Nian Gao (Chinese New Year Cake)

Nian Gao is a traditional Chinese New Year dessert. It is a sticky rice cake which requires long hours (7 hours!) of steaming. It is eaten in Chinese New Year because its pronunciation is a homophone for “a more prosperous year, higher position, grow taller, etc, year after year”. For example, businesses to grow more prosper, working class people to go higher in their career path and for kids to grow taller.

I do have a baked version which takes less than 1 hour to make.


Nian Gao can be kept for a long time. It just need to be re-steamed to regain its soft texture.


For the golden syrup:

  • 300g sugar
  • 200ml water
  • 2 slices lemon

For the Nian Gao:

  • 300g glutinous rice flour
  • 300g sugar
  • 300ml water
  • 4 tablespoons golden syrup
  • banana leaves or parchment papers for lining tins



IMG_3700To make the golden syrup, put all the ingredients into a pot. Bring it to a boil over high heat till the sugar dissolved.  Turn to low heat. Cook for 50 minutes.
IMG_3702After 50 minutes, a thick golden syrup will be formed.  Set aside to let it cool.
IMG_3706Line tins with banana leaves. I tried one with parchment paper. One lesson I learnt is that you need many layers of banana leaves so that the batter will not leak out during the steaming process and form some sticky cake outside the banana leaves.

If you are using parchment paper, use a few sheets to line. You have to use a whole sheet, i.e. without joints as the batter will leak out to the outside. I learnt it the hard way because I had a hard time taking the Nian Gao out from the tin due to the leakage.

IMG_3708To make the Nian Gao batter, combine the glutinous rice flour, sugar, golden syrup and water. Mix well, heat over low heat, until the flour and sugar completely dissolved.
IMG_3710Pour mixture into lined tins. Fill only 3/4 of the tin as the batter will rise during steaming. Arrange tins on steamer tray. Bring water in steamer to a boil, place tray into steamer. Line the steamer cover with a kitchen towel to prevent condensation water from dripping back onto the cake. Steam over medium low heat for 7 hours. Remember to top up the steaming water every 2 hours.
IMG_3712The Nian Gao will turn golden brown when it’s ready. Here, chowtimes wishes everyone a prosperous new year.

This Post Has 0 Comments

  1. Jennifer

    Happy New Year to you all too! I hope it’s prosperous and peaceful! The Nian Gao looks DELICIOUS! 🙂

  2. huifen

    My goodness! You made your own nian gao! I used to buy form hawker stalls in penang and steam it then eat with the shredded coconut. I missed nian gao a lot in UK. Can’t get it anywhere! I will try making this one. Is it difficult???

  3. Mary Zhang

    Susan, thank you so much for sharing this. What a clever way to make Nian Gao! I will try it this weekend. Now, where can I find the little tins? Thanks.

  4. suanne

    Hi Mary Zhang, i actually saved up those tins from canned kaya. You can just use any similar shape container which can stand high heat.

  5. Allen

    I love nian gao — thanks for sharing your recipe. I just tried my hand at making gai mei bao the other day. If you know of a good recipe, I’d love to hear it. The one I used turned out ‘ok’.

    Just want to say thanks for this blog. We own a condo in coal harbour and dream of moving back to Vancouver from California. I enjoy reading your blog because it reminds me of all the wonderful things in Vancouver 🙂

  6. yew

    I too like nian gao, please advise on the following :

    1. When should I add in the golden syrup.

    2. When you top up the hot water every 2 hours, did you open the steamer cover ? I wondering how to add the hot water to the normal steamer without open the cover.

    thank you.

  7. Suanne

    Hi Yew, the golden syrup should be added when you combine the glutinous rice with sugar and water. Thank you for letting me know that I missed that out.

    To top up the water, you have to open the cover. Just make sure that water does not drip on the nian gao.

  8. yew

    Thank you Suanne.

  9. Julie

    i love ur reciepies..
    but ur s for the lin goa is very complicated

    I have one which i have used for a few years and is a lot easier to make and is exactly same as ones bought in the shops.
    and only 1.5 to 2 hours of steaming..

    1. Suanne

      Hi Julie, it would be nice if you can share your recipe. Thanks in advance.

  10. JennaT

    Hi Suanne,
    Made this recipe today. Steamed it in my slow cooker. Can’t wait for it to cool so I can have a go at it 🙂 Thanks for sharing.

  11. jewels

    hello suanne

    in your ingredients for ‘nian gao’ you have 4 tablespoons of golden syrup – is this in addition to the ingredients for ‘golden syrup’ ?

    1. Suanne

      Hi jewels, the four tablespoons of golden syrup is taken from the recipe to make the golden syrup. You will have leftovers of golden syrup.

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