Baked Niangao (年糕) Sticky Rice Cake


Jump to Recipe – proceed at owN risk
Baked Niangao

The Good Luck Cake

Baked niangao: king of kings, the rice cake to end all rice cakes. O blonde mochi brownie, symbol of growth and prosperity, equalizer among Asian aunties. This is no lifeless Quaker rice cracker, nor even the stir-fried Chinese sticky rice cake by the same name. Baked niangao is traditional steamed 年糕 (niángāo)—soft, springy, sweet glutinous rice flour dessert—restyled. An auspicious Lunar New Year specialty and year-round treat now prepared with a fraction of the effort thanks to that staple of Western kitchens, the oven. Make it the night before your flight to Chengdu and serve it straight out of the Tupperware 36 hours later, as I did last year, and even your mainland relatives will marvel in its sweet, chewy goodness.

Hear me out. Baked niangao was no doubt the product of some overseas Chinese homemaker seeking to recreate a taste of home, wary of running up the gas bill steaming cakes all day. Not when that nice, warm space below the stove prepared so many other new treats just fine. If you didn’t know, ovens aren’t common in China, and cooked desserts like niangao evolved for steaming or wok-frying.

Traditional niangao steams for hours as the sugars caramelize and moisture evaporates, then cools for days at a time. (And I mean hours—nowadays two to four, historically even 10 to 20 depending on desired shelf-stableness.) Finally, once firm enough to slice, it’s often served warm by re-steaming or pan-frying in oil or egg batter.

closeup niangao
Like a brownie but different, and tolerant of any mix-ins you fancy. Pictured with crushed walnuts, Ma’s personal fave

The Versatility of Baked Niangao

Baked niangao, by comparison, is far less high maintenance. It’s also especially forgiving. Interested in a sesame topping or adding red bean paste? Throw in the mix-ins. Vegan? Make this naturally gluten-free dessert without eggs, then replace the liquid with non-dairy milk. If using coconut, substitute just one can full-fat coconut milk (real ones know it’s Aroy-D only—no emulsifiers here). Then replace remaining liquid with another dairy-free/low-fat milk. Congratulations, Hawaiian butter mochi would now like a word with you.

You can find Erawan rice flour at any Asian supermarket for about $2.00

Selecting Glutinous Rice Flour

Speaking of butter mochi: Japanese mochiko sweet rice flour differs slightly from the wet-milled Thai Erawan glutinous rice flour preferred across Chinese cooking (tangyuan, sesame balls). It’s slightly denser, which I’m guessing is why butter mochi recipes calling for mochiko also include baking powder. We’ve never used mochiko, but others have, with equal success. Just don’t conflate glutinous rice flour (also known as sticky rice flour, sweet rice flour and 糯米粉, nuòmǐ fěn, in Mandarin) with regular rice flour, or finely-milled Asian rice flours with U.S. rice flours. None of these are interchangeable.

You can find Erawan rice flour for about $2.00 at any Asian supermarket. Don’t mix up the green (glutinous) packaging with the red (regular) version!

fresh baked niangao studded with walnuts in a glass baking pan
Wait until cooled to slice into the gooey niangao if you desire clean, uniform cuts

Fresh baked niangao is almost ooey-gooey straight out of the oven. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out mostly clean, crumbs okay. If you’re not sure whether it’s done, go by the browning of the crust.

For a cleaner cut, restrain yourself from slicing for at least one hour while the sticky center sets! It’s easy to think you’ve underbaked the niangao, when really it requires time to cool down and firm up.

sticky rice cakes stacked on plate
Once cooled, baked niangao will keep for three days on the counter

Enjoy this baked niangao at room temperature, where it will keep best up to three days covered tightly. It starts getting a little drier, though by no means less delicious, after day four or five on the counter. Store in the fridge up to one week if you somehow don’t manage finishing the pan within the first couple days (happens easily, trust me).

I make baked niangao as frequently as once a month without even realizing, so rest assured, this simple new year cake is anything but a once-a-year specialty. My last batch was shared to great acclaim among random neighbors hanging out across the street, and yes, they loved it too—make this your next great bake!

For more traditional Chinese desserts, read about Kathy’s family’s Snow Fungus Jujube Dessert Soup (Yin’er Tang, 银耳汤), another year-round refresher.

Baked Niangao (年糕) Sticky Rice Cake

By: Kathy Yuan | The Mala Market | Inspiration & Ingredients for Sichuan Cooking


  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup raw sugar approx. 200 grams
  • ½ cup neutral vegetable oil approx. 110 grams
  • cups milk approx. 600 grams
  • 1 16-ounce package glutinous rice flour
  • ½ cup optional topping or mix-ins, like sesame seeds, nuts or red bean paste


  • Preheat oven to 350F. Grease or line a 13×9 baking dish with parchment paper.
  • In a large mixing bowl, whisk eggs together to break up yolks (for best results, avoid beating). Add the sugar and oil, whisking well to combine. While stirring continuously, gradually sift in alternating milk and rice flour, whisking until incorporated and few clumps remain. Add in any mix-ins last.
  • Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 50-55 minutes, until edges have browned and top has set, and a toothpick inserted into the center of pan comes out mostly clean. Any bubbles will flatten upon cooling.
  • Remove from oven and let cool for one hour before slicing. Store covered on counter for up to three days.


*If using whole milk, oil can be decreased to  cup. If using coconut milk, substitute one can full-fat coconut milk (Aroy-D recommended) and replace remaining liquid with another dairy-free/low-fat milk.
**If using mochiko, add 1 teaspoon baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon baking soda.

Tried this recipe?

About Kathy Yuan

Kathy is a first-gen, twenty-something daughter of two Sichuan immigrants who cooked her way back to her parents’ kitchen during the pandemic and is now helping Ma (you can call her Mala Mama) keep generational family recipes alive. All photos shot and edited by her.

Recipes you might like

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. Hi Kathy, I’m curious to try this! Does this baked nian gao have a crunchy top and dense filling, or soft-top and custard-soft pudding like texture?

    1. Hi Marisa, thanks for reading. The texture really depends on your liquid and sugar ratio. I wouldn’t say the top ever gets “crunchy”. If you keep the full amount of oil and sugar it comes out with a flakier/crustier top, although after covering to store at room temperature it turns soft-top anyway. The inside is soft and chewy, not dense unless you significantly decrease the oil/milk (I would decrease oil first). To get a custard-soft pudding filling, I’m guessing you need to add at least 1/8-1/4 cup more milk 🙂 I enjoy it that way sometimes but I just eyeball it, I’ve never measured the additional liquid!

  2. Made this to share with friends as a lunar new year treat. Delicious! I added a little bit of cardamom/vanilla/almond extract, some dried jujube/almond snacks as an add-in, and then topped with some cardamom powdered sugar because I really love cardamom. It was a big hit! The texture was perfect.
    Looking forward to continuing to explore different add ins and toppings.

    1. Love that so much, Katie! It really is so versatile. We made this for LNY too, with steamed pumpkin from the garden blended in to color and flavor the niangao + sliced almond for texture. A tip Ma just learned when adding nuts as the topping: soak them in oil beforehand, it keeps them crispy but prevents them from burning while baking. The cardamom powdered sugar sounds so interesting, thanks for sharing! Curious what else you try 🙂

    1. Hi Elena, thanks for reading! We don’t really measure when we freestyle so it’s hard to say. When we use pumpkin, we steam it, puree it smooth, then add the rice flour to it. I wouldn’t recommend chunks. Last time, the pumpkin was so juicy, we probably used about 400g(?) and I only ended up needing a little extra water to get it to its usual runny batter consistency. The good thing is the glutinous rice holds moisture so well, it’ll turn out great regardless. It’s up to you how custardy or dense you like the niangao. I would recommend making the original recipe first, that way when you improvise you can just go by the texture of the batter re: how much moisture to add, whether in the form of squash or liquid.

  3. Have you tried using juice such as pineapple juice in combination with coconut milk? If yes, what would be a good ratio?

    1. Hi Mimi, no I have not but that is so intriguing to me! Honestly, I would just add the juice (decreasing liquid proportionately) and taste-test until it’s concentrated to my liking, but others may feel a bit squirmish about dipping their fingers into raw egg batter. It is a really flexible recipe, since the glutinous rice is capable of absorbing so much liquid and there is no “crumb” structure to compromise (i.e. cake). At worst, it’s custardy with extra liquid (a good thing if that’s your preference, I enjoy it this way too) and dry with less. So I’m sure you can’t go wrong.

      Perhaps the Hawaiian butter mochi camp would have more to weigh in. If you try it, please report back. That sounds amazing!

    1. Hi Pat, thanks for reading. Any combination of sugars is fine, including white! I use unrefined sugars, it’s just a matter of availability/preference. The taste difference is subtle, so feel free to use whatever you like. Enjoy!

    1. Hi Micah, that sounds delicious and very creative. You could try substituting some of the liquid with sweetened condensed milk that has been cooked down to caramel, or caramelizing some of the sugar and adding that to the batter. I have not tried this but the recipe and glutinous rice mix is pretty forgiving. Short of that, perhaps you could just try drizzling or swirling in some of the caramel before baking. Enjoy!