How To Make Nian Gao | Kuih Bakul In A Slow Cooker

January 24, 2019
Making Sweet Sticky Nian Gao in a slow cooker.

Nian gao is a traditional Chinese New year steamed sticky cake

This is an updated post.

We are having a virtual Sweet Lunar New Year Party.
and I am bringing Nian Gao, my first time trying out...

Check at the end of this post for delicious Chinese New Year food from other bloggers.

Nian gao is steamed sweet sticky rice cake

What is Nian Gao?

Nian Gao, is a sweet and sticky Chinese New Year cake, made from glutinous rice flour, water and sugar.
It is also known as Tikoy (in Hokkien) or Kuih Bakul (in Malay language).

Why is it called Kuih Bakul in the Malay language (Bahasa Malaysia)?

Kuih (coo-eh) ~ anything of traditional food be it savoury or sweet, we usually refer to them as kuih.
Bakul, refer to basket.

Traditionally, bamboo baskets lined with banana leaves were used as a mould to hold its shape, while it sat steaming away in a steamer. 
Modern days, either plastic vessels are used or I would use ramekins.

This sweet sticky cake can only be found during the Chinese New Year celebration.

A little tale...

I grew up in a multicultural neighbourhood.

Without fail, every Chinese New Year, either neighbours across our house or my dad's friends would send us Chinese New Year goodies.

A plateful of goodies would have Kuih Bangkit (Tapioca Cookies)kuih kapit (Love letters) plus the sweet and sticky Nian Gao.

Chinese New Year is the only time we get to eat Nian Gao.

Nian gao for chinese year

Preparing Sweet sticky Nian Gao | Tikoy | Kuih Bakul

The Sweet Sticky Nian Gao has basic and simple ingredients, but it is time-consuming.

3 ingredients are Glutinous rice flour, water and sugar.

Another not listed and mentioned ingredient that one must have is... PATIENCE!!

Remember to grease the ramekins before lining them with banana leaves.

Glutinous Rice flour packet

Glutinous rice flour mix with water and leave it for 4 hours

How to Cook Sweet Sticky Nian Gao | Tikoy | Kuih Bakul 

I was told by hubby that his late grandmother took at least 12 hours to steam Nian Gao...
and she did not use a kerosene stove or gas stove!

She used wood fire and steamer, for all her Nian Gao!
Imagine... huffing and puffing to keep the fire going!

I planned to cook Nian Gaos using the steamer, and was planning to keep the steamer going for at least 10 hours... minus the wood fire of course :P

... but my plan was backfired!

I was using my portable induction cooker and that 'beeping bl**d*' thing (read with an angry -swear tone ;p) switched off after 4 hours!

My sweet sticky Nian gao, was still pale and gooey .. no where near "Done"!!!

With swift action, I transferred the ramekins to a slow cooker and continued cooking until the cake turned golden in colour (another 10 hours).

Ramekins and banana leaves

Cooking Nian Gao | Tikoy | Kuih Bakul using a slow cooker

It is so much easier to steam Nian Gao in a slow cooker.
I have no worries.. just click and walk away.

My main concern was ...

if I were to steam the cakes using the conventional method, steamer and stove, I have to keep on checking the water level in the steamer.

... and that...

my friend, is 'troublesome' and dangerous, because I can be forgetful at times!

But with a slow cooker, it's easy... fill up water and check again after 6 hours! or fill up with hot boiling water before we turn in for the night.

Slice and cup up Nian Gao |Tikoy | Kuih Bakul

How do we eat Sweet Sticky Nian Gao?

By slicing the hardened Nian Gao into thin slices, and just eating it as it is, like eating cheese :D.

However, my husband only enjoys eating Nian Gao, when it is thinly sliced, sandwiched between equal thickness of sliced yam and sweet potato then dipped into rice flour batter and deep fried!


re-steam,  roll the hot gooey Nian Gao in slightly salted desiccated coconut.

Cooking tips 

  • Grease the ramekins with vegetable shortening
  • Pre-cook the batter

Pre-cooking Nian gao batter yielded much better caramel colour, plus the batter didn't "run" in between the banana leaves.

Note : I used 4 x 1 cup (250ml) ramekins.

How to steam sweet sticky rice cakes for chinese new year

Dishes to try for Chinese New Year from bloggers

Earlier in the post, I mentioned that we are having a virtual Sweet Lunar New Year Party to welcome the year of a Rooster, right?

Many thanks to Christine from Vermillion Roots for organising such a fun event :D.

So...  come and join us and let us celebrate and PARTY :D. 

Snow Fungus Soup by Vermilion Roots
Chinese Peanut Cookies by Wok & Skillet
Vietnamese Steamed Rice Cakes by A Taste of Joy and Love
Black Sesame Shortbread Cookies by Little Sweet Baker
Ice Cream Mooncakes by Brunch-n-Bites
Coconut Red Bean Pudding by The Missing Lokness
Cashew Nut Cookies by Anncoo Journal
One Bite Pine Nut Cookies by Yummy Workshop
Baked Coconut Walnut Sticky Rice Cake by Jeanette's Healthy Living
Black Sesame Cream Puffs by Pink Wings
Cashew Nut Cookies by Roti n Rice
Mini Peanut Puffs (Kok Chai) by Malaysian Chinese Kitchen
Thousand Layer Cake (Lapis Legit) by Daily Cooking Quest
Almond Orange Spiral Cookies by Butter & Type
Year of the Rooster Mochi by Thirsty for Tea
Sweet Sticky Nian Gao (Kuih Bakul) by Lisa's Lemony Kitchen
Candied Ginger (Mut Gung) by Plant Crush
Chick Egg Tarts by Dessert Girl
Red Bean Soup by Nut Free Wok
Orange Scented Sweet Red Bean by Lime and Cilantro

Chinese New Year traditional cake


  1. What a great idea - making this in a slow cooker - will have give this a try!

  2. Woah, I usually just bought mine instead of making it from scratch! Your nian gao looks amazingly smooth and just like store bought ones :)

  3. Your nian gao looks so professional and exactly how I remember them from Malaysia! Can I use coconut sugar instead?

    1. Thank you Christine,
      I have not thought of using coconut sugar :). Let me know the results when you do use coconut sugar :D

  4. Hi Lisa, Your nian gao looks awesome and I've never thought that slow cooker can makes nian gao before. Thank you for sharing this recipe.
    Happy Chinese New Year to you and your family!

    1. Thanks Ann, and Gong Xi Fa Cai to you n family

  5. its such a beautiful kueh keranjang!! I would love to give a try make myown, thank you for sharing Lisa. My favorite is steam and add coconut but my dad prefer slice and dip into batter and fry :)

    1. Lets make some :D, you may have to ‘dry' it in the oven ;P

  6. I love that beautiful caramel colour! The banana leave is such a fine touch.

    1. Thanks Angie,
      Banana leaves gives Nian gao some flavour

  7. BIG YES to these! I love nian gao made with banana leaves. So fragrant !!!!

    1. Thank you Marvellina, banana leaves is marvellous with anything :D

  8. OMG, these nian gao looks super awesome. I can't even dare to try making it. haha.... Love how's the colour turns out and the texture is perfectly done. Kudos, Lisa !
    Blessings, Kristy

    1. Thank you Kristy :D.
      Actually its not that difficult, just the cooking time seems endless :D
      Gong Xi Fa Cai to you and family :D

  9. Wow, these look great! Happy new year!

  10. This is beautifully documented. We also have similar cakes cooked this way! And I didn't know you could use a slow cooker for this. You're awesome!
    Happy New Year Lisa!!

  11. Wow! I love traditional recipes done the right way, there is something so nostalgic and romantic about it. This looks amazing and your photos are gorgeous <3


  12. Nian gao is so delicious! Love your slow cooker method. I have never seen nian gao make in banana leaves. They sure look gorgeous and I am sure they must taste extra good!

    1. Banana leaves gives Nian gao a very faint aroma and taste :D

  13. I love nian gao, but haven't had in years. Thanks for reminding me what a wonderful dessert it is. Happy Chinese New Year to you and yours:)

  14. There's no one selling banana leaves in my town. Do you think an oven bag could be used to line the ramekins?

    1. Hi Meike,
      I am not sure Meike but I have seen the commercial Nian Gao line with other than banana leaves... sorry :(

  15. I miss eating nian gao. I remember my mom will use it and sweet potato and make into fritters :)

  16. Oh, I love how beautifully your nian gao turned out! I like how you tied down the leaves to hold them in place and how tiny the cakes are. Happy #sweetlunarnewyear!

    1. Thank you Sharon :D
      Have a good happy Rooster year

  17. Hi Lisa

    Please advise to cook the flour mixture in medium heat for how long?

    Thanks in advance

    1. Hi Lei,
      Cook until the flour mixture thicken (custard like consistency).


    2. Thank you again Lisa. I will give it a try. ;)

  18. This is amazing, you know I'd never heard of it? I am intrigued by the taste and texture... I doubt I would make it, too insecure to do it... seems very very involved.

    beautiful, though...

    1. Thank you Sally :D
      Do you have Asian grocer near you? They might have it there if you’d like to try :P


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