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5 from 1 vote
Servings: 8
Author: Lisa Lin

Toisan New Year Rice Cakes

Every Lunar New Year, Mama Lin makes a batch of 迎年圓, literally “rice cakes to welcome the new year.” This recipe yields about 4.5 to 5 pounds or cooked rice cakes, which is a lot! You can freeze any rice cakes you don’t plan to eat within 5 days, or halve the recipe for a smaller batch (see note 1).
When sharing my mom’s recipes, I try to streamline them and make them as precise as possible. Unfortunately, I found that difficult to do for this recipe because different kitchen environments can affect the amount of hot water you’ll need to make the dough. In the recipe below, I provide rough guidelines and a video to illustrate how I gauge the right amount of water to add to the flours. Having said that, this rice cake recipe is very forgiving. If you think you’ve added too much water and the dough is incredibly sticky, just add more rice flour. If the dough is feeling very dry, add more water. Watch my video below for more guidance on making the rice cakes.
You can form the rice cakes into any shape you like, but I’m going to describe how my mom usually shapes her 迎年圓. She loves to go the extra mile and create a tableau that’s a reminder of my family’s rural roots in China.
Prep Time1 hour 30 minutes
Cook Time1 hour 10 minutes


  • 26 ounces (737g) rice flour, (not sweet rice or glutinous rice flour, see note 2)
  • 6 ounces (170g) tapioca starch
  • 6 cups (1.1L to 1.4L) water


  • large 11 to 12-inch mixing bowl, (see note 3)
  • 9-inch bamboo basket or bamboo steamer, (see note 4 about using other pans)
  • muslin, cheesecloth, or parchment paper
  • large steaming rack
  • large wok


Make Dough (See video below for a detailed demo)

  • Add the rice flour and tapioca starch to a bowl and whisk together.
  • Boil 6 cups of water, but know that you might not need all of it. For reference, I used about 4 3/4 cups of hot water to make the dough, but my mom uses about 5 1/2 to 6 cups. The amount of water you need may vary. Make sure to boil the water over the stove instead of using an electric kettle. This ensures that the water heats thoroughly. (See note 5)
  • Once boiled, pour about 1/2 to 2/3 of the boiling water into the bowl with the flours. (See note 6) Do not pour the water all at once. Stir the flour and water together, so that clumps of dough start to form. There’s likely a lot of dry flour around the edges of the bowl, so add a good splash of water (not all of it) over the dry flour and mix again. If you see more loose flour, drizzle some water and mix.
    Making Rice Cake Dough
  • Use a wok spatula or a wide silicone spatula to start working the dough together. The dough is still very hot at this stage, so using a spatula allows you to work the dough without touching it with your hands.
  • Continue mixing and working the dough and checking to see if there are any pockets of dry loose flour, adding more water if necessary. You can stop adding water when your dough looks like the dough in the photo below. There’s a lot of small clumps of dough and not much dry loose flour.
    Making Dough
  • Cover the bowl with a silicone lid or damp towel and let the dough sit for 3 to 5 minutes to cool.
  • Squeeze a bit of dough to see if you can handle the warmth of the dough. If it still feels very hot, you can cover the bowl and let it rest for another 2 minutes or wear gloves to start kneading the dough.
  • Gather and knead the dough together until you get one large mass of dough. It took me about 4 minutes to work everything together (about 2 minutes for a half batch). If after several minutes of kneading, there’s still a lot of dry crumbly dough, drizzle a bit of reserved hot water and continue kneading.
  • Wash your hands to get rid of some of the dough that’s stuck to your hands. Dust your hands with rice flour, turn the dough over a work surface, and knead until smooth. This should take another 2 minutes. The dough will be smooth and feel damp but not overly sticky. If the dough feels very sticky after all this kneading, work in some rice flour.

Prepare Steaming Basket

  • Dampen the muslin or cheesecloth with water and line the bottom of your bamboo basket with the damp cloth. If you are using a fairly large cloth, tuck in the cloth under itself so that you have no more than 1 to 2-inches of overhang. Alternatively, use parchment paper to line the bottom and sides of the basket.
    Lined Basket

Shaping the Dough

  • Dust your work surface and your hands with rice flour. You can shape the rice cakes a number of ways, but the most important shape is the large rice cake balls. Their circular shape symbolizes togetherness.
  • Divide the dough in half. Place one half back into the bowl and cover it with a lid or damp cloth. Take the other half and roll it out into a log about 2 inches in diameter. Divide the dough log into 2-inch wide pieces, so that each piece is about 3 to 3.5 ounces (85 to 99 grams) each. Roll each piece into round balls. Starting from the center, arrange the rice cake balls on the bamboo basket/steamer until the bottom layer is completely packed. Make sure there are no gaps between the rice cake balls. They need to touch each other to symbolize fullness and abundance.
  • Once you reach the edge of the basket/steamer, there will be a few smaller gaps that won’t fit a large rice cake ball. You can fill those gaps with smaller balls. Alternatively, you can fill those gaps with some dough shaped as pig troughs or arrowhead root. To make a pig trough, roll out a piece of dough (about 2 ounces/56 grams) into a log shape. Then, press into the dough on both ends with your thumbs, leaving 2 imprints.
  • To make the arrowhead root, roll out a small piece of dough (about 1 to 1.5 ounces/28 to 42 grams) into a circular shape. Then, use the palms of your hands to roll out one side so that it looks like a thin shoot is growing out of the ball. Use the pig trough and/or arrowhead root to fill in the small gaps.
    Arrowhead Root
  • After packing the bottom layer with rice cakes, you’re ready to move on to the next layer. Bowl & bird feed: At the center of the top layer, my mom usually makes a bowl with bird feed. Rip out 1.5 to 2 ounces (43 to 56 grams) of dough and shape it into a bowl. Place it at the center. Then, roll out tiny pieces of dough into balls and place it inside the bowl. These tiny balls of dough represent the bird feed.
  • Surround the bowl of bird feed with large “coins.” Take 2 to 2.5 ounces (56 to 70 grams) of dough and roll it into a ball. Flatten the ball with the palms of your hands to make a coin about 2 inches in diameter. Arrange the coins around the bowl with bird feed.
  • Finally, my mom usually surrounds the bird feed with geese. Take 1 to 1.5 ounces (28 to 43 grams) of dough and shape it into a log that’s about 1 inch thick. Then roll out one end so that it’s a little thinner. This thinner end will be the head.
  • Bend the neck up 90 degrees to shape the neck. Bend the tip of the neck down 90 degrees to create a face and beak for the geese. My mom usually makes at least 6 geese and arranges them around the bowl with bird feed, so it looks like the geese are eating from the bowl. If you have more dough, feel free to make more geese and line them around the edges.

Steam the Rice Cakes

  • Place a tall steaming rack inside a large wok and fill the wok with water, until there’s about 1/2-inch gap between the water line and the top of the rack. Bring the water to boil. Carefully place the basket of rice cakes over the rack, cover the wok, and steam on medium-high for 45 to 50 minutes. Make sure to replenish the water inside the wok every 20 to 25 minutes, as the water inside the wok will evaporate.
  • If you are using a bamboo steaming basket, you can place the basket directly inside the wok, without a steaming rack. Fill the wok with water until the bottom 1/2 inch of the bamboo basket is submerged in water. With this steaming method, you must be more diligent about replenishing water during the steaming process. The bottom of the bamboo steamer can burn easily if there’s not enough water. Check the wok every 15 to 20 minutes to make sure there’s plenty of water around the bottom of the basket.
    Steamed Rice Cakes
  • Once the rice cakes are fully cooked, turn off the heat and let the cakes cool in the wok for 10 minutes. Then, use oven mitts or towels to carefully remove the rice cakes from the wok. Let the rice cakes cool for another 5 to 10 minutes. Place a large plate or cooling rack over the rice cakes and flip everything over. Peel off the cloth or parchment paper. Then, place another plate or cooling rack over the rice cakes again and flip everything over so the rice cakes are the right side up. If you use a cloth, make sure to remove it while the cakes are still hot so that the cloth comes off easily.
  • My mom likes to decorate her rice cakes with a bit of diluted red food coloring, but that’s optional.
    New Year Rice Cake

Serving Rice Cakes

  • You can dip warm rice cakes in soy sauce mixed with a little sugar. You can also slice the rice cakes and stir fry them with vegetables and your favorite protein. Season everything with soy sauce and oyster sauce. I usually eyeball the sauces and use enough so that the rice cakes turn brown after I toss everything together. If you plan to stir fry the rice cakes, it’s best to slice the cakes after they have chilled in the fridge overnight.

Storing Rice Cakes

  • Once the cakes have cooled completely, you can leave them out at room temperature for a day (covered with a domed lid, plastic wrap or beeswax). The next day, refrigerate them. They will keep in the fridge for 4 to 5 days. Because of its high water content, the cakes can start molding in the fridge, so freeze any that you don’t plan on eating within 5 days. When you’re ready to eat the frozen rice cakes, simply defrost and warm up the cakes or slice them up for stir fries.
    Ways to Serve Rice Cake



  1. Halving the Recipe: For reference, I used about 2 1/3 cups of water for a half batch, but note that you may use slightly more or less water.
  2. Volume Measurements for Flours (measured with spoon-and-sweep method): rice flour: 6 cups + 2 tablespoons; tapioca starch: 1 1/4 cups + 3 tablespoons.
  3. Mixing Bowls: I recommend using a 11 to 12-inch bowl if you are making a full batch. That way, you can easily see where there are dry pockets of flour that need hydration. You can split everything into 2 bowls if you don’t own a large bowl. If you are making a half batch, I’d still recommend using a large bowl, about 10 inches wide.
  4. Using Other Pans: You can also use a 9-inch springform pan. Line the bottom and sides of the pan with a damp cloth or parchment paper. Unlike bamboo baskets or steamers, springform pans are not ventilated at the bottom. As a result, a lot of water will collect at the bottom of the pan during the steaming process. Once the rice cakes are fully cooked, let the rice cakes cool for about 15 to 20 minutes. Then, carefully drain the water out of the pans. The cakes will still be very hot, so use oven mitts while doing this.
  5. Boiling Water on Stovetop vs Electric Kettle: In this recipe, hot water is key to forming the dough. As my mom explains it, you need boiling hot water to “cook” the flour and turn it into a solid mass. Because electric kettles turn off right when the temperature gauge detects that the water has reached boiling point, I often find that the water hasn’t been heated thoroughly enough before the kettle shuts down. However, boiling water over the stove is a more surefire way to heat the water thoroughly.
  6. Add water directly from saucepan or kettle to flours. Don't bother measuring the water before pouring over the flours. When you transfer the hot water into a measuring cup, the water will cool and it might not be hot enough for the dough to form properly. 


Serving: 1serving | Calories: 361kcal | Carbohydrates: 79.6g | Protein: 5.5g | Fat: 1.3g | Saturated Fat: 0.4g | Fiber: 2.2g | Sugar: 0.1g
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