Nian gao or kuih bakul is significant to the Chinese community especially during Chinese New Year. The word ‘nian’ means sticky, which refers to the texture and ‘gao’ means cake. It is made out of only three ingredients such as glutinous rice flour, sugar and water. The steps are very easy but it only requires a long time to cook it.
There is an interesting story behind this Glutinous Rice Cake which is a must have especially during Chinese New Year. Rumours has it that it is used to “seal” the lips of the “Kitchen God”, a deity installed in some Chinese homes. He meets up with the Jade Emperor to give his yearly report on the family. Before that, the family would offer prayers and this sticky kuih would be one of the offerings to seal his lips since it is sticky. This is to ensure he would not be able to tell on the family, especially the negative aspects like bickerings and misunderstandings. Thus, the family would be in the good books of the Jade Emperor.
There is another reason as to why kuih bakul is a must-have during Chinese New Year. Since it is called “nin gou” in Chinese, it literally means high year! The Chinese love using these meaningful symbolics in the hope that each year's achievements surpass those of the year before.
The steps to prepare are rather simple. However, one would question the time needed to steam the kuih bakul for it takes about 10 to 12 hours for the sugar in the mixture to caramelize. Other recipes call for the sugar to be cooked till it browns or just use brown sugar instead! Stubbornly, I prefer to cook it the traditional way.
After baking kuih bakul, allow it to cool until room temperature and leave out for a 2-3 days to dry before keeping it in refrigerated in an airtight container or freezer bag. It is best to keep kuih bakul with a food grade silica gel to avoid moisture which will encourage mould growth.
When nian gao is not properly dried and immediately kept refrigerated, moisture will appear on the surface. This encourages mould growth. If it happens, use a wet cloth to wipe it off before storing it using the suggested method explained above.
Kuih bakul is often abundantly found in supermarkets during this time of the year. It is given to relatives and friends as gifts for its auspicious meanings. I especially love those which are home made compared to those that are made commercially. These kuih keeps very well if refrigerated. You can then process this kuih further and make it into fried Kuih Bakul or steamed Kuih Bakul.
Lots of patience is needed here and there is no shortcut to it. I have also heard of some taboos associated with the making of kuih bakul. Women having their menses would fail to churn out a perfect kuih bakul. Also, there should be no bickerings or quarrels when cooking it for that will also caused the kuih to fail. Well, so much for superstitions but who knows, right?
Nian Gao is also known as: Glutinous Rice CakeKuih BakulNin Gou年糕Kue KeranjangTi Kwe
Soak banana leaves in warm water for at least 30 minutes. Cut banana leaves according to the shape of the container used. Ensure that the smoother surface of the banana leaf faces upwards. Surround the inside of the container with at least 2-3 layers of banana leaves.
Add water to the flour (sifted) and mix well to create a dough. Then, add sugar and knead until it turns into a fluid mixture. Allow mixture to sit for 15 minutes.
Pour the mixture carefully into the container to get rid of air bubbles. Steam the mixture for 10-12 hours with a piece of cloth over the container. Allow the steamed glutinous rice cake (Kuih Bakul) to sit for 2-3 days before consuming.
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