Nian Gao and Sweet Potato “Sandwiches”
glutinous rice flour
dark brown/muscovado sugar
vegetable oil, to brush ramekins
banana leaf, optional, can be substituted with baking paper
orange sweet potatoes
purple sweet potatoes
Oil, for deep-frying
These nian gao sandwiches are a classic Lunar New Year dish in Malaysia. The nian gao used here is a quicker adaptation of the traditional recipe, using dark brown sugar for a deeper caramel hit, which also helps cut down its cook time. As for the sandwiches, I prefer using sweet potatoes as I like the layers light and tender, but feel free to swap in yam or cassava, or try doing a double/triple stack!
- Ready three ramekins (5-to 6-inch ones would be perfect) and brush liberally with oil on the insides. Line the ramekins with the banana leaves/baking paper. If using banana leaves, blanch them in boiling water to soften, then cut the leaves into 3-inch wide strips and lay them over each other in the ramekin, overlapping at the bottom. (Use 6-8 strips of banana leaves to prevent leakage.)
- Place the water and brown sugar in a small saucepan and heat until the sugar completely dissolves. Remove from the heat and let cool.
- Sift the glutinous rice flour into the sugar syrup, and whisk until a smooth batter forms.
- Pour the batter into the lined ramekins, cover them with a lid or cloth (to prevent water from dripping in), then steam on high heat for 3 hours, until the nian gao is a deep caramel brown and firm to the touch.
- When done, remove from the steamer and let it cool down. Keep refrigerated for at least 3 days (or up to two week) to let it fully set and firm up.
- Slice the nian gao into ¼-inch thick slices. Peel the sweet potatoes and cut them into slices similar in shape and size to the pieces of nian gao. (Don’t worry if they’re not exactly the same, they’ll be just as lovely and gooey anyway!)
- Wedge the nian gao in between two slices of sweet potato (use an orange and a purple one for each sandwich), and give it a light squeeze to make sure they don’t separate.
- For the batter, sift the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and salt together. Then add the egg and water to it. Whisk until smooth and all the lumps disappear.
- Ready a pot of oil or a deep-fryer set at 350°F.
- Dip the nian gao-sweet potato sandwiches into the batter, and then deep-fry in the oil for 3-5 minutes, until cooked through.
- Remove from the oil and place on paper towels to wick off the excess oil.
- Dig in! (Take care not to scald your lips on the molten nian gao!)
Yi Jun Loh
Yi Jun Loh is a freelance writer and cook. An engineer by training, he immersed himself into the food industry right after graduating from Cambridge, learning to cook in Paris and then at Blue Hill at Stone Barns in New York. He is now based in Malaysia, obsessing over food culture and science through his blog Jun & Tonic.