Along with the lanterns, these traditional sweets have appeared in shops and supermarkets in all of their varieties in Shanghai. In fact, those prepared in the north of the country differ significantly from those prepared in the south, with only the main ingredients remaining constant. What I’ve made at home is a sweet version found in the northern regions, while in the south it becomes a savory dish to be cooked with meat and vegetables.

How could you pass up such an opportunity? Learning a new recipe while also learning about the vast and profound culture of the country that hosts me and fascinates me… So, after locating the version of the recipe that most inspired me, I set to work. When compared to the traditional narrow one, it has a stronger aroma of spices, vanilla, ginger, and orange peel. You can omit them if you want a cake that is more like the original, but I assure you that they are delicious! In some regions, red beans or bits of dehydrated fruit are also added, so if you want to get creative, go ahead!

The preparation of nian gao is simple, and the ingredients are readily available in Italy (as usual I leave you the links in the list of ingredients). The only difficulty may be in locating the best steaming tools: I have a bamboo steamer, which is ideal, but a steel steamer or a pan with a grill resting on the bottom, on which to place the pan, will also suffice. The most important thing is that the boiling water never touches the bottom of the pan with the dough inside.

Yield: 3



Today I present and explain how to make nian gao, or rice flour cake, at home, which is popular during the Lunar New Year holidays. The word "gao," which means "cake," has the same pronunciation as the word "high." As a result, eating it and giving it away is thought to be a good omen for a "higher" year, and thus better than the previous one. A must-have for the era!

Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Additional Time 10 minutes
Total Time 1 hour


  • 1 teaspoon of seed oil
  • 470 ml of water
  • 2 slices of ginger
  • 220 g di brown sugar, dark
  • a pinch of all spice (cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cardamom)
  • 340 g of glutinous rice flour
  • 110 g of rice flour
  • vanillin
  • 1/2 teaspoon of molasses
  • orange zest
  • 3 dehydrated Chinese dates (optional)


    1. In a saucepan, bring half the water and the ginger to a boil, then reduce to a low heat and cover for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and stir in the brown sugar and spices until everything is dissolved. Remove the ginger. Add the remaining water to slightly cool the mixture, which should be hot but not boiling.
    2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the two flours and gradually add the water and sugar mixture. Mix thoroughly until the dough is smooth and free of lumps. Mix together vanillin, molasses, orange zest, and a teaspoon of oil. Condensed milk is the ideal consistency. Add a few tablespoons of water if the dough is too thick.
    3. Pour the mixture into the greased mold and sprinkle with the Chinese dates (I lined the mold with lightly oiled parchment paper because I was afraid of having difficulty unmolding it). Cook for about 1 hour over high heat with the pan in the steamer basket. It is possible that you will need to add water halfway through cooking; however, be careful not to burn the pot. After an hour, perform the toothpick test; the toothpick should come out clean from the cake. Allow it to cool.
    4. When ready to serve, cut the cake into slices, brown them on both sides in a pan lightly greased with vegetable oil, and serve hot.

Nutrition Information



Serving Size


Amount Per ServingCalories 370Total Fat 1gSaturated Fat 0gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 1gCholesterol 0mgSodium 19mgCarbohydrates 85gFiber 2gSugar 39gProtein 5g

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