Nian gao is a sticky cake traditionally eaten on Chinese New Year. This Matcha Nian Gao is delicious for breakfast when pan-fried with egg, and will give you an energizing boost to start the day.
Happy Chinese New Year! Chinese New Year snuck up on me this year. I had all the intentions to post this Matcha Nian Gao recipe before the lunar new year came around so you could make it and enjoy it on new year day. Oops.
In case you have never had it before, nian gao is a sticky cake that's traditionally eaten during Chinese New Year (a multi-day affair). The word "nian" can mean either "sticky" or "year", and "gao" can mean either "cake" or "high". So this "sticky cake" is a play on words to wish fortune upon others for the new year.
Nian gao isn't difficult to make at all, though it might seem daunting at first. There's only five ingredients in it, and everything mixes together in less than 3 minutes. The hardest part about making this nian gao is that it takes 1 ½ hours to steam, and remembering that you need to make it the day before so it can cool and rest in the refrigerator overnight.
You can steam this nian gao with a traditional bamboo steamer over a wok, but I used my electric multi-cooker and it made the steaming much easier. Whichever way you steam it, the recipe stays the same, and you can tell that the nian gao is done when a toothpick inserted into the middle of it comes out clean (yes, just like you are baking a cake).
When it comes out of the steamer, it's ready to be eaten as is, but nian gao is really really really sticky when it is warm and freshly steamed. It will be so sticky that when you try to cut it, your knife will probably lodge itself right into the middle of the cake and refuse to come back out. And if it does come back out, your knife will probably be covered in a thick sticky goop.
The tastier way to eat nian gao is to let it set and harden overnight in the fridge. It'll be easier to slice and you can then heat it back up to bring out the sticky chewy texture again. You can heat it in the microwave or steam the nian gao slices, but my personal favorite - lightly coat the nian gao pieces in a thin layer of beaten egg and pan fry it. I love the crisp and savory edge the fried egg brings.
Nian gao is most frequently made with brown sugar, so this matcha version isn't traditional. But it's delicious and I love it for breakfast. A good dose of matcha in the morning always gives me the energy I need to start the day, even when the matcha comes in my nian gao. It's a good thing that Chinese New Year celebrations last for about three weeks - you have plenty more days to make this Chinese New Year Matcha Nian Gao!
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- 240 milliliters water (1 cup)
- 115 grams granulated sugar (½ cup)
- 170 grams glutinous rice flour (1 ½ cups)
- 75 grams rice flour (½ cup)
- 1 tablespoon matcha powder
- Liberally oil a 5-inch round cake pan (see notes) with a removable bottom, making sure you grease both the sides and bottom of the pan.
- In a medium bowl, heat the water in the microwave until warm (about 45-60 seconds). Add the sugar into the water, and stir with a spoon until the sugar is dissolved.
- In a medium bowl, mix together the flours and matcha powder.
- Slowly pour the water into the flour mixture while continuously stirring with a fork, reserving about several tablespoons of water. Stir until everything is combined, and you have a thick liquid. The consistency should be that of condensed milk. If it seems too thick, stir in the remaining water a bit at a time.
- Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and gently tap the pan against the countertop to knock up any trapped air bubbles. Put the pan in your choice of a steamer and steam for 1 ½ hours (see notes). If needed, make sure to periodically check the water level in your steamer and add more water as needed. The nian gao is done when a toothpick inserted into the middle of it comes out clean.
- Remove the pan from the steamer and allow to cool to room temperature. Cover and place in the refrigerator overnight to allow it to cool and set in the pan.
- The next morning, carefully remove the nian gao from the pan. You may need to run a knife around the edges and bottom of the pan. Cut the round nian gao in half and slice into pieces about ½-inch thick.
- At this point, you need to warm the nian gao to make it sticky again. Warm up only what you will eat, and save the remaining pieces in the refrigerator. You can warm up the nian gao three different ways, though I highly recommend the pan-frying method.
- To pan-fry (as in the pictures): Heat some oil in a frying pan on medium heat. Beat an egg in a small shallow bowl. Dip both sides of the nian gao pieces in the egg, and place on the hot frying pan. Pan-fry for about 2 minutes, until the egg is cooked and light brown. Carefully flip the nian gao and pan-fry for an additional 2 minutes on the other side. The nian gao should feel soft and gummy in the middle when you gently poke it with a spatula or chopstick. If not, flip it again and continue cooking for a couple more minutes. When the nian gao pieces have softened, remove from heat and serve immediately.
- To use a microwave: lay out the pieces on a plate so they are not touching and heat for about 10-20 seconds, until the pieces have softened.
- To use a steamer: lay the pieces on a plate so they are not touching and steam for about 8-10 minutes, until the pieces have softened.