January 29, 2012

4-Minute Microwave Nian Gao (Lunar New Year Cake)

"We all got into it, cracking walnut shells with our shoes, pulling the sweet white meat from inside while a crowd of our Chinese hosts eyed us with bemused perplexity. 'Americans,' I imagined them saying, afterward. 'The poor sons of bitches have everything in the world, but they've never tasted fresh walnuts.'"
—"Why China?," Jennifer Egan
I've never been to China, nor have I ever cracked open a walnut and eaten its meat standing up on the side of the street. Sounds pretty amazing. I wonder if Jennifer Egan has eaten walnuts in China, or if this scene came strictly out of her imagination.

Chinese New Year was last week, which awakened a craving — not for walnuts, but for New Year's cake, nian gao (年糕). It usually comes in a gigantic round wheel in shrink wrap, which can be sliced into fat chunks and then either dipped in egg and pan fried, or just reheated in the microwave. I wanted some, but not quite badly enough to make the trek to Chinatown — so I endeavored to make some in the comfort of my own kitchen.

Some avid Googling of nian gao led me to several recipes that seemed overly complicated, and most of them required 3 eggs (and, sadly, I only had one egg in the fridge tonight). Then it occurred to me that the texture and taste of a freshly steamed nian gao is very similar to freshly made mochi (sweet and incredibly sticky). Ding ding! I adapted my 5-minute microwave mochi recipe by adding some red bean paste — and I have to say, it satiated my craving for nian gao just fine. Not bad for just two ingredients + water + a microwave + 4 minutes.

4-Minute Red Bean New Year's Cake (年糕)
1/2 cup mochiko (sweet rice) flour
1/2 cup + 1 tsp water
1/3 cup sweetened red bean paste (coarse or fine)

Mix all ingredients well in a microwave-safe bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and microwave on high for 4 minutes. Let cool and enjoy!


Unknown said...

Do you think that I could use Pian Tang / Brown Sugar instead of the bean paste... I am in college and am attempting to make this dessert but have been looking for an easier way to steam ..... for example you Microwave plan... Let me know what you think!

thefattyreader said...

Hi Morgan,
I'm not sure if it will work since I've never tried it myself, but you could try swapping out the regular sugar and replacing it with brown sugar in the microwave mochi recipe: http://www.recipestoayoungpoet.com/2010/05/not-so-stressful-microwave-mochi.html

Then, instead of filling it with bean paste, just press it into a pie plate or something (with a spoon, not your hands..it will be very hot!). The unfilled mochi should come out the texture of a lunar new year cake (fingers crossed).

Good luck and let me know how it turns out!

Kevin said...

Hi please tell me if i have to use only half the amount of water if i dont use red bean paste.thanx

thefattyreader said...

Hi Kevin,
I would suggest making this 5-minute microwave mochi recipe (minus the filling), if you don't have red bean paste: http://www.recipestoayoungpoet.com/2010/05/not-so-stressful-microwave-mochi.html

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