5 Ingredients or Fewer

Popo Char's Gao (nian gao)

January 17, 2023
0 Ratings
Photo by She's Almost Always Hungry
  • Prep time 45 minutes
  • Cook time 3 hours
  • Serves 64
Author Notes

My Popo (paternal grandmother) and I were separated by language, often requiring my father to interpret for us to understand the most basic things. But as is true with many things, food is something that binds us together in tradition and familial comfort.

Like many of her generation, Popo cooked by feel and memory, not from a written recipe. While she lived with us, my mom spent time learning some of her recipes, diligently observing and writing down ingredients, quantities, and methods for different dishes. This is one of my favorite dishes from Popo.

With the approach of Chinese New Year I wanted to share the one recipe that our family must make every year to celebrate. Nian gao (or as we simply called it, gao) is a traditional sticky rice cake which represents prosperity. It is considered good luck to eat during the new year's period. The texture of gao is similar to Japanese mochi although the flavor is quite different.

Gao is often steamed but Popo's version is baked which produces a gao that is softer, less dense. When fresh, it is best to cut the gao using a clean piece of thread or a plastic knife.

Sometimes my mother would fry pieces in butter. While not traditional, it produced a lovely treat with a crunchy outside layer and a soft, chewy interior. —She's Almost Always Hungry

What You'll Need
  • 1 pound wong tong (Chinese brown sugar slabs - an equal amount of regular brown sugar may be substituted)
  • 1 pound granulated sugar
  • 3 cups water
  • 2 cups canned yams, drained, liquid reserved
  • 3 pounds Mochiko (Japanese sweet/glutenous rice flour)
  1. To prepare the pan: Remove the ribs of leaves for lining the pan (ti, banana, or lotus leaves). Quickly dip in hot water to soften.
  2. Prepare a large baking pan by lightly oiling it. Line with heavy-duty foil then a thick layer (6-7 layers) of ti, banana, or lotus leaves. (In a pinch, a thick layer made up of several damp dish towels can be substituted for the leaves.)
  3. Add one more layer of heavy-duty foil and oil generously. Set pan aside.
  4. To prepare the batter: Boil wong tong (or brown sugar) and granulated sugar in water to dissolve the sugars. Cool.
  5. Press the yams through a ricer. You may also use a potato masher or mash it with your hands. A ricer will produce a smoother texture.
  6. Place the Mochiko into a large bowl or pot. Add cooled sugar water and strained yams. Knead by hand until smooth. Batter should be the consistency of a thick pancake batter. If more liquid is needed to gain the desired consistency, use the reserved liquid from the canned yams.
  7. Pour batter into the prepared pan. Completely cover the pan with heavy foil.
  8. Bake at 350 degrees for 1½ hours. Turn down oven to 300 degrees and bake for another 1½ hours. Remove from oven and let cool. It’s best to cut with a plastic knife.

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