Chinese New Year is almost here! So it's time for celebration and lots of yummy food! But before we dive into a food coma, let me answer some FAQs regarding Chinese New Year.
What is Chinese New Year (CNY)?
Chinese New Year, also known as Lunar New Year, is the first day of the Lunar calendar. This year, 2020, Chinese New Year will be observed on Saturday, January 25, 2020. This holiday is observed and celebrated by most eastern/ asian countries.
What are some traditions followed for CNY?
I remember when I lived with my grandparents in China, Chinese New Year started a couple weeks prior to Chinese New Year's Eve.
We always started with our "spring cleaning" to chase away all evil and dirty spirits to welcome the new year with a fresh start. Afterwards, we would go shopping for new clothes (we take the phrase "new year, new me" very seriously 😉). When New Year's Eve is here, we would literally spend all day cooking all of our family's favorite dishes and decorate the house with New Year decorations. After all that labor, we get to indulge ourselves with really good food, staying up past bed curfew, and watch lots of mesmerizing firework and dragon dances.
Those are only some of the traditions that my family followed, but there are much more than this. (If you would like to learn more about Chinese New Year traditions, click here.)
Sounds like a lot of work. Is it worth it?
I gotta admit, preparing for Chinese New Year was a lottttttt of work and still is, but I believe it is all worth it because CNY is usually the only time families living far away gather for reunion.
So yeah, CNY is like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years all combined into one long holiday. It's great. 😊
What are some CYN must-have foods?
Some food are considered Chinese New Year must-haves because they symbolize luck, health, wealth, and prosperity.
The most popular dishes are usually made with fish, dumplings, rice cakes, longevity noodles, and sweet rice balls.
Although no dish is actually mandatory to have, the Chinese New Year Rice Cake, or 年糕 (nian gao) has always had a place in my family's CNY celebration. The reason why many Chinese families make or buy rice cakes for CNY is because rice cake in Chinese sounds like 年高 (nian gao), which symbolize a higher year/ better year/ a year with increased prosperity.
Mine and most people's favorite CNY rice cake is the traditional 红(hong)糖(tang)年(nian)糕(gao), which literally means red sugar rice cake. This rice cake tastes really good and is super easy to make.😋
So let's celebrate 2020, the year of the rat, with 年糕! I wish you guys luck, health, wealth, and prosperity! 🙏🙌
Let's start making some CNY rice cake!
Ingredients for Chinese New Year Rice Cake:
Yeah...the rice flour and glutinous rice flour are really similar, even in packaging. Someone once told me a trick to remember: green equals glutinous and red equals regular rice flour.
- Rice flour and glutinous rice flour: the combination of these two rice flours will give us a soft, chewy texture (like mochi), which is what you want in a rice cake. I like to use 3 parts glutinous flour to 1 part rice flour because too much regular rice flour will make the rice cake hard and stiff rather than soft and chewy.
- The name of glutinous rice flour may be a little misleading. Glutinous rice flour is actually gluten free. "Glutinous" simply describes the texture of the flour once cooked, which is chewy and stretchy.
- Coconut milk and water: these two will be our only source of liquid for the batter. You can replace the coconut milk and use all water, but I find that the coconut milk gives the rice cake a richer flavor.
- Chinese black sugar: more commonly known as Chinese red sugar, is essentially the same thing as black sugar with different names. It's sugar without removing the molasses. Sounds familiar? You're right! It's basically brown sugar.
- If you choose to replace the black sugar with everyday brown sugar, I recommend adding a couple Tablespoon of molasses because Chinese black sugar contains more molasses than our everyday brown sugar.
Chinese red/ black sugar comes in many different forms. In this picture, the sugar is in block form which can be consumed like candy. You can also find granulated ones in bags.
- Optional: red dates for garnish
How to make CYN rice cake?
- Heat water and melt sugar. In a medium saucepan, add water and the black sugar over medium heat. Stir occasionally until the sugar is dissolved. *No need to bring water to boil.*
When the sugar is dissolved, remove from heat and stir in the coconut milk.
- This step can also be completed in the microwave.
- Combine rice flours. In a heat-proof, medium bowl, combine the regular rice flour and glutinous rice flour. Give it a quick whisk to mix.
- Make batter. Pour all of the warm liquid into the flour in one motion and whisk until no more lumps are left.
- If there are some stubborn lumps, pour the batter through a sieve. This can also get rid of unwanted bubbles.
- The batter will be around the consistency of loose cake batter.
- If the batter seems too thick, you can add ¼ cup of water at a time to thin it out.
- Transfer batter. Lightly grease an 8 inch disposable cake pan with oil. Pour the rice cake batter into the pan and give it a few gentle shakes to even the batter out.
- Optional: decorate the rice cake by press a few red date into the center or around the cake.
- Steam rice cake. Place the rice cake in a steamer or steam basket and steam for about 1 hour on medium heat until the entire cake is no longer opaque and the cake is a warm brown color.
- Steam for an additional 30 minutes if needed.
- Cool. Once the rice cake is finished steaming, remove from heat and let cool at room temperature.
- When cooled, the edge of the cake should slightly peel away from the pan if the cake is cooked.
- You can enjoy the cake as is once it's cooled slightly, but I recommended searing the the cake for optimal experience.
- Optional, but recommended: Refrigerate the rice cake for a few hours until it is firm to the touch. Remove a quarter of the cake and cut it into ¼ inch slices. Sear the slices in a nonstick pan with a just a couple drops of oil for a few minutes or until they are golden brown on both sides.
- I think this is the best method to eat CNY rice cake because it adds a nice crispiness to the soft-chewy rice cake and the searing gives it a deeper flavor from caramelization. Plus, after refrigerating, the rice cake is much easier to cut!
Cook with love!
Chinese New Year Rice Cake (红糖年糕）
- Heat water and melt sugar. In a medium sauce pan, heat water and sugar over medium heat. Stir occasionally until sugar is dissolved. *water does not need to boil*Once sugar is dissolved, remove from heat and stir in coconut milk. Set aside.
- Make batter.In a large bowl, combine both regular rice flour and glutinous rice flour. Whisk to mix. Add all of the coconut and water mixture to the rice flour in one motion and whisk the mixture until no more lumps are left. *If there are some stubborn lumps, pour the batter through a sieve*
- Transfer batter.Lightly oil a disposable 8 inch cake tin and pour the rice cake batter into the tin. Gently shake the cake tin to even out the batter.Optional: Garnish the rice cake with a red date in the center or a few around the cake.
- Steam rice cake.Steam the rice cake on medium high heat for about 1 hour. Once the rice cake is done, it should no longer look opaque. It will be a warm brown color.
- Cool.Let the rice cake cool at room temperature until comfortable to handle. You can eat it at this point, however, I recommend pan-searing it for optimal experience.
- Optional but recommended:Cool the rice cake in the refrigerator for a few hours until it is firm. Remove a quarter of the cake and cut the cake into ¼ inch slices. Over medium high heat, sear the slices, in a nonstick pan until both sides are golden brown.
- This sweet rice cake will store well in the fridge, tightly wrapped, for 1 week, and tightly wrapped and frozen for 6 months.
- To use, thaw rice cake in the fridge, overnight.