easily make it at home. After the cake is finished steaming, it’s soft and chewy. Once it cools and is stored, it will become hard and dense. As a result, it is usually sliced and served either pan fried or dipped in egg batter and deep fried. Both methods heat the cake and restore it to its originally sticky and chewy form.


There’s many variations and flavors, but the most basic one which I grew up with is only three ingredients: glutinous rice flour, water, and brown sugar.  You can make these ahead of time, store them in the fridge, gift them to friends.

Chinese New Year Cake


400g glutinous rice flour
300g dark brown sugar
about 2 cups of water


Bring water to a boil and stir in sugar until it is completely dissolved. Add in rice flour and stir until smooth. Grease an 8 inch round cake pan. Fill with batter. Steam about 1 hour or until sides begin to pull away from cake and cake becomes solid and set. You can eat as is. To store, place in airtight container in fridge. To reheat, slice into squares and pan fry with some oil or dip in egg and flour and deep fry.

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10 comments on “Chinese New Year Cake”

  1. I didn’t know these were so easy to make. I always buy mine from 99 ranch. Do you coat it with flour before you pan fry? Mine always gets sooo sticky when I pan fry so I’m wondering if flour will do the trick.

  2. Woo! I was just looking for this recipe to make on Friday. Have you ever made it with red bean? I’m wondering how to adjust the wet/dry ingredient ratio to allow for the increased liquid… Thanks, and happy new year!

    • Unfortunately, I have not tried the red bean. It seems like a little too much work for me and I’d just go and buy it. haha. good luck!

  3. I already have the steamed nian gao, but I was wondering whether I’d somehow be able to bake it instead of frying. I’ve been raised with the panfried method, but I’ve been attempting to ‘healthify’ New Year treats. 🙂

    • If you want to do really healthy, I sometimes slice it, put it on parchment paper and microwave it. It won’t stick to the parchment paper and it becomes nice and chewy again in the microwave. =) Baking should work too but will take longer

  4. Hi! Im attempting to make this for the first time, but I have no idea how to steam in a pan like this! What is an easy way to do this, for those of us who have no knowledge of steaming foods!

    • are you using a steamer, or what are you using for steaming? You can use almost any round cake pan for this. And you can line it with parchment paper to make it easier. I put mine in a steamer. if you’re not using a traditional steamer, you want to put water at the bottom of your pot, then have something sitting above it which you can place your cake pan on, so that the steam from the water will rise and cook the cake without the cake floating in the water.

  5. Can rice flour be used or only glutinous?

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