A typical bakery at best carries three flavors, but the possibilities of nian gaos are endless. A homemade one with a creative twist makes a thoughtful gift, and the know-how ensures that you can enjoy nian gao even after the new year. I present a fairly common variation – red dates ( jujube) “hong joe.”
Variations: You can add figs, dates (non-Chinese), persimmons, shredded coconut, ginger juice, pine nuts, or cooked apricot seeds. Sweet potato is also commonly worked into the dough. In the same vein, you can add pumpkin or other varieties of sweet squashes. If you are using a wet ingredient like squash reduce the sugar water to 1 cup since the extra add in would provide moisture.
Nian Gao with Chinese Red Dates (Jujube)
- 1 bag of glutinous rice flour, 400 grams, ~3.5 cups
- 1/3 cup of tang flour or tang wheat starch (optional)
- 3 slabs of Chinese pian tang, 270 grams
- 1 1/2 cups of hot water
- 3 cups of pitted jujube (get them already pitted)
Rinse red dates. Boil red dates for 25 minutes. Put a pinch of baking soda in the water to soften the skin. Drain dates and puree in food processor, and set aside.
Heat 1 cup of hot water on stove and dissolve 3 slabs of brown sugar.
Make a well on the bottom of the mixing bowl with glutinous rice flour. Slowly add the hot sugar water in the middle of the well a little at a time. Using a wooden spoon or spatula slowly incorporate the flour around the well. It will look crumbly and dry. Start smashing the clumps in to the dry flour around the well. Slowly add another 1/4 cup of hot water a little at a time, then the other ¼ as needed
Continue smashing the clumps into the dry flour – picking up as much flour as you can. The dough will still seem crumbly and dry. Start using your hands to pick up the pieces and knead it together into dough. Add a little more water if needed.
When the dough is form, add the dates (in 3-4 parts), and with your hands fold it into the dough.
Place mixture into a greased pan. Smooth the top of the cake with a spatula to make an even surface. Trick is to wet the spatula. Add a few drops of oil on top and spread evenly with your fingers.
Steam for 35-40 minutes. Put a steamer on to the bottom of the work, sauce pan, or deep pan. Add water until it reaches the top of the steamer. When the water boils, place the cake on top of the steamer. Check water level after 20 minutes. Add hot water into pot as needed.
Let the cake cool, and refrigerate overnight. Before serving, cut up the cakes into pieces, dip in egg, and pan fry. If you are just having one slice – then pop it in the microwave. The egg wash is to create an egg crust that will prevent the pieces of nian gao from sticking to each other.
Yields (2) 8 inch cakes