Baked Nian Gao

Baked Nian Gao
Pete Lee

Nián gāo (黏糕, in Mandarin) are the fruitcake of Chinese desserts. The difference is that they’re steamed, not baked, and made of glutinous rice flour instead of wheat flour. But like fruitcake, they show up (sometimes inconveniently) on major holidays. Nián gāo means “sticky cake” and is also a pun for “a year better than the last,” so around the new year, you make it to bribe the Kitchen God and glue his mouth shut, as he’s to report on everything he’s overheard in your kitchen the past year. That classic texture can be polarizing for people who are unfamiliar with it, so for this version, I looked toward butter mochi, a favorite from the 1970s era of Oriental- style convenience baking. Baking turns nián gāo into a cake of wonderful contrasts—still chewy but topped with a golden crust. Winter is peak nián gāo season, so I use brandied cherries, like Luxardo, but feel free to use other dried fruit; rehydrate for fifteen minutes in some hot water, rum, or brandy, then chop into 1⁄2-inch pieces so they stay evenly distributed throughout the cake.


  1. ½ cup/ 110g unsalted butter 
  2. 2 1⁄2 cups / 590ml whole milk, at room temperature
  3. 1⁄2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped, and pod discarded 
  4. 3 eggs, at room temperature
  5. 1 lb / 450g short-grain glutinous rice flour (such as mochiko) 
  6. 1 cup / 200g granulated sugar
  7. 1 Tbsp baking powder
  8. 1 pinch kosher salt
  9. 1⁄2 cup / 90g drained, pitted Luxardo cherries, or rehydrated dried fruit, drained and coarsely chopped
  10. Powdered sugar for dusting, or clarified butter for toasting (optional)


  1. Preheat the oven to 350℉. Line the bottom of a 9 x 13-inch baking pan with parchment paper.
  2. In a large saucepan over low heat, melt the butter. Remove from the heat. Whisk in the milk and vanilla seeds until combined, then whisk in the eggs until smooth. In a large bowl, whisk together the rice flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Pour in the milk mixture and whisk until smooth. Stir in the cherries, then pour into the prepared baking pan. 
  3. Bake the nián gāo until light golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 55 to 60 minutes. Let cool until warm, about 1 hour. 
  4. Remove the nián gāo from the pan, peel off the parchment, dust with powdered sugar, and cut into squares to serve. Or skip the sugar dusting and toast the slices in a pan on the stove top with clarified butter until crisp before serving.

Special Equipment: 9 x 13-inch baking pan (preferably metal).

Reprinted with permission from Mister Jiu's in Chinatown: Recipes and Stories from the Birthplace of Chinese American Food by Brandon Jew and Tienlon Ho, copyright © 2021. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House.

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