Healthier baked niangao sticky rice cake

Healthier baked niangao sticky rice cake recipe for Chinese new year! Refined sugar free, vegan and naturally gluten free! :)

Celebration cakes, Healthier cakes and snacks

Happy Chinese New Year everyone!  Wishing you a prosperous year ahead and here to help you out is a typical Chinese treat that is said to bring luck and ‘family cohesion’ … or at least the joy of eating a surprisingly delicious treat that isn’t too sweet!  This light rice cake has a soft chewy texture similar to mochi and the smell and flavour remind me of very slightly caramelised condensed milk.  It’s made with glutinous sticky rice flour, almond milk, coconut milk, maple syrup and nut oil.  You can adapt the ingredients to your taste and instead of the typical almonds mine has pine nuts sprinkled on top, giving it a tasty lightly crunchy Catalan touch.  It’s super easy to make plus baking instead of steaming adds a level of texture with a slight skin on top.  So if you’d like some extra luck and are curious to try niangao or this new version, why not make your own pine nut sticky rice cake!  It’s naturally glutenfree with no refined sugar and vegan too!  A great start to a healthy new year! 🙂   Woof.  Sorry you know it’s the year of the dog don’t you?

Healthier baked niangao sticky rice cake

Healthier baked niangao sticky rice cake

For Chinese New Year there should always be lots of yummy food around and I also made some healthier pineapple tarts (recipe here) – a gluten-free version with Doves Farm self-raising glutenfree flour replacing the flour. Ah yes definitely ready for the new year now!  Yay!

Healthier baked niangao sticky rice cake and glutenfree healthier pineapple tarts

Healthier baked niangao sticky rice cake and glutenfree pineapple tarts

It’s true niangao might not be everyone’s cup of tea but the taste is really lovely and if you like glutinous jelly-like stuff you should love these!  Are you open to new yummy flavours and textures?  Want to make some? 🙂


This sweet is adapted from Florence Lin’s Baked Coconut Sticky Rice Cake at Jeanette’s Healthy Living website, where you can also get more info on Chinese new year customs and food.  I changed the method a little, halved the quantities and used almond milk instead of low-fat, macadamia oil rather than olive and maple syrup to replace the sugar.  But you can use ingredients from the original recipe or substitute in your own kind of milk (you can’t taste the coconut milk flavour in the cake by the way) or vegetable oil.  Use any nuts but pine nuts are great – tasty, lightly crunchy and good decoration.  Almonds, walnuts or chopped dates are more typical, stirred in the mixture or sprinkled on top.

I cut mine into lozenges and they’re very convenient to eat but I’ve read traditional niangao is round and steamed for hours wrapped in banana leaves, which give it a great flavour (if you’re interested have a look at the kue bakul recipe at the What to Cook Today website or at Nasi Lemak Lover).  Might try that one day but these are really fast and easy to make, delicious, addictive, and the pine nuts are amazing! 🙂

Healthier baked niangao sticky rice cake

Healthier baked niangao sticky rice cake


  • 227g/8oz(1 and 1/2 cups + 1 tbsp + 1 tsp) glutinous rice flour (sticky rice flour) – won’t work with just rice flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2g) gluten-free baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp (2g) baking soda (sodium bicarbonate)
  • 185g/3/4 cup unsweetened almond milk (or other kinds of milk)
  • 170g/3/4 cup unsweetened coconut milk
  • 140g/1/2 cup pure maple syrup or honey (or 1/2 cup sugar)
  • 52g/1/4 cup macadamia oil or some other light vegetable oil or olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp (2g) – 1/2 tsp (4g) almond extract (I used 2g of bitter almond extract, which was very light in flavour but nice)
  • 50g/3/8 cup – scant 1/2 cup pine nuts



  • preheat oven to 160°C/320°F (fan-assisted) or 180°C/355°F (static, non-convection oven).
  • line a 23cmx23cm (9inx9in) square baking tin (3-4cm/1-1.5in high) with baking paper.  Or use a round baking tin (around 24cm/9in diametre)

Follow the instructions in the printable illustration (click on the image).

Healthier baked niangao

Healthier niangao sticky rice cookies

Eating and storing

Niangao is delicious warm and gooey or a little firmer at room temperature.  It can be stored wrapped in plastic film for 2 days at room temperature, after which it gets firmer and easier to cut.  After 2 or 3 days store it wrapped in plastic in the fridge.  In the freezer it keeps 1 or 2 months.  Defrost frozen niangao overnight in the fridge then reheat in a steamer or microwave.

I’ve read it’s very yummy pan-fried in egg batter (1 beaten egg, 1tbsp cornflour, 1/4 tsp salt) – see the kue bakul recipe for instructions.

What does nian gao mean?

There’s more about this cake and the versions in various Asian countries at Wikipedia’s article on niangao.  Basically, in Chinese, nian means ‘sticky’ but another word with the same sound means ‘year’; and gao means ‘cake’ but another word with the same sound means ‘high’.  So you have a sticky cake that sounds like a ‘high’ or ‘tall’ year, implying promotions or prosperity.  Which is why we’re supposed to eat this cake and become lucky and rich… in the meantime having these delicious treats around the house will at least make you happy!  Whether it’s warm and gooey or firmer and softly chewy at room temperature.  Hard to describe … you need to eat one of these baked sticky rice cookies or cakes really!  And maybe a little pineapple tart too…?

Healthier baked niangao sticky rice cake and glutenfree healthier pineapple tarts

Here’s some cut into squares with pineapple tart rats for the Year of the Rat!

Healthier pineapple tart rats and niangao

Healthier pineapple tart rats and niangao

Bye for now dear reader and hope you have a wonderful new year of the dog!  May your wishes come true and your baking be extra yummy! 🙂 Lili x

Posted by

Baking on Sundays with my French mum was a lovely part of my childhood. Later I experimented with baking books or internet recipes and did the pâtisserie course at Le Cordon Bleu Paris. Still trying out new recipes and inventing cakes with influences from all around the world, including some healthier ones. Yes, love cakes!!! Hope you'll love them too and have fun baking. :)

5 thoughts on “Healthier baked niangao sticky rice cake recipe for Chinese new year! Refined sugar free, vegan and naturally gluten free! :)”

  1. Pingback: 5 Healthier snacks you can binge on this Chinese New Year without feeling guilty - BURO.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.