Peter Som’s Delectable Lunar New Year Cake Is a Dessert to Write Home About

February 7, 2024

This coconut banana confection guarantees a happy new year.

On Saturday, Feb. 10, the world will celebrate Lunar New Year — and , a particularly auspicious time that should bring good luck (which, hey, who couldn’t use more of that?). This annual celebration is the perfect time to catch up with family and friends, and just remember that aside from good company, no Lunar New Year gathering is complete without heaping portions of delicious food. That’s why is sharing for a dessert that’s certain to make your year special.


I’ve eaten this cake for as long as I can remember! It’s a riff on a traditional Chinese New Year Cake — in Cantonese “Nin Go” (which translates to “year cake”) — which is cake made of that’s traditionally steamed and oftentimes sliced, and then pan fried for a crispy golden crust. The rice flour lends a tender chew, with just a bit of bounce — and it couldn’t be easier. This version is a riff on the traditional style, and it comes from my Auntie Shirley (all our parent’s friends were “Auntie” and “Uncle”), who gave it to my mom years (decades, in fact!).

Firstly, it’s baked in the oven instead of steamed (which I find quite practical, as you’ll see below), which gives a lovely golden crust to the top. Secondly, coconut cream is used to impart a lovely, sweet complexity. And thirdly, it has eggs — which most traditional recipes don’t use and imparts a bit of aeration and lightness. Now, I’ve added my own flourish and have incorporated slices of banana at the bottom because coconut and banana are a match made in heaven. So if you do choose to pan fry your slices before serving, they’ll caramelize and become very delicious.

My recipe is perfect for two 8-inch rounds, because during the Lunar New Year having one to give away to friends is always great. (You can have it all to yourself if you want, I’m not going to tell.) This makes oven baking much more practical than steaming (as most likely, you’ll only be able to steam one at a time), but if you’d prefer one larger cake feel free to swap it out for a larger pan. Be sure to adjust baking time to ensure the center is set but don’t be too worried — this recipe is very forgiving and so easy to make.

Mom’s Chinese New Year Cake (Nin Go)

Ingredients

Neutral oil, for the pans
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
16 ounces glutinous rice flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 ¾ cups sugar
4 large eggs
One 6-ounce can of coconut cream
1 ½ cups whole milk or coconut milk
½ teaspoon coconut extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 bananas, peeled and cut into ¼” slices (optional)

Instructions

Preheat oven to 325F. Lightly grease two 8-inch round baking pans or one 10-inch round pan. Line bottom with parchment.

Melt butter in a pan over low heat until golden and nutty brown, approximately 4-5 minutes. Let cool.

In a large bowl combine flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, whisk together sugar, eggs, butter, vanilla extract, coconut extract, coconut cream, and milk until smooth. Pour into flour mixture and whisk until smooth. Batter consistency should be similar to pancake batter. Arrange banana slices in the bottom of each pan. Pour batter atop, cover in foil and bake for 60-75 mins — removing foil at the halfway point — until center is set but still a touch jiggly and top is golden-brown and crackled.

Allow to cool 30 minutes, then invert and serve warm. Alternatively, cool completely (or overnight in the refrigerator) before slicing and serving.

If desired, cut ½-inch thick slices of the cake, dip slices in beaten egg, and pan fry in a non-stick pan over medium heat for 2-3 minutes or until the slices are browned. Serve warm.

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