This lunar new year, the pastry post-doc is celebrating with an entirely new cake preparation format – steamed. Yep, the cake in question, Nian Gao, is actually a sweet steamed Chinese cake made from glutinous rice flour and brown sugar. Nian Gao (or nin gou) is popular across China, and varies widely by region, as well as in the Chinese diaspora. It is considered a lucky food to have around the New Year, partly because of its name. According to Wikipedia:
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.”
Nian Gao is traditionally steamed, and therefore has a more gelatinous texture, as in this recipe, though Chow.com also has a baked recipe. Honestly, though the baked cake may be more familiar, I really appreciate the steaming technique, which is definitely not utilized in many Western sweets. Here’s to a sweet new year!