New Year cake or Niangao (meaning “higher year”), is a popular Chinese rice cake prepared with glutinous rice and eaten during the Chinese New Year that lasts for at least 15 days. Though it is consumed all through the year, this rice cake is a must during this time of the year, as it is considered very auspicious and believed to bring good luck. There are many variations of the cake based on the many local cuisines within the Chinese culture; however, glutinous rice is a constant in all of them.
Niangao or New Year cake is a sweet sticky snack that is prepared as an offering to the Kitchen God, as a way of promising God (Yu Huang Da Di, the God of all Gods) that the individual offering the cake will keep his mouth shut and not bad mouth anyone and will raise oneself higher than the previous year.
Ingredients Used and Method of Preparation
The key ingredients that go into the making of New Year cake is pounded glutinous rice, peen tong (brown candy) or brown sugar, milk, dried Chinese dates (red variety), white sesame seeds, egg and vegetable oil.
Pounded rice is kneaded with cold water and a little milk. Melted candy or brown sugar is added and mixed well and the dough is then lined along a greased dish (like a soufflé dish). Meanwhile, soaked red dates are pitted when soft and cut into halves. The date halves are lined all over the dough in the baking dish and sprinkled with sesame seeds and topped with sliced soaked dates. The cake is steamed (in a double boiler) till done and wrapped in plastic when cool and refrigerated. This cooled cake is cut cross-wise into quarters and eaten as is or pan-fried, if required. The cake pieces are dipped in beaten egg and deep fried till golden brown.
Variations of Niangao
There are many variations of the New Year cake within the Chinese cuisine, which are sweet as well as savory and detailed here are the most popular versions –
- Shanghai Version – In this variation, the rolled savory variety of the rice cake is sliced and added to soup or stir fried. This usually has a filling of beef, scallions, pork, or cabbage. The sweet version of the cake is sweetened with white sugar and has a chewy texture.
- Cantonese Version – This is a sweet version and is sweetened with brown sugar and has a dark yellow color. The cake is steamed and eaten as is or served like a pudding with a flavoring of red bean paste or rosewater. The sliced cake can be deep fried and served along with dim sum dishes.
- Malaysian Version – This version of Malaysian New Year cake is called kuih bakul, which is fried and sandwiched between slices of taro or sweet potato.
- This cake is known as tikoy in Philippines and as tikay in Myanmar.
- The Japanese version is mochi and the Korean version tteok.
- Some popular ingredients added to this cake to make them different are red bean paste and lotus seed paste.
Vaselopita is a popular New Year cake that is traditionally served on the Greek New Year day, which has a quarter inside. It is believed that the person who gets the quarter (in the cake) will have one year’s good luck.