Here's a healthy apple mochi cake (nian gao) recipe that is sweet and soft, all thanks to the applesauce which gives the mochi a sweet flavor and soft, moist texture.
This chewy, soft and sweet applesauce nian gao 红糖年糕 is a healthier take on traditional nian gao recipes that only use sweet rice flour, water and sugar. Made with unsweetened applesauce, glutinous rice flour, tapioca flour, brown sugar, almond milk, and coconut oil, this sweet rice cake is a great dessert alternative for people who aren't ready to break their New Years' resolutions too soon!
Ingredients Used to Make Baked Apple Mochi Cake (Nian Gao)
**I've linked some of these ingredients to amazon.com to give you an idea of what they are, but you should also be able to find them in your local grocery store (usually, the natural & organic food section). They are also affiliate links, which means that I earn a commission as an Amazon Associate if you decide to purchase the items. The price will be the same for you, link or no link 🙂
- Glutinous Rice Flour - this goes by many names. You'll see Glutinous Rice Flour and Mochiko Flour (my favorite brand) in Asian grocery stores, and Sweet White Rice Flour in most other stores. ***Please note that regular white rice flour or brown rice flour is NOT the same thing as glutinous rice flour!!!
- Sugar of Choice – I used dark brown sugar in this recipe, but many traditional nian gao recipes use Chinese Rock Sugar (also called Slab Sugar) which you can typically find in Asian grocery stores or buy online, here. Coconut, date, and maple sugars are also great substitutes if you have them at home, and if you want you can also use sugar-free substitutes such as monk fruit sweetener in this recipe for a slightly lower-sugar / lower-carb option.
- Applesauce - unsweetened applesauce is one of my all-time favorite pantry staples. Applesauce can be used to replace some of the oils in the recipe to cut calories and fat, but even for mochi recipes like this one, a large amount of pectin naturally in apples helps seal in more moisture and keeps the mochi nice and soft.
- Coconut Oil - You can use regular coconut oil, or refined coconut oil, like this one, which has a neutral scent and flavor (this is great for people who do not like the distinct smell and flavor of coconut. You can also use other oils in this recipe such as olive oil, avocado oil, or regular canola oil. You can also use plant-based, dairy-free butter or regular butter instead.
- Milk of Choice – I used unsweetened almond milk, but any milk (dairy or dairy free) works in this recipe. You can even use water.
- Walnuts – I love the chew and extra nutrition the walnuts provide to the mochi cake! You can use pecans if you don’t have walnuts.
- Diced Honeycrisp apples - the diced apples cook perfectly inside the mochi batter and add sweetness, in addition to more moisture and texture.
More Recipes Using Glutinous Rice Flour (HERE)
How to Make Baked Apple Mochi Cake (Nian Gao)
In a clean bowl, mix glutinous rice flour (also called sweet rice flour or mochiko flour) with sugar. Set aside.
Add the applesauce, and also the coconut oil.
Add chopped apples & walnuts
Pour batter into the greased cake pan / pyrex containers, and bake in oven 340F for 40 minutes for TWO 5.6 inch round cakes (Pyrex 4 cup round glass container), or about 60 minutes for ONE 7.25 inch round cakes (Pyrex 7 cup round glass container), or until the middle is set and the edges are crispy.
For softer traditional texture, steam batter on medium heat for 45-60 mins for large cakes, 30-40 minutes for smaller cakes, or until the center of the mochi cake is set.
Let cool completely before serving, or cool the cakes in the freezer for 2-3 hours which helps to get clean slices of cakes.
Slice into ¾ inch slices
Fry the sliced mochi cakes in oil if desired. Enjoy!
Recipe Variations and Optional Add Ins:
- The add in options for this nian gao recipe are pretty much unlimited and you can easily customize the flavor and texture of this nian gao recipe to fit your own tastes! Here are some awesome ways you can make this sweet rice cake your own
- Add more flavor! Add up to 1 Tbsp of cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice to bring out the fall flavors of this recipe. You can also add cocoa, ginger powder, cardamom powder, or a teaspoon of vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste. They're not typically added to a traditional recipe, but you're welcome to experiment!
- Add more texture! Adding chopped nuts, seeds, or dried fruits or oats is a fantastic way to increase the nutrition and flavor in rice cakes. If you’re feeling indulgent, you can also add chocolate chips.
- Turn them into muffins – instead of baking this recipe in a round pan, divide the batter into muffin pans and steam/bake. You’ll have to adjust the baking time (about 20-25 minutes).
How to Store Apple Mochi Cake (Nian Gao)
- The nian gao (mochi cake) can be kept covered at room temperature for up to 24 hours, or in the fridge for 5 days.
- Rice flour desserts like mochi and nian gao usually tend to develop a weird, waxy hard texture when stored in the fridge for more than 1-2 days. To revive the nian gao to its original soft and chewy texture, you'll need to re-steam or pan-fry the rice cake until hot and completely translucent.
- For the best texture (and longer storage), I would wrap the sweet rice cake completely in a plastic wrap or Ziploc bag and freeze it and then defrost it at room temperature when ready to eat. Frozen nian gao does not have to be re-steamed, which is why I usually freeze all my leftover nian gao and mochi recipes.
Final Tips & Reminders
- Glutinous rice flour goes by many names. You'll see Glutinous Rice Flour and Mochiko Flour (my favorite brand) in Asian grocery stores, and Sweet White Rice Flour in most other stores. Please note that regular white rice flour or brown rice flour is NOT the same thing as glutinous rice flour!!!
Healthy Applesauce Nian Gao (Mochi Cake)
- 1 ½ cup mochiko flour, sweet rice or glutinous rice flour (175 g), read notes*
- ½ cup tapioca flour (60 g)
- 3 Tbsp brown sugar (36 g), or a sugar free substitute, such as granulated monk fruit sweetner
- 1 cup applesauce (244 g), unsweetened
- 3 Tbsp coconut oil (42 g), melted. Use refined for neutral flavor
- 1 ½ cup diced apples (188 g) from 1 medium honeycrisp apple
- ½ cup walnuts, or other nuts of choice (59 g)
- Preheat oven to 340 F or boil water to prepare the steamer. Also grease a Pyrex 7 cup round container or two 4 cup round containers with some oil (spray oil works fine, too).
- In a clean bowl, mix glutinous rice flour (mochiko flour) with tapioca flour and sugar. Set aside.
- Microwave applesauce in a shallow microwave safe bowl, COVERED to avoid splatter - until warm. About 50-60 seconds. (This is an optional step to make the mochi chewier. Read notes***)
- Pour the warm, applesauce into the flour-sugar mixture and use a whisk to mix well, along with the melted coconut oil
- Add diced honeycrisp apples and walnuts to the batter
- Pour batter into the greased cake pan / pyrex containers, and bake in oven 340F for 40 minutes for TWO 5.6 inch round cakes (Pyrex 4 cup round glass container), or about 60 minutes for ONE 7.25 inch round cakes (Pyrex 7 cup round glass container), or until the middle is set and the edges are crispy.
- For softer traditional texture, steam batter on medium heat for 45-60 mins for large cakes, 30-40 minutes for smaller cakes, or until the center of the mochi cake is set.
- Let cool completely before serving, or cool the cakes in the freezer for 2-3 hours which helps to get clean slices of cakes.
- Fry the sliced mochi cakes in oil if desired. Enjoy!
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