Red Bean Sticky Rice Cake is a traditional sweet enjoyed during Chinese New Year. Adzuki beans add texture to this soft, sticky rice cake. This is one of many sticky rice recipes my mom has collected over the years. I have a black binder full of her favorite recipes, and I have sectioned off a tab with all her favorite sticky rice recipes. Sticky rice cake is especially enjoyed during Chinese New Year because it symbolizes family cohesiveness. Also, sticky rice cake is called “nian gao,” in Chinese, which symbolizes increasing prosperity every year.
The past several years, I have tried at least one new sticky rice recipe from my mom’s collection for Chinese New Year. This year, I made this Red Bean Sticky Rice Cake and my Auntie Florences’ Jujube Date Sticky Rice Cake. I sent a sample of each to my mom for Chinese New Year so she could sample them. She loves sticky rice cake but doesn’t cook anymore, so she was very happy to receive my package.
My mom used to send me care packages, so now that she no longer cooks, I send her care packages once in a while. Oftentimes, I send something I’ve made based on one of her recipes because I know she’ll appreciate it.
I believe this red bean sticky rice cake is a variation of a recipe my mom got from Auntie Florence. I found a copy of Auntie Florence’s recipe in my mom’s black binder of recipes, followed by another piece of paper with my mom’s version. My mom adds vanilla and dried longan to her red bean sticky rice cake.
I cooked my own adzuki beans, but you can also buy them precooked in the Asian grocery store. If you choose to cook adzuki beans, I suggest soaking them overnight first. This will reduce cooking time. Also, if you have a pressure cooker or Instant Pot, you can save substantial cooking time. The advantage of making your own adzuki beans is that you can use the cooking liquid in the batter instead of water for more color and flavor.
The base is the traditional sticky rice batter, which consists of sweet rice flour, sugar, oil and water. My mom adds vanilla extract, adzuki beans and dried longan (I could not find these so I left them out – dried longan are chewy and sweet).
I used two smaller 6″ round pans lined with plastic wrap because I wanted to try steaming this cake in the Instant Pot. The 6″ round pan fits inside a 6-quart Instant Pot. You can use an 8″ round pan if you plan on steaming this cake in a large steamer on top of the stove.
Cover the top of the pan with foil and place inside the Instant Pot for a smoother top. I suggest spraying the foil with a little cooking oil to keep the sticky rice cake from sticking to the foil after cooking.
This Red Bean Sticky Rice Cake is very soft and sticky. I also gave some to my sister, who suggested warming up extras briefly in a microwave.
Mom's Red Bean Sticky Rice Cake (Instant Pot)
This is a very soft sticky rice cake. This recipe yields two 6" round sticky rice cakes or one 8" round cake.
If you use an Instant Pot, you may want to halve the recipe and make just one 6" cake. Otherwise, you can stack two pans in the Instant Pot by either using two Instant Pot Steamer Baskets or try using a pair of chopsticks in between the two pans to create some separation.
- 3 cups water or use cooking water from beans
- 1 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 pound sweet rice flour
- 1/2 cup oil flavorless
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
- 2 1/2 cups adzuki beans cooked
- 1/2 cup dried longan optional
In a large bowl, stir together water (or bean cooking liquid - see Notes) and sugar until dissolved. Gradually whisk in rice flour until well blended. Gradually whisk in oil until combined. Add vanilla, adzuki beans and longan, if using. Stir to combine.
Divide batter between two plastic wrap lined 6" round cake pans, or one 8" round pan. Spray one side of oil with cooking oil. Place foil, oiled side down, over cake pan and cover loosely.
Instant Pot Pressure Cooking Method
This works for 6" round cake pan only. Place steam trivet in bottom of Instant Pot. Add 1 cup water. Place cake pan on trivet. Cover and cook at high pressure for 30 minutes. Let natural release 10 minutes, then quick release pressure.
Set up Chinese steamer. Use two tiers to steam 6" round cake pans or one tier to steam 8" round cake pan. Steam for 1 hour.
To cook adzuki beans, soak 1 cup dried adzuki beans overnight. Then place drained beans in Instant Pot or pressure cooker; add enough water to cover by 1" for 5-7 minutes. Drain beans, reserving cooking liquid. Measure out 3 cups of cooking liquid. Add 1 3/4 cup sugar to cooking liquid and stir to dissolve. Use this in place of the water and sugar in this recipe.
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