This Glutinous Rice Cake Is Entirely Different From Store Bought … Ningbo Niangao, Shanghai Niangao or Bai Guo Gan (宁波年糕,上海年糕,白果干)

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INTRODUCTION

I swore I never like to cook this glutinous rice cake (Ningbo Niangao (宁波年糕) or Shanghai Niangao (上海年糕)or Bai Guo Gan (白果干) ) as it has to be soaked for many days before it turn soft. In addition, it is rather difficult to stir fry as it can turn mushy if too much water is added….

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While I was glancing through the internet yesterday, I found a simple recipe of this glutinous rice cake.. Looking at the ingredients , it is just a 3 simple ingredients recipes and all are common household items. Out of my curiosity, I have decided to give it a try thinking without having any expectations on the rice cake.

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It didn’t take long for me to finish the preparation of this glutinous rice cake.. about an hour from preparation until finished steaming. I let it rest a night and early in the morning, I cut the rice cake and fry it in a vegetarian version.. When I took the first bite, I immediately knew that why this rice cake managed to capture the hearts of many Chinese. The texture is totally different as it is soft and chewy and it totally change my perception of this traditional rice cake.

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As per Wikipedia:

“The Shanghai Niangao style is usually packaged in a thick soft rod to be sliced up or packaged pre-sliced and either stir-fried or added to soup. Depending on the cooking method this style is a soft to a chewy variant. The Shanghai style keeps the nian gao white, and made with non-glutinous rice. The color is its distinct feature. When served as a dish, the most common is the stir-fry method, hence the name (炒年糕, chǎo nián gāo). There are three general types. The first is a savory dish, common ingredients include scallions, beef, pork, cabbage, Chinese cabbage etc. The second is a sweet version using standard white sugar. The last version is taste-less, and is often consumed for its chewy textures.” (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nian_gao)

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The main objective of this post is the sharing of the preparation of this rice cake. However, I will also share a recipe of how to stir fry the rice cake. As I am on a vegetarian diet, the illustration uses vegetarian ingredients but you can always add in meats, shallots and garlics when you are stir frying.

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Whether or not this rice cake is linked to Korean rice cakes or Japanese rice cakes, I am unsure but I believed they are closely linked as food history are all intertwined and not to mention that they are in the same geographical regions.

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WHAT IS REQUIRED

Recipe adapted from 自制寧波年糕

Servings: 2-3 persons

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Rice Cake

  • 120 grams of glutinous rice flour (糯米粉)
  • 120 grams of rice flour (粘米粉)
  • 140 grams or ml of water (清水)

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Stir Frying Rice Cake

  • 380 grams of rice cake (as above), cut slanting into bite size pieces
  • 5 winter mushrooms, sliced
  • 6 cm of carrots, shredded
  • 3 dried bean curd puff, cut into stripes
  • 50 grams of Szechuan vegetables, soaked and cut into stripes
  • 50 grams of mock chicken, chopped (not in picture) – Substitutable with minced pork or chicken
  • Some chopped ginger or garlics or shallots
  • Oyster sauce, to taste
  • light soya sauce, to taste
  • Dashes of white pepper

All quantities and ingredients are for your reference as this is a savoury dish.

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STEPS OF PREPARATION

  • Get ready a steamer capable of steaming under high heat for at least 30 minutes and a small pot of hot boiling water.

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  • In a big mixing bowl, sift in the glutinous rice flour and rice flour. Add the water gradually and knead until it form a pliable dough. If too dry, add water tablespoon by tablespoon. If too wet, add glutinous rice flour tablespoon by tablespoon.

  • Take out about 40 grams of the dough, shape it round, pat in the hand and throw it to the pot of hot boiling water. Cook for 3-4 minutes or until the dough floats in the water. Transfer this small dough to the mixing bowl. The purpose of this step is to ensure that the rice cake have a chewy texture.

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  • Use your hand to knead the  cooked and uncooked dough together until well mixed. Divide equally into 6 portions. Shape cylindrical shape and steam in the steamer for about 25 minutes. Once done, to avoid sticking to each other, you can lightly grease the rice cake  with cooking oil and let it cool completely before cutting into pieces for stir frying. For this illustration, I have let it rest overnight. The longer it rest at room temperature, the harder it will be as moisture are lost in the process.

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  • Slice the rice cake into small pieces. In a hot wok or frying pan, put some cooking oil, put the minced ginger or shallot or garlics and sliced winter mushroom. Sauté until fragrant. Add in the mock chicken or minced meat, stir fry for one two minutes followed by all other ingredients. Stir fry until well mixed.

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  • Add in the sliced rice cake, stir fry followed by adding white pepper and oyster sauce. Stir fry for another few minutes and dish up. If in the process of stir frying, the dish is too dry, you can add a small quantity of water but not too much as it will make the rice cake mushy. Best served when warm.

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CONCLUSION

Again, I was shocked that home made rice cake’s texture is totally different from the store bought version. It is soft and chewy. It is easy to prepare with simple ingredients. If you like Korean or Japanese rice cake, I am sure all of you will like this too. As this is a savoury dish, all measurement are for your reference. Feel free to change what suit your taste bud. You can always use the same ingredients that you stir fry your noodles for the dish.

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Hope you like the post today. Cheers and have a nice day.

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  • For more recipes, you can refer to my RECIPE INDEX (updated as at 28 July 2014)  here and you can follow me at PINTEREST or visit the blog’s FACEBOOK PAGE to keep abreast of my future posts.  

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Baked or Steamed,You Decide Yourself–Glutinous Rice Cake, Nian Gao (年糕)

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INTRODUCTION

I have been holding this post for a while because I am waiting for my steamed glutinous rice cake to harden so that I can cut and show readers how to prepare this sticky rice cake. Somehow, this is the fourth day, it is still rather soft, I have decided not to wait any more and share with readers the preparation of the cake itself.

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Very frankly, I have a lot to write about this special glutinous rice cake, Nian Gao. A lot of fond memories and a cake that is a must during the Chinese New Year. This is one of the cakes that was offered to ancestors beside the steamed rice flour cake (huat kueh) and steamed sponge cake (kuey neng ko). As this is Chinese New Year season, I am really running out of time and members in the Facebook Group is waiting for the recipes, therefore, I have to share these recipes as soon as possible before the festival is over. I do not intend to write about what I know about Nian Gao, instead, I will refer readers to Wikipedia that have a very good write up about this cake.

“Nian Gao (nin gou in Cantonese), sometimes translated as year cake or Chinese New Year’s cake, is a food prepared from glutinous rice and consumed in Chinese cuisine. It is available in Asian supermarkets and from health food stores. While it can be eaten all year round, traditionally it is most popular during Chinese New Year. It is considered good luck to eat Nian Gao during this time, because “Nian Gao” is a homonym for “higher year.” The Chinese word 粘 (nián), meaning “sticky”, is identical in sound to 年, meaning “year”, and the word 糕 (gāo), meaning “cake” is identical in sound to 高, meaning “high or tall”. As such, eating Nian Gao has the symbolism of raising oneself taller in each coming year (年年高升 niánnián gāoshēng). Also known as rice cake. This sticky sweet snack was believed to be an offering to the Kitchen God, with the aim that his mouth will be stuck with the sticky cake, so that he can’t badmouth the human family in front of the Jade Emperor. (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nian_gao)”

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– BAKED NIAN GAO (烤年糕)-


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Baked Nian Gao is definitely not common among the Chinese in Singapore and Malaysia. What is common is the steamed Nian Gao. However, it had become popular for overseas’ Chinese. Pardon me if I am wrong, in order to meet the taste buds of non-Chinese, butters, eggs and flavouring (such as almond,  coconut etc.) were added and baked in the oven instead of steaming. It is a rather common dessert during Chinese New Year in China Town restaurants.  Last year, I baked one Nian Gao and I loved it very much. This year, I have decided to bake it again and share with readers.


WHAT IS REQUIRED

Recipe adapted from: Baked Nian Gao

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  • 3 cups of glutinous rice flour
  • 1 cup of thick coconut milk (about 1 small packet – 200 ml)
  • 2 cups of plain water
  • 2 cups of castor sugar
  • 100 grams of coconut sugar (gula melaka)
  • 100 grams of melted butter (about 1/2 cup)   or 50 grams (see notes below)
  • 4 eggs (not in picture)
  • pinches of salt

(Amended on 9 January 2013 – Because some of the Singaporean readers are indicating that the recipe is too oily (though it is acceptable to me), in view of the current trends of less fat consumption, you can adjust to using 50 grams of butter instead of 100 grams of butter as indicated in the recipe)

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STEPS OF PREPARATION

  • Line a 8” x 8” square tin with parchment paper and pre-heat the oven to 180 degree Celsius.

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  • In a sauce pan, heat the gula melaka (coconut sugar), melted butter, coconut milk, salt and water under low to medium heat until all the coconut sugar and sugar have dissolved. (Note: if you are not using coconut sugar, you can just mix all the liquid ingredients without heating the liquid). Let it cool at room temperature. Transfer the liquid to a big mixing bowl. Add the eggs and mix well.

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  • Add the glutinous rice flour, use an egg whisker or spatula to stir until well combine. Sift the flour mixture into the baking tin.

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  • Bake in the oven at 180 degree Celsius for 30-45 minutes or until the cake is set. Cool completely for at least one hour before transfer out for cutting into desired size.

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– STEAMED NIAN GAO (蒸年糕)-


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Steamed Nian Gao is the type of Nian Gao that we prepared for offerings. It is vegetarian and I can’t recall in my whole life, I have any year that I did not have a Nian Gao with me if I am at home. It is supposed to be an auspicious cake and in the olden days, there were many taboos associated with the preparation of Nian Gao. It can be fried with eggs the same way as French toast, re-steamed, or deep fried by sandwiching between sweet potatoes and yams.

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I only use about 1 hour to steam this cake though most recipes called for a rather long time from 2-10 hours. I honestly believed that this is due to the bamboo basket that I have used to steam the cake. Bamboo basket has many holes and heat can penetrate and cook the cake more easily. In addition, the brown or black sugar used have the effect of browning the cake. Traditionally, the 10 hours used is waiting for the sugar to caramelize in the steaming process. It is possible if you have the time. I have not tried as I am concerned about my gas bills.. Ha-ha but I have witnessed my auntie who prepared this in a very traditional way using castor sugar and it needs at least 7-8 hours steaming using a very big wok.

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WHAT IS REQUIRED

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  • 2 cups of glutinous rice flour (2 杯糯米粉)
  • 2 cups of water (2杯水)
  • 1.5 cups of castor sugar (1.5 杯白糖)
  • 0.5 cups of black or brown sugar (半杯赤或者黑糖)

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STEPS OF PREAPARATION

  • Get ready a steamer, put water and bring to boil under high heat.

  • Put a cellophane plastic sheet on a 6 inches bamboo basket. You can refer here on how to put the cellophane tape on the bamboo basket. For Singapore readers, both cellophane sheet and bamboo basket can be obtained from Bake King at Haig Road.  If you are interested to learn how to line the basket professionally using banana leaves, you can refer to my Group’s post : https://www.facebook.com/groups/Bloggerfoodies/permalink/763707907051879/ prepared by Ms. Kim Choo Ooi. I have purposely asked her to demonstrate to my members step by step pictures. As this is her property, I can’t posted in my blog.

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  • Put the white sugar and brown sugar in a sauce pan, heat under medium heat until all the sugar have melted. Add in the water carefully. Be careful as the water can splash out when added to the hot syrup. Let the syrup cool at room temperature. (Note that you can by pass this step and  just mix sugar, water and flour together, see below).

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  • Put the syrup in a big mixing bowl, add glutinous rice flour, stir until as well combined as possible.

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  • Sift the flour mixture into the wooden basket. Steam in the steamer for 1-2 hour or when the rice cake is set. Set means when you push the basket, there is no wavy pattern in the flour mixture. Since there is no need to wait for caramelization,  as long as it is set, it is considered as cooked. If you prefer, you can put a red date (jujube) on the centre of the cake. However, I have use the old method of putting  a piece of red paper in the centre. (Note that for praying purposes, every cake must have some tinges of red)

  • Remember that the rice cake can be sticky when hot or even at room temperature. It will only harden in the room temperature for as long as in 1 week time. So don’t worry that it is not cooked.  When hardened, cut into small pieces and fried in the same way of French Toast.

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Updated on 14 January 2014

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This year I have decided to steam Nian Gao for my neighbour and relatives. There is no changes in the ingredients except that I by pass the caramelization of sugar. I mixed sugar, water and glutinous rice flour together,stirred until well combined, sift and steamed. This will save some time. To further save the timing, I have fully utilized both my bamboo steamer and my aluminium steamer using 3 tiers. As a general rule, the large Nian Gao should be at the deepest layer and the smallest one should be on top as it is easier to cook. For this batch, I used about 1.5 hours from preparation to steam.

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As for the taste, it is quite similar but of course not as fragrant as the traditional method of steaming 10 hours to let castor sugar caramelize from white to brown. I can definitely take it as I know exactly what is in my Nian Gao as compared to the counter bought Nian Gao.

Remember, as long as it is not watery, it is considered done. It will take weeks to get it harden. The one without basket is the Nian Gao of my earlier illustration and is just 90% hard after almost 2 weeks. If you are afraid of mould grows on the Nian Gao, once it is slightly harden, lightly greased a layer of cooking oil on top of the Nian Gao.

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CONCLUSION

Baked or steamed, you decide. For me, I must have a Nian Gao in my house during Chinese New Year. I usually put it in my dining table until Chinese New Year is over. If you are concerned about the growing of moulds,  just spread a layer of cooking oil on top of the hard surface. Even if the mould have grown without your notice,  you will wash it with clean water, cut off the top surface and continue to cook the cake. Am I gross? Ha-ha. May be, but food is precious in olden days and this cake can only be eaten once a year.

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Do try the baked version. You wouldn’t regret it. Neighbour who tasted the baked Nian Gao asked me what “kueh” – or local cake it is. It is full of coconut aroma and I can eat a quite a number of pieces  after I started cutting the cake. Putting the deliciousness of the cake aside, do consume in moderation as glutinous rice is rather unfriendly to the gastro-intestinal system.

Hope you like the post today. Cheers and have a nice day.

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