Red Bean Mochi Cake (nian gao)

>>  Tuesday, February 23, 2010

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It's dangerous to have these mochi cakes lying around the house at midnight while I'm blogging.  Maybe it's their addictive chewy texture. Or the deliciously sweet red beans strewn throughout the cake. Or maybe I secretly think it's low fat, so it's OK to eat at night.

Whatever it is, I can't just have one. In fact, I can hardly keep from eating the entire loaf.  It doesn't help that I love red beans and anything made with mochi flour.

Mochi cake (or "nian gao" 年糕 as it is called in mandarin) is a classic dessert that is especially popular during Chinese New Year.  The term "nian gao" sort of has a double (or even quadruple) meaning in Chinese.  In Chinese, the pronunciation "nian" sounds like the word for year (年)and sticky (粘). The word "gao" sound like the word for cake (糕) but also sounds like tall or high (高).

You can imagine the combinations:  New Year cake!  Sticky cake!  Reaching higher with the New Year!  Sticky tall!  (ok, that last one doesn't make that much sense).  But you get the point.  This dessert is popular during the New Year  because it symbolizes all these wonderful ideas about wishing each other good health and fortune. Chinese people love those double meanings.

Traditional Chinese new year cake is steamed.  This version has been modified for the Western kitchen - it's baked in an oven!  I personally like this version better, as it has a nice browned crust that doesn't exist in the steamed version.  The best part?  This simple recipe has a short ingredient list and only takes 10 minutes to prepare.
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This recipe is really really flexible.  In fact, you don't even have to add red bean.  You can add something else if you like (ha ha, I once even tried coffee! yes, I love coffee).  And if you do add red bean paste, you can add as much or as little as you want.  I only added 3/4 of a cup, but some people like to add an entire can!  It's really up to you.

The sugar amount is also flexible, depending on your sweetness tolerance.  I recently made it with 1 1/4 cup sugar, which I personally though was plenty sweet enough.
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Red Bean Mochi Cake
prep time 10 | minutes bake time 1 hr | makes 2 loafs

1 lb sweet/glutinous rice flour (e.g., Mochiko, the bag with the green text in those Asian stores)
3 eggs
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 cups milk (or water)
1 to 1 1/2 cups of sugar
1/2 - 1 cup red bean paste

Mix together all the ingredients except the red bean paste.  Stir in the red bean paste.  Bak at 350 degrees in a 9 x 13 pan or 2 loaf pans for 45 min - 1 hour.  Cake is done when you can insert a knife cleanly.
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Slice it up!  And enjoy!  This tastes great warm or at room temperature.  At room temperature it has more of that characteristic chewiness.  When it's warm, it's a bit softer and slightly gooey.  I love toasting it in the toaster oven in the morning.  The inside gets nice and warm and the edge gets nicely toasted.
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Happy Chinese New Year!

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