From the kitchen of One Perfect Bite...There are many customs and traditions associated with Chinese New Year. One of the most pervasive has led to an exercise that takes place days before the celebration actually begins. It is believed the Kitchen God returns to heaven a week before the New Year to report on a family's behavior during the year that is ending. An unfavorable report means that the family will have bad luck in the year to come. In order to prevent that from happening the tradition of making sticky cake took hold. The belief that the Kitchen God could not issue a bad report if his mouth was full became pervasive. While a bit softer, the cake has the same chewy properties as taffy. It is, in a word, sticky. It's usually made with glutinous rice flour, a candy called peen tong and dried fruit. The traditional cake is always steamed and, if it's made with peen tong, it is always a rich caramel in color. However, as you move across China, you'll find there are regional differences in how the cake is made. If granulated sugar is used in place of peen tong, the cake will have a creamy hue. The cake is not easy to make, but it can be bought for next to pennies. Ergo, most sticky rice cakes, including mine, are purchased rather than made. A link to more information about the Kitchen God and a classical recipe for the steamed cake be found here. I'm including a much easier version of the recipe for you to try, should you wish to do so. I want to wish all of you who are celebrating, an auspicious New Year that will be rich in family, friends and food.
Baked Sticky Cake (Nian Gao)...from the kitchen of One Perfect Bite, courtesy of Frances Kai-Hwa Wang
16 oz. Mochiko sweet rice flour
One stick of butter or 3/4 cup of vegetable oil
2-1/2 cups milk
1 to 1-3/4 cup sugar--depending on if you like it sweeter
1 tablespoon baking soda
One can of red azuki beans
Mix everything but the beans with an electric mixer at medium speed for 2 minutes. Beat for 2 more minutes at high speed. Sprinkle Mochiko flour over a 9"x 13" baking dish that has been oiled or sprayed with Pam. Spread half of the batter on the bottom of the baking pan. Spread the red azuki beans (you can mix some batter into the beans if they are too thick to spread). Spread the other half of the batter over the red azuki beans. Bake in oven at 350 degrees for 40 to 50 minutes. Test for doneness by inserting a chopstick (this is Chinese New Year, Cake after all) if it comes out clean, it is done. This is best served warm.
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