Chinese New Years Cake (‘Nian Gao’)

Unlike the New Year festivities celebrated midnight of December 31st that is based on the Gregorian Calendar, Chinese New Years varies each year… and it’s right around the corner! The Chinese Zodiac runs on a 12-year cycle of animals based on a calendar determined by the movement of the moon. On February 16th, the year of the Dog begins.

I remember my grandmother telling us about the difficult times ‘back in the day’, and Chinese New Year being that one time of the year everyone looked forward to most. During these harsh times, it became tradition that Chinese New Years be filled with food, decorations and customs to bring good luck, health and blessings in the coming year. Lion dances, bell ringing, lighting firecrackers and lucky red envelopes stuffed with ‘lucky money’…. can you tell that it’s one of my favourite holidays growing up?

Husbands and sons who worked out of town would be home with their families, and cousins and grandchildren would visit bringing gifts of apples and oranges. The apple fruit is pronounced ‘ping2guo3’ and 平平安安 or ‘ping2ping2 an1an1’ is homonymous for safe and security; and the mandarin orange pronounced as ‘ji2’ was often gifted with the blessing of 大吉大利 or ‘da4ji2da4li4’, homonymous for good luck and good profits. She said that it didn’t matter how poor you were, on New Years, you wore new clothes, even if it the only new thing you got was your underwear! Growing up, it was tradition that you wore the lucky colour red during New Years and red banners with calligraphy of blessings would hang along the sides of doorways. Traditional meals would be dumplings or ‘元寶’ (round and plump, they symbolized prosperity and took its form from the shape of old currencies) and hotpot or ‘圍爐’ (meaning to ‘gather around the stove’); it didn’t matter how far you had to travel for work, everyone would make it home to gather around the table and share New Years dinner with the family.

Nian Gao or Chinese New Year Cake was one of my favourite treats. ‘Nian2’ literally means ‘year’ and ‘Gao1’ or ‘cake’ is homonymous with the Chinese word for ‘higher’, bringing blessing for each year thereafter to be better than the last. Nian Gao became a sweet glutinous rice cake that is enjoyed to celebrate for a promising year ahead of progress, advancement.

新年快樂, 祝福大家狗年旺旺! Happy Chinese New Years

Nian Gao 年糕





  • 180g (1 cup) Brown Sugar 

  • 1 1/2 cup (375mL) Coconut Milk 

  • 2 Tbsp (30mL) Sesame Paste 

  • 275g Glutinous Rice Flour 

  • 125g Wheat Starch 

  • 1 Tbsp (15 mL) Oil and more to grease the pan 

  • 1 Red Date (for decoration)
  • 1 Eggs, Whisked – to serve


  1. Mix brown sugar, coconut milk and sesame paste together until sugar is dissolved.
  2. Sift glutinous rice flour and wheat flour.
  3. Add flour into coconut milk syrup mixture while stirring to combine well.
  4. Pour mixture through a sieve to prevent clumps in batter.
  5. Transfer batter to a greased cake mould.
  6. Cover with aluminum foil tightly and place in wok to steam over high heat for about 40 minutes OR cook in Instant Pot: Pour 1 cup (250mL) water in the pressure cooker, and place cake pan on top of a trivet. Close the lid and pressure cook at ‘High Pressure’ for 30 minutes and allow for full natural release.
    The steam/cook time can be adjusted depending on how big and thick your cake is.
  7. Test doneness by sticking a chopstick in the centre of the cake. Cover the hole using a red date. (It is quite normal for the cake to stick to the choptick, so what you’re looking for is an even colour and that the flour does not taste raw).
  8. Once the sticky rice cake has cooled to room temperature, place in refrigerator for at least 4-8 hours before cutting into it. (It makes it much easier to slice into thick pieces).
  9. Dip the sliced cake into whisked egg and pan fry on medium-low heat until both sides are brown. Serve hot. Nutritional Facts

Per Serving (1/12th of the Cake)

Calories:  300 kcal
Fat:  10 g
Carbohydrates: 48 g
Fiber:  1 g
(Net Carbohydrate:  47 g)
Protein: 3 g

A source of:

1 serving of ‘grain products’ from Canada’s Food Guide



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