Traditional Chinese New Year Cake (Nin go)

This is THE signature Chinese New Year treat, at least for people from Hong Kong anyway. It’s called Nin Go, Nin means Year and Go means cake, so literally Year Cake. Nothing reminds me of home more than the smell of steaming nin go wafting through the house. Mum would always come home with tons of premium black cane sugar she bought from the market, which is only available around new year’s time. And she’ll start making this before New Year.

She also always make a little one from a shallow green-y enamel dish, and I’ll eat it fresh when it comes out from the wok. The rest will be left to stand in the living room throughout new year. And she’ll caringly smear oil over it everyday, to keep it moist and shiny.

Anyway, to my shock I’ve lost the recipe she told me over the phone when I was studying in uni in this country.  I wrote it on a piece of paper and of course, like a lot of other important stuff, I lost it!!! I’m so annoyed with myself so this recipe isn’t really passed down from mum, but one that I can loosely put together in my head.

Here’s how to make it:

Traditional Chinese New Year Cake (Nin go)



  • 500 g Glutinuous Rice Flour
  • 100 g Corn Flour
  • 400 g Cane sugar
  • 400 ml water
  • 200 ml coconut milk
  • 50 ml veg oil or other flavourless oil
  • 1 chinese dried red date for decoration optional
  • a handful of seasame seeds


  • Grease and line a 20cm round tin.
  • Bring the water up to a boil, put in cane sugar and leave it to melt. Keep stirring.
  • Sieve the melted cane sugar water, stir in the coconut milk. (or ask your toddler to stir it)
  • In another bowl, sieve the flours, then stir in the cane sugar mixture from step 2. Slowly stir in oil.
  • Pour the mixture into the prepared tin, cover the mixture with some parchment paper (to stop the condensation dripping on the cake while steaming). Steam for 20 mins on high, then 2 hours on medium heat. Keep refilling the water and checking every 15 mins, do not let the water dry out.
  • Take the cake out, stick a toothpick into it, it’s done when it comes out clean.
  • While the cake is still hot and soft, using your thumb or index finger, first moisten with a bit of oil, press into a dish of sesame seeds, then gently press the seeds onto the cake. Remember to moisten your fingers first, otherwise it will just stay on your fingers instead of the cake. And don’t try to sprinkle the seeds on because we get a better and more even coverage this way. If using a chinese dried red date, stub it into the centre of the cake.


Cane sugar can be bought in all Chinese grocery store. Or you can replace with dark brown sugar.

Update: This year I used my Instant Pot to cook it! I halved the recipe and used a 6′ tin, pressure cook for 28 mins and natural release for 10 mins and ta-da! Done!

You can either eat it fresh like that, which will be very sticky and soft, or the more traditional way is to leave it alone in the tin for a few days. It will go rock hard and you can then slice it thinly, fry in a pan with a bit of oil for 1 min, then dowse in beaten egg, fry again till the surface goes a bit crispy, then your nnin go will be crispy on the outside and soft in the inside… hmm… perfectly snack for when friends come over to get their red pockets.


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