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This traditional steamed Chinese New Year cake, known in Mandarin as nian gao (“higher year”), is flavored with almond extract and Chinese brown sugar. It’ll bring you good luck in the new year! After a few days, the chewy cake will harden up; Grandma Ruby, who gave us this recipe, dips hardened leftover slices into beaten egg and pan-fries them in vegetable oil to soften the inside and crisp up the outside. (Watch Grandma Ruby make jai, a healthy Chinese New Year stew.)
For a less traditional approach, try our baked coconut Chinese New Year cake.
What to buy: Chinese brown sugar is made from unrefined cane sugar. It can be found in the dried goods section of Asian markets and is sold in 1-pound bricks that separate into slabs.
Sweet rice flour, also known as glutinous rice flour or mochiko, is produced from sticky rice grains and is actually gluten-free. It’s available at Asian markets in the starch section. Regular rice flour, which is produced from long-grain rice, will not yield the same results.
Dried Chinese red dates, also known as jujubes, are olive-sized, sweet, and prunelike, and are used in both savory and sweet dishes. They can be found in the dried goods section of Asian markets.
Special equipment: If you don’t have a large bamboo steamer, create your own steamer. Take two 24-inch-long pieces of aluminum foil and loosely roll and crumple each one widthwise into a 1-inch-thick piece. Form each piece into an “S” shape and place both in a large frying pan or a large straight-sided pan with a tightfitting lid. Add an inch of water and bring it to a simmer. Proceed with the recipe, placing the cake pan on top of the foil coils rather than in a bamboo steamer.