Chinese New Year Cupcakes – Nian Gao

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Sure, Chinese New Year Cupcakes are not the traditional dessert to celebrate the Chinese New Year, but the cake that I turned into cupcakes, nian gao, is. It’s a sticky, glutinous cake that is filled with red bean paste. To make it more cupcake-like, I frosted the cupcakes with a red bean buttercream frosting.

Chinese New Year Cupcake Tasting Notes

You have to be a fan of Chinese cakes to like these Chinese New Year Cupcakes. Jonathan felt that these cupcakes tasted just like the sticky buns filled with red bean paste that you can get at dim sum. Since he loves those, he loved these cupcakes. If you are expecting anything with any kind of a crumb, this is not the cake for you.

Because the Chinese New Year cupcakes are so sticky, I would make one change if I were to make them again. Although I don’t typically bake in silicone cupcake wrappers, I think I would opt for silicone for these cupcakes – way too much of the cupcake stuck to the wrapper. If you don’t have silicone wrappers, you might also try spraying the inside of paper wrappers with a non-stick spray before pouring the batter in.

The Chinese New Year Cupcake (Nian Gao) Recipe

I got the recipe for the Nian Gao from the now-defunct Asian Eats blog. The traditional recipe is steamed, but the recipe on Asian Eats has been modified to a baked version. Below is that recipe modified to cupcake form. After the recipe text, I have some step-by-step photos.

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5 from 3 votes

Nian Gao

Nian Gao is a sticky, glutinous cake that is filled with red bean paste. To make it more cupcake-like, I frosted the cupcakes with a red bean buttercream frosting.
Course Dessert
Cuisine Chinese
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes
Servings 24 cupcakes
Calories 164kcal
Author Stefani


  • 1 pound glutinous rice flour I found this at an international supermarket. The flour came in a 1 lb bag, which made it easy.
  • 2 1/2 cups milk
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup red bean paste I also found this at an international supermarket. They were out of the can, though, so I bought a bag of it from the refrigerated section. The clerk told me that it was the Japanese version of red bean paste, but that it would work just as well.


  • Combine all ingredients except red bean paste.
  • Beat with beater, mixing well.
  • Fill cupcake liners 1/3 full. (As noted above, I would recommend silicone liners or paper liners sprayed with a non-stick spray.)
  • Bake at 350 F for 8-10 minutes or until just set.
  • Remove pan from the oven and put spoonfuls of red bean paste all over the baked batter. This doesn't need to look pretty, as you'll see when you get to my step-by-step photos below.
  • Pour the remaining batter on top of the red bean paste, filling cupcake liners to the very top.
  • Bake for another 20-25 minutes or until top bounces back when touched.


Follow the step-by-step photos and find my original Red Bean Buttercream Frosting recipe in this post.


Calories: 164kcal | Carbohydrates: 32g | Protein: 3g | Fat: 3g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 23mg | Sodium: 21mg | Potassium: 65mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 17g | Vitamin A: 71IU | Calcium: 40mg | Iron: 1mg
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Here I am filling the cupcake liners.
Note that the batter is much runnier than typical American cake batter.
Here, I have globbed on the red bean paste.
You can see that I made no effort to make it look like anything other than a paste turd.
When I said to fill the batter to the very top, I meant it.

The Red Bean Buttercream Frosting

The red bean buttercream frosting is a Cupcake Project original recipe. I wanted something that used the flavor of the red beans, but also had a buttercream feel to it. This did the trick!

  • 1/2 C butter, room temperature
  • 1 C red bean paste, room temperature
  • 1 C powdered sugar, sifted
  1. Beat all ingredients. (That’s it!)

About the Ox

Astute readers, such as my Seattle friend who was there when the stuffed animal was purchased, may recognize that the “ox” in the photo at the top of the post is actually a Texas longhorn bull.

As it turns out, oxen are simply castrated bulls so I figured that the stuffed animal would do the trick. I think that my stuffed Longhorn is, in fact, an ox because I could find no male body parts whatsoever on it.

But, for the purists out there, I leave you with some real oxen to bring in the new year.

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Recipe Rating


  1. ILikePaperCuttingsays:

    Nian Gao in a cupcake, what a great combination. thanks.

  2. Stefsays:

    I haven’t tried them without the liners. Sounds like that’s what Trina does with lots of butter. Sounds great.

  3. airlinesays:

    Hi, I am going to try your recipe since I love Nian Gao. Have you tried baking it without the liners? I love a crusty chewy edge.

  4. TrinaDsays:

    I’ve made cupcake-tin rice cakes before, and it helps to heavily butter the pan sides. Makes nice crispy-crusty edges too, which is usually my favorite part.

  5. Lisasays:

    What a creative cupcake! You always come up with ideas that make me smile. :-) Also ideas that give me ideas, most of which I never get around to acting on, but are fun all the same. Thanks for sharing another great cupcake!

  6. [eatingclub] vancouver || jssays:

    So very creative. I love your Chinese New Year cupcakes.

  7. Gigisays:

    Fantastic! I love how thought out your cupcakes are! Very creative!

  8. ~~louise~~says:

    Thank you so much for posting this recipe, Stef. I am hoping to post for Chinese New Years and am having so much fun “cramming” to learn more. We’ll see how I do:)

  9. How To Eat A Cupcakesays:

    “paste turd” hahahahaha :D

  10. Stefsays:

    Ivy – When I was in Thailand, I was fascinated with pomelos. I had never seen them before. Our tour guide actually nicknamed me pomelo.

  11. Ivysays:

    What a cool post! I should make these for my boss. She’s Chinese and every year she gives us…who knows what- it tastes awful but, we have to eat it for good luck. Haha. I hear a great ginormous pomelo is a good Chinese New Year’s gift.

  12. Stefsays:

    Kimberly – Nope. Just your regular stuffed animal.

  13. Kimberlysays:

    That stuffed ox is adorable! Is it a Webkinz?

  14. Nancysays:

    Shades of dim sum! Barb is a huge fan of the red bean paste buns and would love these, too. Uber-interesting, especially the icing.

  15. Stefsays:

    It’s so funny that you mention those liners. I used them once before and really didn’t like them because they fell off the sides of the cupcakes so they didn’t look pretty. However, as you say, they would be so perfect for these cupcakes. What a great idea!

  16. toontzsays:

    I have a good friend who has adopted two chinese girls. She celebrates Chinese New Year with them every year. I have been looking for something to take to them just for fun, and I think these cupcakes are perfect! Have you ever used these liners:

    I can get them at my local grocery stores. They cost a little more, but nothing sticks to them. Try them some time, they’re great.

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