There are a few dishes I love to eat during Chinese New Year. My favorite one is the “nian gao,” translating to “year cake.” The best description I can think of is that It’s a sticky, chewy, and sweet steamed mochi cake. The cake is sliced thinly and pan fried to get a crispy crust on each side. Some folks like to dip the slices in egg before pan frying but I like it plain. The cake is very sweet, sweeter than anything I normally make, but that’s one of the reason I love it: I start the year off on a sweet note!
The word “gao” is a Chinese homonym where it sounds like one word but means another thing. Gao is the word for cake, but also sounds like the word for “height.” The cake is very symbolic. In Chinese culture, gaining height means to grow in your career (promotion) or build up your personal life/raising yourself to taller heights (prosperity) so it’s auspicious to eat anything with the word “gao” in it.
I reinvented the dish by making them into a mochi cupcake. It’s the same flavor profile as the nian gao but all in a handheld bite sized piece. The outside of the cupcake is crunchy and mimics the pan fried crispiness of the dish. Traditionally, the dish is steamed. Chinese food is typically cooked on the stove top: steaming, frying, braising, and boiling. Baking is not a conventional Chinese cooking method. Yes, there are Chinese bakeries now but it was a fusion of cultures and definitely not tradition. That’s why I wanted to fuse this dish with baking. As a Chinese descendant that was born and raised in another country and who loves baking, I wanted to make something that is so classically Chinese like year cake with cooking methods that are not to represent who I am as a person.
Happy Chinese New Year! I hope you love these mochi cupcakes as much as I do.
Chinese New Year Mochi Cupcake
- 1 lb (16 oz) sweet rice flour (I use Mochiko brand)
- 1 lb (16 oz) dark brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 eggs, room temperature
- 2 cups water
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter
- Sesame, to top
- Gogi berries, to top
- Step 1 In a small saucepan, heat water until it is warm to the touch (but not boiling
- Step 2 like a hot bath) and add sugar and butter. Remove from heat and allow to cool for slightly.
- Step 3 Preheat oven to 350F and grease a standard cupcake pan with butter.
- Step 4 In a large bowl, add flour, salt, eggs, vanilla extract, and sugar water and mix until there are no lumps and uniform in color.
- Step 5 Scoop 1/3 cup of batter into each cupcake well. Sprinkle with sesame and top with a goji berry each (optional).
- Step 6 Bake for 40 minutes.
- Step 7 Transfer to a cooling rack to bring to room temperature before eating.