My mom is a fantastic cook, one who takes a ridiculous amount of pride in the fact that it's been nearly three decades since she's last used a recipe. When I was at home for Christmas she was experimenting and perfecting her own version of Chinese New Year Cake (Nian Gao), only instead of steaming it (as it's traditionally done), she was baking it. During the course of a week, she concocted at least five creations, one of which came surprisingly close to the steamed version, but with a crust on the outside. I wrote down her "recipe" and was determined to recreate it at home.

Now, fast forward a few months, Chinese New Year is this weekend and I still had a baking project to tend to. So I rolled up my sleeves, put on my apron and realized I didn't have all of the ingredients. I could have gone to the store, but I decided to do what my mom would do and made it up as I went along.

The end result was pretty great directly out of the oven, the edges were nice and crispy, and the middle oddly chewy (just like real Nian Gao). I didn't have sweet red beans, so I used shredded Medjool dates instead (which, by the way, is my current favorite food item), and the flavor really complemented the cake.

To check out my version of New Year Cake, which is very unlike real New Year Cake,

Chinese New Year Inspired Medjool Date Cake
This recipe was inspired by my traditional Chinese New Year cake and my mom's wacky ability to just throw stuff in to a pan and make it taste delicious!

Note: If I make this again, I will probably add less sugar, more dates and maybe another 1/4 of milk.

16 oz glutinous rice flour
1 tbsp baking soda
1 stick butter (8 tbsp)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup light brown sugar
2 eggs
2 1/4 cup of milk
9 oz Medjool Dates (this was the weight including pits - about 13 dates)

  • Preheat oven to 350F.
  • Grease the bottom and sides of a 9x13 cake pan.
  • Chop dates into small pieces. Since the dates are quite sticky, I actually found it easier to rip the dates open, remove the pits and shred by hand.Shredded dates, but doesn't is strangely look like shredded pork?!Shredded dates, but doesn't is strangely look like shredded pork?!
  • In a mixer cream butter and sugars. Scrape sides as necessary.
  • On medium speed, add eggs and milk. Blend until smooth.
  • On low speed gradually add in rice flour, 1/3 of the flour at a time. Add in baking soda until combined.

    When finished, mixture should be somewhat like thick pancake batter. Note: you may want to sift these two ingredients together first.

  • Pour half of the batter into cake pan. Spread evenly to coat the pan.
  • Scatter the dates evenly all over the cake.
  • Pour rest of batter into cake pan, covering dates.

    Spread if necesary to make sure the batter is evenly distributed.
  • Place on middle shelf and bake for 30-35 minutes.
  • Cake is finished when top is golden brown and an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
  • Remove from oven, flip out of pan and serve warm!