Pandan infused coconut sugar syrup and banana leaves give this Nian Gao (Tikoy/New Year Cake) its fragrance. Long steaming is made easy in slow cooker.
Yes, I finally made Nian Gao (Tikoy/New Year Cake). We call it tikoy in Hokkien, my mother tongue. It’s been a while since I last ate fragrant tikoy wrapped in banana leaves like the ones found in Malaysia. The ones I buy here at the Asian grocery stores cannot compare. They lack fragrance and flavor and so I seldom ever buy them. I was given this New Year Cake once and I used it to make the after Chinese New Year desserts that I miss like this Yam Nian Gao Fritters and Steamed Nian Gao with Grated Coconut and Sesame Seeds.
Long Steaming Time
Making tikoy is not difficult but it does involved very long steaming times. There are versions out there which requires just 1½ to 2 hours of steaming which I don’t think quite makes the cut. The color of the steamed cake is very pale and looks nothing like what I am used to. This is the reason why I have not tried making this before as I felt I did not have the patience to tend to the stove for 10 to 12 hours or more while my boys were little. Now, that they are grown, I can devote a little more time preparing more time consuming dishes and treats from the old country.
My First Batch of Nian Gao
So, here we are with my first batch of mini Nian Gaos. You can call these personal size New Year Cakes. They are about 3 inches in diameter and 1½ inches tall. Despite the size, each one actually serves two. One can’t eat very much of this at one go unless you have a very sweet tooth. They are best savored in small portions because they are very sweet.
Since they are so small I can get away with steaming them for only 8 hours. I used small 8 ounce ramekins as the mold. After lining the ramekins with banana leaves, each ramekin holds about 6 ounces of batter. The final product also weighs roughly 6 ounces each.
If you prefer them a little larger, please use larger ramekins or suitable containers for that purpose. Ramekins are quite shallow and so it may be better off to use stoneware mugs or even empty food cans as long as they are clean and there are no sharp edges. Another option is to use stoneware canisters but these can be pricey. I have to admit I am currently on the quest to find a few straight edged, 4 inch diameter, cylindrical stoneware canisters for future tikoy ventures. They are not easy to find.
Coconut Palm Sugar
You basically only need 3 ingredients to make Nian Gao – glutinous rice flour, water, and sugar if you count water as an ingredient. In Southeast Asia, many prefer to use brown sugar or palm sugar infused with pandan leaves for better flavor. Together with lining the ramekins with banana leaves, the tikoy has a superior flavor and fragrance.
For this batch of mini Nian Gaos, I used my stock of coconut palm sugar purchased in a coconut palm sugar farm in Thailand during one of my recent visit there. I cannot remember what I was saving them for but this project used up more than half of my existing stock. It was worth it though because the tikoy has a wonderful coconut and banana fragrance which I love. For my next batch of tikoy (which will be soon), I will use my precious stock of gula melaka purchased in Kuala Lumpur.
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Nian Gao (Tikoy/New Year Cake)
- 4 ramekins with 8 oz capacity
- Kitchen twine
- Slow Cooker
- Scrub banana leaves with a washcloth under running water. Place banana leaves in a pot submerged in water and bring it a boil on the stove. Turn off stove and allow banana leaves to soften in boiling water for 10 minutes.
- Remove banana leaves from hot water and wipe them dry. Cut the banana leaves into 2½ inch wide strips.
- Line each ramekin with 4 to 6 banana leaf strips. Make sure the strips overlap each other. Turn the strips over the edge of the ramekins. Place a rubberband over the strips around each ramekin to hold them down. Then tie kitchen twine over the leaves around the ramekins. Trim the twine and banana leaves so that they are neat. Remove the rubber band.
- Cut four round pieces of banana leaves the size of the base of the ramekins. Place one piece in each ramekin. Set aside.
- Combine ½ cup (120ml) water, pandan leaves, and coconut palm sugar in a small saucepan. Turn on the stove to medium. Stir to dissolve the coconut palm sugar. Then bring it up to a boil and let it continue boiling for 3 minutes. Turn off stove and allow syrup to cool.
- Sift glutinous rice flour into a large bowl. Pour in remaining ½ cup (120ml) water. Mix with a spatula.
- Remove pandan leaves from coconut palm sugar syrup and pour into the glutinous rice flour mixture. Stir to form a smooth batter.
- Divide the batter into the 4 prepared ramekins and place the ramekins on a rack suitable for your slow cooker.
- Transfer the rack to your slow cooker insert filled with 1 to 2 inches of hot water. Place a clean kitchen towel over the top and place the lid on top of the kitchen towel.
- Set the slow cooker to cook on high for 8 hours. Check and top up water in the slow cooker insert every two hours.
- The nian gao batter should turn a golden color when done. Remove from slow cooker after finished steaming. Allow the very soft and gooey nian gao to remain in the ramekins at room temperature for 24 hours.
- The nian gao should be firmer and the color darker after 24 hours. Remove them from the ramekins. Trim the banana leaves and allow them to become firmer for 3 to 4 more days at room temperature before serving.
- Store in the refrigerator for up to 3 months.