A simple and clever way to incorporate another culture while engaging kids in one of their favorite activities is to choose colorful and age-appropriate stories from around the world. This past February, I found a great book that does just that while captivating my kids.
In The Runaway Rice Cake, Chinese author Ying Chang Compestine pairs whimsical illustrations with a twist on the classic Gingerbread Man story for a new adventure that takes place during Chinese New Year. With the small amount of rice flour the Chang family has, they manage to make a single rice cake, which of course escapes by running away. After the adventurous chase, the story has a happy ending (for the people) that incorporates a lesson on sharing with those less fortunate.
The best part about this book is the simple recipe for a sweet sticky rice cake (nian gao) on the last pages. It was SO easy to make, sweet and chewy- I doubt you would find a kid who would not like this. I got the two types of rice flours for $0.79 at an Asian supermarket, and used a pie tin over my steamer to make it. Who can say no to dessert??– just have the kids make sure the rice cake doesn’t run away while he’s cooking!
- 1.5 c glutinous rice flour
- 1 c rice flour
- 1 c sugar (either brown sugar or white)
- 1/4 c dried cherries (I have used cherry-flavored cranberries, and also chopped dates)
- 1/4 c raisins
- 1 c nuts (I used almonds once and pistachios another time)
- 1 c water
1) Combine everything except water. Add water.
2) Spray a pie tin with Pam. Pour batter in pan.
3) Put the pan in a steamer (I used my veggie steamer that has 2 separate compartments but you could rig something up in a big soup pot.)
4) Steam for 20 min until the nian gao is more translucent, or at least the texture is a solid.
Remove it onto a plate and cut into wedges when cool. Is the cake sticky as the name suggests? How does this cake compare to a cake you might make for someone’s birthday? Can you taste a rice flavor from the flour?
Nian gao is traditionally given as a gift during Chinese New Year, so I suggest you make 2: one to give to friends, and one to enjoy as a family.