Chinese New Year Cakes
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There is a very old tale about the origin of the Chinese New Year Cake, consumed by people during the Chinese New Year. In ancient times, there was a monster called “Nian” (literally meaning “year”). Throughout the whole year, it was living in the woods on the mountains. Whenever it was hungry, it fed itself with other animals. However, when the severe winter came, many animals had to hide themselves. “Nian” became so starved that it had to climb down from the mountains to eat human beings to survive. People suffered so much. Since then, there was a clever tribe called “Gao Family Tribe”, which prepared a lot of food to feed the monster whenever the severe winter came. They rolled the food into different bars and cut them into pieces before throwing them out of their houses. Then, everyone hid in the house. When “Nian” came and found no human beings, it had to eat something anyway. In turn, “Nian” ate the food made by the villagers, and went back to its mountain after stuffing itself. When it was gone, the villagers all gathered to celebrate, as they had once again escaped from “Nian”. They were at ease and could prepare to farm for the next Spring. Year after year, such a method of avoiding the harm of “Nian” has been inherited and passed down to later generations. As the grain bar was invented by the Gao family, people then related “Nian” (the monster) with “Gao” (people who invented the grain bar to avoid the monster), finally giving birth to the food “Nian Gao” (i.e. Chinese New Year Cakes | Chinese Sweet sticky rice cake).
Eating Chinese New Year Cakes(Chinese sweet sticky rice cake | 年糕) is one of the traditional customs of the Chinese. Sticky rice cake is one of the must-have holiday foods for the Lunar New Year. On the first day of the Chinese New Year, people start eating “Nian Gao”, it means that they’re aiming at “reaching highness every year”.
Today, we are going to make two different types of rice cakes, one is the traditional steamed rice cake, and the other is the oven-baked rice cake.
Steamed Rice Cake
Glutinous rice flour: 200g
Brown sugar: 100g
Red beans: 150g
1. Slightly wash the red beans and soak them in water overnight. (Or 6 to 9 hours)
2. After adding the red beans in water, boil them, then turn to low heat for about 5 minutes. Cover the lid and turn off the heat. When the temperature drops to being lukewarm, open the lid and cook until it is boiled, and turn to low heat for about 5 minutes. Then, cover the lid and turn off the fire until the temperature drops to a slight one. Repeat the same action for about 2-3 times until the red beans are soft but not broken.
3. Filter out the excess water, mix in sugar and salt, then cook over low heat until the brown sugar dissolves. When there is no more soup, you may turn off the fire. Cover the lid for several hours (or overnight) to let the sweetness absorbed into the red beans.
4. Heat the milk (without boiling), add the brown sugar until it’s fully melted, then let it cool down.
5. Add the glutinous rice flour to the cooled syrup and mix well to form a thick glutinous rice syrup.
6. Add the honey red beans (without excess water) into the glutinous rice syrup and mix gently. Do not use too much force so that you don’t crush the red beans.
7. Put a baking paper on the mold pad, and mix the evenly mixed glutinous rice paste onto the mold. Put it in a boiling steamer and steam it for about 40 minutes with a medium heat. (If you want to test whether the paste is cooked, you may test by inserting a bamboo stick. Pull out from the top to check whether any powder is stuck onto it.)
8. After steaming the rice cake, take it out and apply a little cooking oil to the surface to prevent drying.
9. Slice after it’s completely cooled.
Oven-baked Rice Cake
Brown sugar: 50-60 g
Milk: 110-130 grams
One egg (about 55 grams)
Vegetable oil: 20 g
Glutinous rice flour:150g
Red dates: 50 g
Cooked walnut kernel: 50g
Raisins: 50 g
1. Soften the raisins that need to be added, cut the red dates, and chop the cooked walnuts.
2. Brown sugar is more likely to agglomerate, it’d be better to put it in milk and heat it on a small fire until the brown sugar dissolves (alternatively, you may put it in hot milk to stir it), let it cool down.
3. Stir the eggs and the vegetable oil until it’s fully emulsified.
4. Add brown sugar and mix well.
5. Pour the glutinous rice flour in different times, and stir until it’s becoming smooth and powder-free.
6. Add raisins, red dates, walnuts, and mix them well (added fillings can also be adjusted according to your own preferences)
7. Pour the mixture into the mold (if you use same formula but different shapes of baking pan, the thickness of the rice cake will become different. But it is recommended to not make this type of rice cake too thick, otherwise it’s difficult to get it cooked.)
8. Get it into the oven which is preheated to 180°c, bake for 30-40 minutes (the power of each oven is different, please adjust the baking time accordingly, you can use the toothpick to insert into the center, as long as there’s no powder sticking onto it, it means it’s cooked)
9. After the mold is released, you can cut it and enjoy.
Unlike the traditional steamed rice cake, this oven-baked sweet rice cake has one layer of scorch outside. It is best to consume soon after it is baked. If you can’t finish it all, simply put it in your refrigerator and re-bake it at a low temperature before eating.