Chinese New Year Sweet Rice Cake (Nian Gao)



2 teaspoons vegetable oil (plus more for brushing baking pans)3½ to 4 cups of water (830-950 ml, depending on humidity levels where you are)4 slices ginger2 cups dark brown sugar (400g)½ teaspoon allspice powder1½ pounds glutinous rice flour (one and a half bags, as they generally come in 1-pound bags; 680g)½ pound rice flour (225g; half of a bag)1 tablespoon vanilla extract1 tablespoon dark molasseszest of 1 large orange6 dried dates (for decoration, optional)


'- Prepare two 8-inch round baking pans by brushing the insides with vegetable oil.- Add 2 cups of water and the ginger to a medium-sized pot, bring it a boil, then let it simmer for 10 minutes over low to medium heat with the lid covered. Turn off the heat, and stir in the brown sugar and allspice until the sugar is dissolved completely. Remove the ginger slices. Now add 1 1/2 cups of cold water to cool down the mixture so its warm, not hot.- In a large mixing bowl, mix the two kinds of flours together and then slowly add in the sugar water mixture. Stir thoroughly until the batter is smooth (without any lumps). Now stir in the vanilla extract, molasses, orange zest, and 2 teaspoons of vegetable oil until thoroughly combined. The resulting batter should have a consistency similar to condensed milk. If the batter is too thick, add a bit more water a couple tablespoons at a time until the desired consistency is reached.- Pour the batter evenly into two foil pans. Gently tap the pans against your countertop to get rid of air bubbles. Top each pan with three decorative dates in the center, if using. Put both pans in a double-decker bamboo steamer and steam for about 1 hour on high heat (the water should be boiling, but should NOT be bubbling high enough to touch the foil pans). You might need to add water into the steamer midway to avoid having the water dry up and burn your bamboo steamers.- After 1 hour, poke a toothpick into the rice cake. It’s done if the toothpick comes out clean--just like a regular cake! Regarding steaming techniques, for this recipe and in general, it doesn’t matter what type of vessel you use. The core goal here is to use steam to cook the food, which means it's important that the steam doesn't escape.- For example, if you use bamboo steamer, you will also need a pot that fits the bamboo steamer perfectly so there is no visible steam escaping. If you don’t have a pot that fits the bamboo steamer, you will need to put the bamboo steamer inside a much larger pot with a lid and set the bamboo steamer on a rack above the water. Whatever you decide to use, with the correct set up, you should not see steam escaping!Notes

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