Click Here to get free weekly recipes and exclusive giveaways.

Florence Lin’s Baked Coconut Sticky Rice Cake Recipe for Chinese New Year

by Jeanette on February 8, 2013 · 39 Comments
Don't miss out on any recipes! Sign up for my weekly e-newsletter. Simply click here to subscribe. You can also subscribe to my cooking videos on YouTube here.

Chinese New Year is this coming Sunday, so today, I’m sharing a very special recipe – my Aunt Florence’s Coconut Sticky Rice Cake. She’s in her 90’s now but she is as spry as can be and still cooking. She is the author of five comprehensive Chinese cookbooks of which I am the proud owner. On a recent call when I was looking for advice for a recipe I was trying to recreate, she offered up this simple Chinese New Year recipe.

Before we get to the recipe, I just want to explain a little something about the foods that are eaten for Chinese New Year. There are lots of traditional foods that are eaten for Chinese New Year, mostly because they either sound like words that mean prosperity, luck, wealth or good fortune, or look like money or gold. Chinese people are into the symbolism of food.

For example, food that might be served for Chinese New Year include a whole chicken (family unity), a whole fish (surplus), duck (happiness), lobster (life and energy), Buddha’s Delight (a vegetarian dish made with symbolic ingredients), shrimp (wealth and abundance), oysters (good fortune), scallops (shaped like ancient coins), tea eggs (fertility), noodles (longevity), jiao-tze or dumplings (shaped like old coins), turnip cake (prosperity and rising fortunes), and spring rolls (resemble gold bricks). Although dried bean curd can be eaten (happiness), fresh tofu is not served because its white color symbolizes death and misfortune. Tangerines, oranges and pomelos are given out for good luck and abundance.

So, back to today’s Coconut Sticky Rice Cake. This cake is considered one of the most important cakes eaten for Chinese New Year. It is made with sticky rice or glutinous rice flour, and is symbolic of family cohesiveness. In Chinese, this cake is called “nian gao,” which symbolizes increasing prosperity every year. For New Years, people greet each other “‘Nian Nian Gao Sheng” which means “advance toward higher positions and prosperity step by step.”

Although traditionally, sticky rice cake is steamed, my aunt now bakes it because it’s easier and tastier. This cake is nothing like your typical cake – the texture is like mochi – it’s sticky. It also happens to be gluten-free.

I have to agree with my aunt – I like this even better than the steamed version. I split this cake in half and shipped half to my parents, and kept the rest for our family.  I’ll be making another one of these this weekend for Chinese New Year – my boys loved this.

For more recipes, check out my post on 16+ Lunar and Chinese New Year Recipes. I also wrote an extensive post last year all about Chinese New Year Traditions with lots of links to books and other resources about the Chinese New Year if you’re interested in learning more.

Here are some more recipes to inspire you to cook for Chinese New Years:

My Mom’s Coconut Sticky Rice Cake
Braised Chicken with Chestnuts
Spicy Kung Pao Chicken with Walnuts
Asian Chicken Stew in a Crockpot
Stir-Fry Noodles with Chicken, Shitake Mushrooms and Vegetables
Dan Dan Mien
Chinese Turnip Cake
Gluten-Free Chinese Dumplings
Mother’s Famous Chinese Egg Rolls (Steamy Kitchen)
Long Life Fertility Noodles with Happy Shrimp (Steamy Kitchen)
Easy Chinese Steamed Fish (Appetite for China)
Dragon Well Shrimp  (Appetite for China)
Soy Sauce Chicken  (Rasa Malaysia)
Longevity Noodles with Chicken, Ginger and Mushrooms (Grace Young)
Stir-Fry Sugar Snap Peas with Mushrooms (Grace Young)
Chinese New Year Cake (The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook)
Marbled Tea Eggs (The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook)
Tomato Chilli Prawns (Christine’s Recipes)
Braised Shitake Mushrooms (Christine’s Recipes)
Water Chestnut Cake (Christine’s Recipes)

5 from 1 reviews
Coconut Sticky Rice Cake Recipe for Chinese New Year
Prep time
Total time
You can use one can of coconut milk (13.5 ounces) and add enough milk to make a total of 3 cups liquid. This cake is best served the next day.
  • 1 pound Mochiko Sweet Rice Flour
  • 1½ cups coconut milk
  • 1½ cups low-fat milk
  • 1¼ cup organic sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 cup chopped nuts (almonds, walnuts) or untoasted black and white sesame seeds
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Place coconut milk, milk, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and oil in a large mixing bowl. Mix well. Add rice flour while stirring. Mix well. Add nuts if desired, or sprinkle on top. Pour into a parchment paper lined 13x9x2 pan.
  3. Bake for 1 hour.
  4. Let cool. Cut into diamond shapes.
As told to me by my Aunt Florence.


  1. Love this! I have never tried anything like this but it looks so fun.

  2. Bake mochi!!! Yum!!!

  3. Beautiful for Chinese New Year’s!

  4. I love the texture of desserts made with rice flour, so I really need to try this! It must be like eating big chunks of mochi! Yum!

  5. That cake looks so good Jeanette! What else is on your menu for this year?

  6. Samath Shealy says:

    Just made this cant wait to see how it taste tomorrow.

  7. I can imagine how fantastic this tastes, I cannot wait to try this! happy New Year!

  8. I can’t believe your aunt is Florence Lin! I have her Complete Book of Chinese Noodles, Dumplings and Breads. Wish it would come back in print.

    • Jeanette Jeanette says:

      Hilary – I love my aunt’s cookbooks – I have all of them. The noodle and dumpling cookbook is one of my favorites!

  9. can i use less oil in the recipe – will it change it?

    • Jeanette Jeanette says:

      Vinod, there is quite a bit of oil in this recipe, but I haven’t played around with reducing it. My guess is that you could probably cut it back as long as you increased the liquid by the same amount. I’ll have to ask my aunt the next time I speak with her. If you try it with less oil, please let me know how it turns out.

  10. i love mochi this looks terrific but i’m watching my fat intake…

  11. I only have coconut cream. Can I substitute coconut milk with coconut cream?

    • Jeanette Jeanette says:

      Lily, coconut cream is very sweet and thick compared to coconut milk, so I don’t think it will work unless you eliminate the sugar. My mom used to make a coconut sticky rice cake (using rice grains, not flour) using the coconut cream (I think you mean Coco Lopez – that kind of coconut cream?).

  12. Judy Spiegel says:

    I took cooking lessons From Florence at the China Institute back in the 70’s Loved every minute of it. I am at my summer home and didn’t bring my cookbooks. Do you have the recipe for her Shrimp Toast?

  13. Would 2 cups of flour be equivalent to a pound ?

  14. Just made this tonight, will be trying it out on our neighbors tomorrow :)

    Two questions: How would you suggest this be stored (room temperature/counter top, covered in plastic wrap in the fridge?), and how long do you think will it keep?

    Can this version be pan fried in an egg batter once it becomes firmer? That is what my family always did with nian gao, but I think we usually had the store bought version :)


    • Hi Kiana, I would store this at room temperature covered with plastic wrap; otherwise, the sticky rice might harden. I haven’t tried frying it the traditional way but it might work – if you do this, then you might want to refrigerate it first so it doesn’t melt away in the pan. Let me know if you try it pan fried.

      • It stored well just covered in plastic wrap at room temperature. We ate most of it, but I kept 1/5 of it to experiment on. I refrigerated it for a day and then pan fried the pieces in egg batter- it turned out ok, but it doesn’t melt and become soft inside like traditional nian gao does. I would say it turned into more of a deep fried piece of mochi cake, which was tasty in its own way :)

  15. Hi Jeanette, this looks like such a delicious recipe! I can’t wait to make it tomorrow for our Chinese New Year / Super Bowl party. Do you think it would work to bake individual ones in muffin tins? Or is a glass/casserole pan best?

    • Hi Jennifer, I’ve never tried muffin tins – I think it might be better in a glass pan as it is a bit sticky and I’m afraid it might stick to your muffin tin.

  16. Hi, from what I see in your picture, did you add nuts to the mixture prior to baking? Also, did you sprinkle the almonds and coconuts on the top after baking? I’m afraid if I sprinkled it before baking that they would burn since it will be in the oven in an hour. I’m planning to make this for my family this week. Thanks!

    • I didn’t add the almonds to the batter. The coconut and almond were sprinkled on top. If it starts to brown too quickly, cover with foil.

      • Hi Jeanette, I just wanted to say this was a hit with the family. I will definitely make this again. Thanks for sharing this recipe. The only thing I wanted to share with you was that when it came out of the oven, the cake was puffy. Then as it cooled, it sank. Is that how it’s supposed to be? Just curious.

        • So glad you enjoyed the recipe. I don’t remember my cake coming out puffy but it tasted fine, I wouldn’t worry about it.

  17. could you replace the Mochiko Sweet Rice Flour with glutinous rice flour?? thanks :))

  18. Hi Thanks so much for sharing this recipe. I love mochi! (Not so much nian gap) so I think I’m going to love this!! My oven is out of commission at this moment. Do you reckon I could still steam it? Thanks in advance!

  19. Should they be refrigerated after?

    • I did not refrigerate mine, but it should be eaten within a few days as it will harden the longer it’s left out.

      • I made it and LOVED it! Thank you! I think I might add some unsweetened coconut flakes next time, and brown some for the top.

        • Pam – thanks so much for trying this and coming back to let us know how it turned out. Love your idea of toasted coconut flakes on top as well as adding some into the mixture.

  20. Hi Jeanette–

    So glad to find this recipe…
    I want to make this dairy free–can I use all cocnut milk or substitute almond milk for the low-fat milk?

    Thanks! Nancy

    • Hi Nancy,almond milk or some other dairy-free milk should work. The coconut milk referred to in the recipe is the kind that comes in the can. I do not recommend using that in place of the dairy milk as it is very rich and thick. You could use the coconut milk that comes in the refrigerated cartons.

  21. hi,
    is it okay to use vegetable oil instead of Olive oil?
    it’s such a nice recipe,i want to try it tonight. Thanks

Leave a Comment


Rate this recipe: