Nian gao is a sticky cake that’s traditionally eaten during Chinese New Year. 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. This matcha version is delicious for breakfast and will give you an energizing boost to the day.
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.
If you can, weigh out the ingredients for this recipe. Rice flour is very difficult to measure with a measuring spoon, so to make sure you have the correct amount, weigh the rice flours. Make sure the 5-inch round cake pan is at least 2 ½-inches tall, otherwise the nian gao might overflow.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).
Get this recipe for Matcha Nian Gao at https://www.theworktop.com/breakfast-brunch-recipes/matcha-nian-gao/.