During Chinese New Year, people eat nian gao (粘糕) a sticky rice cake whose name also sounds like the Chinese words 年高. Cleverly named, nian gao can also take on the meaning that each “year is taller” wishing the person who eats it a better year than the one before.
I was visiting my boyfriend’s parents for Chinese New Year the first time I tried this dessert…and I fell in love. Sticky glutinous rice cake (already my favorite thing in the world), with sweet red beans (another favorite of mine), and coconut (ANOTHER FAVORITE!). By the time I was halfway finished with the cake, I was already sent off into chewy, coconuty bliss…call me a food nerd…I know its true.
I am not sure which was the most motivation for me make the recipe myself…that fact I caught myself daydreaming about it days after I tried it and craving it like no other…or the urge to recreate the experience for my family (also of Chinese descent). I scoured recipes, trying to find the best one, but I was left disappointed. None of the recipes included coconut milk unless it was a baked version (my oven is currently un-usable…) and most of the recipes used the traditional method of steaming. So, I took information from the recipes I could find and I changed it to my needs…
3 cups red beans
3/4 cup sugar
4 cup water
16 oz. glutinous rice flour
1 cup coconut milk
Soak red beans over night with enough water to cover them. The next day drain the beans and place in a medium sauce pan and add 4 cups of water. Simmer on low heat for 1 1/2 hours or until beans are soft and cooked through. Add the sugar to the beans. Taste. Adjust the sweetness to your own taste. Cool the mixture.
After the beans have cooled, put the glutinous flour into a large mixing bowl. Add 1 1/4 cup sugar. Add 2 cups of red beans (including the liquid) to the flour. Fold together. Add 1 cup of coconut milk and fold again. If the mixture looks dry add some of the bean liquid one spoon at a time folding in between additions. The dough should look sticky, gummy, and not runny.
Pour mixture into two 8 inch pie pans lined with parchment paper (the parchment paper will stick out from underneath the dough). Place in a steamer and steam for 1 1/2 hour or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean (since the dough is naturally sticky…”clean” assumes that some of the cake will still stick to the toothpick but it should not be runny and it will be translucent).
Toast coconut in a dry pan and sprinkle on top of nian gao. Serve.