Nian Gao [年糕]

Next weekend is the Lunar New Year, and that was my excuse for making this nian gao/dduk/mochi (年糕, 떡, もち) again.  This time, it came out nearly perfect!

The Chinese language is fascinating…I had picked out the characters for “sticky cake” (粘糕) which IS nian gao, to use in the title, only to have my mom point out that those weren’t the right ones.  You see, the reason nian gao is so popular around Lunar New Year is because the words are a homonym for “higher year.” So while I wasn’t wrong per se,  the characters actually used for nian gao mean “year cake” instead of “sticky cake.”

This pan of nian gao was cut into about 5 minutes after being removed from the oven, and the above picture was taken only 10 minutes after that.  What can I say, we couldn’t resist! My mom and I love the browned edges, and my brother and dad prefer the gooey middle.

Ingredients

Nian Gao with Red Bean Paste
from The Cooking of Joy

6 tbsp (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted (and cooled to room temperature) –> see baker’s note
1 1/4 cups white sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups milk, warmed (don’t let this simmer)
1 box (16 oz) glutinous rice flour (Use Mochiko brand)
1 tsp baking powder
1 (18.75 ounce) can red bean paste or sweetened red beans

Instructions
1) Preheat oven to 350 °F. Grease a 9×13 inch baking pan OR two 8×8 inch baking pans.
2) Beat cooled butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla together.  Add the warm milk, stir.  This won’t mix very well.
3) Add the entire box of Mochiko and the baking soda to the liquid mixture.  This will seem very lumpy. I took a whisk to it and it seemed to smooth out after a while.
4) Pour batter into pan (or divide batter between two pans).  Using a teaspoon and your finger, drop red bean paste into the batter.
5) Bake for 45 mins – 1 hr depending on your oven.  My gas oven didn’t brown the top even after an hour, but my parents’ convection oven did the job in 20 minutes.  As long as a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean, its done!

Baker’s Note: I think, and my family agrees, that 1 stick of butter for this was way too much.  You could see the butter bubbling when it was baking!  I am going to cut down to 3/4 stick next time, and see if that makes it less greasy.  I also wouldn’t use this much red bean, but my dad just loves the stuff, and actually put another can of it in front of me.  It would have been more red bean than cake had I used a second can!

I used a random Japanese brand of rice flour the last two times I made this, and I will stick with Mochiko from now on.  The random stuff was expensive for half the amount, and I suspect it wasn’t glutinous rice flour because the cake texture is different this time.  Who knows, the package was all in Japanese.


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