Niangao (aka Mochi Cake)

January 18, 2022
8 Ratings
Photo by Rocky Luten, prop styling by Molly Fitzsimons, food styling by Anna Billingskog
  • Prep time 15 minutes
  • Cook time 1 hour 10 minutes
  • makes 24 pieces
Author Notes

While growing up, my mom often made this baked niango, or “mochi cake,” to bring to potlucks with other Taiwanese-American families. Since most Asian desserts are not very sweet, this was always a special treat for me and my more Americanized sweet tooth. The consistency was always very chewy (a texture called “QQ” in Taiwan), and my mother usually studded the cake with dollops of sweetened red bean paste. I know a lot of Westerners can’t abide the idea of sweetened beans as a dessert, so I’ve made it an optional ingredient, but if you know, you know good it is.

This cake is traditionally eaten for the Lunar New Year because niango is a homonym in Chinese for “year” and “high." Thus, eating it at the beginning of the year was supposed to bring forth an auspicious year. There are many different kinds of niango: Shanghainese niangao is a dense, savory rice cake that is sliced up and stir-fried with meat and vegetables. And usually sweet niangao is steamed rather than baked, but my mom found it easier to bake due to the ubiquitousness of ovens in American kitchens. She said that the results were always more consistent than with steaming. The addition of butter in this recipe makes it very similar to Hawaiian butter mochi, but this version uses milk instead of coconut milk, and I find it to be generally less sweet.

My favorite part of niangao is the crusty edges, so I’ve started baking it in my Baker’s Edge brownie pan to maximize the crust:center ratio. I’ve also found that the type of glutinous rice flour used makes a difference. I usually love Mochiko sweet rice flour, but I find that I get a crustier niangao if I use Thai glutinous rice flour; just make sure you grab the green bag instead of the red bag, which is regular, non-glutinous rice flour. —Joy Huang | The Cooking of Joy

What You'll Need
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature, plus more for the pan
  • 3 cups whole milk, warmed to a little hotter than a fever
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 pound glutinous rice flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/3 cup red bean paste or sweetened red beans (optional)
  1. Heat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 13-by-9-inch inch baking pan.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk the melted butter, milk, sugar, eggs, and vanilla.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk the flour and baking powder. Add the milk mixture to the flour mixture in 5 to 7 increments, stirring well after each addition to prevent lumps from forming. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.
  4. Drop the red bean paste by scant teaspoonfuls onto the top of the cake, if using. If the spoonfuls are too big, the filling will sink to the bottom.
  5. Bake for about 1 hour and 10 minutes, until the cake springs back when lightly touched. It should be golden and crusty. Let cool completely before serving.
  6. For extra decadence, you can slice the niangao into thin slices, dip them in beaten egg, and pan-fry for Cantonese-style niangao.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • stephanieRD
  • Lauren Chitwood Schauf
    Lauren Chitwood Schauf
  • June Lam
    June Lam
  • LeBec Fin
    LeBec Fin
  • Joy Huang | The Cooking of Joy
    Joy Huang | The Cooking of Joy

19 Reviews

Alicia P. February 13, 2024
This is the best nian gao recipe and way tastier than the steamed version! I have made it 3x. The first time I made it for a family CNY celebration back in 2019. This year I made it twice: first for my son's nursery class and then for CNY with my family again. I could not put the pieces out fast enough. The entire 9x13 tray disappeared in <5 minutes.

A few notes below from my experience:

(1) This recipe tastes much better fresh, i.e. consumed within 3-4 hours of coming out of the oven. I allowed it to rest for my son's class overnight and then reheated gently at 300F; it was not as good.

(2) Despite sifting the glutinous rice flour, adding to wet ingredients in tiny increments, and stirring vigorously, there is no way to avoid little lumps EXCEPT to strain it through a fine mesh sieve before pouring into the 9x13 pan. This is the only way I have found to ensure a smooth consistency throughout.

(3) It would be helpful to note a precise temperature for heating the milk. I got the best results around 105F.

Thank you for sharing this baked recipe! It is a winner for us (even for the hidebound elders who insist this dessert should be steamed) and will be a staple moving forward at our CNY table.

stephanieRD January 27, 2023
I never usually crave this stuff but I decided it was crucial to make this today and it is delicious! I used a can of coconut milk and used regular milk to make 3 cups. Also went with the red bean. Thank you! I never would have thought you could bake mochi.
Lauren C. February 1, 2022
Delicious and very easy! I could only find the regular mochiko flour and it still turned out crispy on the outside and chewy inside. I also subbed coconut sugar for regular since I didn't realize I was out of regular when I started cooking and it had a nice subtle earthiness (almost vanilla) which we enjoyed. I made a simple red bean paste from canned aduki beans, coconut sugar and butter and it was the perfect touch.
sharonlam February 9, 2021
Hello I am so looking forward to trying this recipe.
However I was thinking of using foil containers that are 8x5x2. So it will be easier for package and give out.
How long of bake time would you suggest?
Joy H. February 9, 2021
I'm not really sure since I've never tried that, but I would check it at the 30 minute mark and then maybe every 5-10 minutes or so.
sharonlam February 10, 2021
Thanks Joy! Also, approximately how many cups is 1lb of flour?
Joy H. February 10, 2021
I’m not sure, but if it helps, every box or bag of glutinous rice flour that I’ve ever bought weighed 1 lb.
sharonlam February 10, 2021
Oh silly me! I just realized 1 bag is 400g which is 0.88lb
Do you think it's ok to just use 1 bag? Or must I measure very accurately?
Joy H. February 11, 2021
As with most things when baking, it would be better to be accurate.
June L. May 14, 2020
Hi Joy. What can I use in lieu of the red bean paste or sweetened red beans.
Joy H. May 14, 2020
You can just omit them!
June L. May 15, 2020
Made it last night. I baked it for 49 minutes and it came out dense and dry; not chewy like moche. What happened? rice flour too old?
Joy H. May 15, 2020
Are you sure you used glutinous rice flour and not just regular rice flour?
June L. May 15, 2020
There is the mistake. I used the Flying Horse brand of Rice Flour and mistook it for glutinous rice flour. Now I need to add glutinous rice flour to my asian market shopping list. Do you have a preferred brand? What about the red bean paste? Thanks for all your input.
Joy H. May 15, 2020
Mochiko is a good brand. I also like the brand that has the 3 green elephants on it. For red bean paste I like the brand that comes in a blue can.
TMartin February 9, 2021
When you say "glutinous" do you mean sweet rice flour?
Joy H. February 10, 2021
LeBec F. February 25, 2015
FanTAStic! I can't wait to make this. I am so intrigued by glutinous rice flour and its chewy texture. Thks so much.
Joy H. February 25, 2015
You're welcome! Let me know how it worked out for you.