Just after welcoming the Western New Year, it’s time for families of Chinese heritage to prepare for the holiday of all holidays—Lunar New Year! For 2020, it falls on January 25th and ushers in the Year of the Rat based on the Chinese zodiac calendar.
Even if you can’t manage an entire Lunar New Year party, you can still share in the spirit with the beloved staple of every Chinese home at this time. We’re talking about the sweet sticky rice cake, called nian gao—with its counterparts in other parts of Asia, called bánh chưng in Vietnam, tikoy in the Philippines, and a filled version called kuih bakul in Malaysia. (*this post contains affiliate links)
Sticky Rice Cake Recipes: 10 Yummy Variations
The basic ingredient of all these cakes is glutinous rice flour, as in sticky, not referring to wheat gluten! And many of the recipes we found are actually vegan, gluten-free and dairy-free. So even those with dietary restrictions can enjoy!
Traditional nian gao is basically the flour flavored with sugar mixed with coconut milk, then steamed or baked. Once the nian gao is completely chilled, it is sliced up, dipped into beaten egg (or a vegan substitute), and pan fried to form a crispy golden layer on the outside with a chewy, gooey inside. Check out the creative variants below to see which one “sticks”!
1 – Baked Coconut Rice Cake – from Three Nutty Crumpets
This baked version is packed with coconut flavor, thanks to coconut milk in the batter and a topping of coconut flakes just before baking.
2 – Vegan Nian Gao – from Radiant Rachels
Also baked, this recipe gives the option of frying in chickpea flour mixture (instead of beaten egg) to make this version vegan
3 – Pan-fried Breaded Nian Gao – from Sweet Home Chefs
This post suggests coating the rice cake slices in fine bread crumbs before frying to make them easier to serve and handle. Clever and just as delish!
4 – Baked Coconut Rice Cake – from Radiant Rachels
This eggless, dairy-free, gluten free, and vegan recipe is free of common allergens, so all may indulge. But hopefully you’re not allergic (or averse) to coconut, since it’s packed with bold coconut flavor.
5 – Fried Nian Gao with Yam and Sweet Potato – from Huang Kitchen
These crispy, sweet fritters make a unique snack with slices of yam or taro and sweet potato sandwiched between slices of the cake. Pan fried in hot oil—with sesame seeds added for extra crunch, if desired—these are best served while still warm.
6 – Nian Gao Chinese New Year Cake – from Pressure Cook Recipes
This special family recipe uses Chinese brown sugar that comes in bars, plus their “secret ingredient” of Chinese sesame paste blended with coconut milk.
7 – Sweet Sticky Rice Chinese New Year Cake – from HWC Magazine (Healthy World Cuisine)
This recipe includes photos of the pan-frying step, showing the coating that forms around each rice cake slice. Yum! It also points out that this version is gluten free and dairy free.
8 – Homemade Fried Tikoy – from Ping Desserts
In the Philippines, nian gao is locally known as tikoy. This easy, make-at-home version uses just 4 ingredients: glutinous rice flour, brown or white sugar, water and vanilla extract. For added flavor, dessicated coconut may be added to the dip for frying.
9 – Steamed Glutinous Rice Cake with Coconut – from Nyonya Cooking
Called kuih bakul in Malaysia, these rice cakes are prepared following this recipe. Then, for a delicious serving idea, simply cut the kuih into bite-size pieces, steam till soft, then coat with dessicated coconut.
10 – Vietnamese Square Sticky Rice Cake (Bánh Chưng) – from Delightful Plate
Ban chung is prepared for the celebration of Tet, the Vietnamese lunar new year. More complex than the basic Chinese nian gao, it features fragrant rice layers with fillings of creamy mung bean and tender pork, spiced up with freshly cracked black pepper. The layers are wrapped in banana leaves (available in Asian food stores), and steamed for 12 hours. The cooked cakes can be eaten as is with soy sauce, or pan fried till crispy.
Basic Ingredients for Chinese New Year Rice Cakes
Found a recipe you like above, but not sure where to source the ingredients? Well, we found the most essential ones for you—all right on Amazon! Then, for certain specialty items mentioned, you can always try your local Asian supermarket or international food store.
1 – Glutinous Rice Flour (2 Pack)
2 – Coconut Milk, 33.8 Fluid Ounce (Pack of 2)
3 – Brown Rock Sugar Pieces (14 oz x 6 bags)
4 – Nature’s Way Premium Coconut Oil (10 Fl Oz.)
5 – Frozen Grated Coconut (16oz, Pack of 3)
Serving, Decor & Gifting Finds
We’ve also got you covered in case you plan to serve the nian gao at home with a little Chinese flair! Or if you’d like to package some to give as Lunar New Year gifts to friends, neighbors, or co-workers—again thanks to Amazon, plus Zazzle.
1 – Calypso Basics by Reston Lloyd – Melamine Tidbit Tray, Red
2 – Chinese Bamboo Chopsticks with Elegant Silk Brocade Pouch (20 Pairs)
3 – Chinese New Year Ceramic Year of The Rat Figurine
4 – Coral Red Tuck Top Bakery Box (10 pcs)
5 – Chinese New Year Sticker
6 – 2020 Chinese New Year Mouse Hong Bao Lucky Money Packets (16 Pcs, 4 Patterns)