How To Make Nian Gao

Glutinous rice flour at only RM2.60 per half kg, measuring the caramelized sugar, add flour to blender, pour into moulds (you can see bubbles here, it’s because I poured too fast! Kan Cheong!)

Nian Gao or sticky rice is used as offering to the gods. For my family, being the superstitious Hokkiens (I take great pride being a Hokkien!), we offer the nian gao to the Gods of Heaven (Jade Emperor), Goddess of Mercy, God of the Earth, Kitchen God and ancestors. That means, we will need 5 nian gaos. A quick check in the supermarket, a cup-cake sized nian gao goes for as much as RM1.90. Don’t even think of getting a bigger nian gao! It costs about Rm13 just for one nian gao as big as a rice bowl!

So this year, being frugal, we decided to make our own!

My mom said, when she was just a girl, the people who made nian gao would forbid anyone from entering the kitchen. They didn’t speak and could only think of pure thoughts, otherwise, the nian gao would not turn out to be good.

Last night, as I was helping mom to make nian gao, the blender suddenly stopped working. We had a petty squabble and started to curse the blender which was newly bought. I was so furious that I wanted to call the person who sold me this lousy blender till my sis turned over the blender and saw the safety switch! Apparently, the blender was over heated because of the thick caramelized sugar. Lucky it didn’t get overheated and just die on us! We laughed our heads off and continued making.

I’ve search all over the internet for the easiest methods but then, a friend gave me a recipe made it all much easier! But then, since she prefers her food to be less sweet (she’s a health freak), we modified the recipe to suit our taste!

First, these are the ingredients that you need.

A packet of glutinous rice flour – 500g
500g of sugar
500ml of water

Yield: Five (3 inches diameter) nian gaos/ two 10 inches fishes and one 3-inches diameter round container. You can get the fish mould at any bakery shop, I supposed. It’s made of plastic and could withstand steaming!


1. Heat the wok and melt the sugar in slow fire.
2. When you see the melted, caramelized sugar started to sizzle, pour in water bit by bit and mix properly. (Do not add water before the sugar are caramelized fully because the sugar would harden and turned white instead like “ping tong”)
3. Set aside to cool it down.
4. Prepare the mould for the batter by greasing it with vegetable oil.
5. Add banana leaf for added fragrance. If you are solely making as offering, perhaps you can skip this step lah.
6. When the caramelized sugar is cooled, pour into blender, stir a little of the caramelized sugar while it’s in the blender to see if it’s not too “tight” to move. Then, add on ¼ of the 500g of glutinous rice flour.
7. Press the blender to blend. Slowly add bit by bit of flour till all 500g were evenly blended. Some people use cake batter beater. Why do we do this slowly? It’s to prevent the blender from overheating! You may add some water if you find the batter is too thick! Chances of blender overheat is high due to the sticky caramelized sugar. Another alternate is to use the electric mixer /hand blender for cakes. The more water you add, the softer the nian gao would be. *Do not use blender continuously for too long as it would tend to overheat due to the caramelized. Just press it for 15 seconds, off, then press another 10-15 seconds.
8. At the mean time, set the wok to steam the cakes. While waiting, grease the mould with cooking oil/olive oil.

Place to wok to steam.. and voila, your nian gao is ready!

9. Pour the batter into greased moulds. It’s better for you to pour it slowly into mold to avoid unsightly bubbles!
10. Steam the cakes for 50 minutes to 1 hour, depending on how dark you want the nian gao to turn out to be. The longer you steam, the darker it would become!
11. Leave it to cool down or perhaps store in the fridge once it’s cooled down for it to harden.

Voila! You have home made sticky cakes! And it doesn’t cost much!

I see if I can try to come up with “fatt gou” recipe in my next blog post! All for Chinese new year celebration!

Update 20th January 2012: I’ve added a few steps because of trial and error the second time I did the nian gao. My blender was overheated again! That is, to grease the mould and ensure the caramelized sugar is not too thick because the blender will be spoilt!

Update 28th January 2013: You can yield about five 3 inches nian gaos or two 10 inches fishes and one 3 inches nian gao. If you use smaller mould, then you will get more.

Update 7th February 2013: Suffered misfortune trying to make nian gaos yesterday. Not sure if it’s due to wrong measurement or because I was over confident. So yesterday, 6 fishes ended up in the dustbin. I find, you must have the ingredients in proportion – 500g sugar and 500g flour, otherwise… gone… Attempting second time this year to make nian gaos now.. keeping fingers crossed!

Check out my latest fish shaped nian gou!

PS. I think instead of using blenders – which I think most people would find that the sticky nian gao could fry their blenders! I gather you can try using spatula to mix the mixture instead.

4 thoughts on “How To Make Nian Gao

  1. Wah… I didn’t know ppl made nian gao from scratch! I’m such a supermarket boy, semua beli dari sana…😛

    My blogger pal Lena was writing about bagels she made, and I suggested nian gao as a filling – ever considered that?😀

  2. Hi, I bought my first nian gao this year since I’ve moved out of home and my mom used to make it. We are Hokkien too and my mom’s always told me to let the nian gao grow mold. The more mold that grows, the better for the fortune? I’m trying to explain this to my boyfriend but can’t find anywhere that would back up what my mom said. Any ideas?

  3. I am not too sure about that though.. if you don’t intend to eat the nin gou, then it’s fine. As for us, we do eat the nin gou after praying, so we ensure no mold grows on them!

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