Happy almost Lunar New Year to all of you who celebrate it! Like many Chinese holidays, Lunar New Year is celebrated with a lot of food. Most of the food eaten during this time is symbolic of things you would like to have more of in the new year, whether the symbolism is conveyed through the name of the dish of the shape of the food item. On Lunar New Year’s Eve, my family gathers around the table to feast on fish (the word fish means that there will be a surplus for next year, whether it is a surplus of wealth, luck, or anything positive), oysters with fat choy (a vegetable whose name sounds like ‘fortune’), noodles (for longevity), and tang yuan (circular rice balls, whose shape represents family connection, togetherness and reunion). The next morning on New Year’s Day, my parents would start frying up new year cake (nian gao) early in the morning. The characters nian gao 年糕 translates to ‘year higher,’ meaning that those who eat the cake will have a year better than the last. Nian gao has always been the highlight for me. Traditionally it is made with glutinous rice flour, sugar, water, and flavouring of choice, though in more recent years there have been more creative version of this traditional sweet treat. I like the classic brown sugar or white sugar nian gao the best, especially when my parents dip slices of the cake in an egg batter before pan frying it. I think it is the texture of nian gao that makes me love it so much — it is pretty identical to eating mochi, but with a crisp exterior.
I shared a nian gao sugar cookie a few years back but after making it a few more times and continuing to tweak the recipe from year to year, I’ve arrived at this recipe just in time for Lunar New Year celebrations. This cookie dough is quite like a classic chocolate chip cookie dough (minus the chocolate)! and I prefer this over the previous version with a rainbow-specked sugar cookie dough because this dough creates a crisper cookie, which provides such nice contrast to the soft and tender nian gao centre. I used white sugar nian gao for these cookies but feel free to use any type of nian gao for the centre. I think brown sugar or coconut-flavoured nian gao would be just as good in these cookies. Any nian gao from you new year’s day celebrations will do!
Nian Gao Cookies (年糕曲奇餅)
- 140 g (1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 126 g (1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp) brown sugar
- 100 g (1/2 cup) granulated sugar
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 large egg, room temperature
- 220 g (1 3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp) all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 3/4 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 8 pieces nian gao, cut into (1-inch cubes, 1/2-inch thick)
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (177°C). Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar on medium speed until they are smooth, about 1 minute.
- Add the vanilla and egg to the butter mixture and mix on medium speed until they are fully incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture in two batches to the butter mixture, and mix until the ingredients are just combined, about 1 minute.
- Divide the dough into 8 balls of dough.
- Using you thumb, create an indent at the centre of the ball of dough. Place a piece of nian gao and the centre, and lightly pinch the dough to cover up the nian gao.
- Place filled dough balls about 2 inches apart on the baking sheet. Top each dough ball with flaky salt
- Bake the cookies for 12 to 14 minutes, or until the cookies are caramelized along the edges and the centres are just set. If you would like your cookies to have the crinkled edges, give the pan a few taps on the oven rack before you take them out of the oven.
- Allow the cookies to cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.