Chocolate Chip Nian Gao Cookies (Mochi Cookies)

Chocolate Chip Nian Gao Cookies/Mochi Cookies

To celebrate Lunar New Year, Mama Lin usually steams nian gao (年糕) or “new year cake.” Different regions of China have their own variations of nian gao. My family usually cooks the southern Cantonese-style nian gao (pronounced neen go)–a sweet cake made with glutinous rice flour. In Chinese tradition, nian gao carries an auspicious meaning: eating the cake will lead to a better year than the last. You can read more about the symbolism of nian gao here.

In the past few years, I have been thinking of new ways to interpret this classic Chinese dish. Last year, I baked the nian gao batter in muffin tins to make small cakes that resemble mochi muffins. This year, I experimented with turning nian gao into waffles and baking them inside a chocolate chip cookie!

There are a lot of contrasting textures in the cookies, from the crunchy demerara sugar on the outside, to the soft and chewy centers. If you eat the cookies soon after they’re baked, you’ll get a lovely dose of melted chocolate with each bite. These cookies are quite big, so I usually eat half a cookie at a time. My family and my husband’s co-workers enjoyed these cookies a lot, and I hope you do too!

ARE NIAN GAO COOKIES DIFFERENT FROM MOCHI COOKIES?

Conceptually, these nian gao cookies are basically the same as some of the mochi cookie recipes I’ve seen. Essentially, you’re wrapping a soft chewy “cake” inside cookie dough before baking the cookies. As a matter of fact, I have been describing these cookies as mochi cookies to people who aren’t as familiar with nian gao. 

The slight difference between nian gao and mochi is the type of flour that’s used to make each style of cake. Nian gao tends to be made from glutinous rice flour (typically from Thailand) that comes from long-grain glutinous rice. Mochi is usually made from sweet rice flour (mochiko) that comes from short-grain sweet rice.

Chocolate Chip Nian Gao Cookies

COOKING NOTES FOR CHOCOLATE CHIP NIAN GAO COOKIES

NIAN GAO FILLING INGREDIENTS

To make the nian gao filling, I adapted my mom’s steamed nian gao recipe. The chewy texture of nian gao comes from glutinous rice flour. I generally use Erawan brand’s glutinous rice flour (affiliate link), which comes in plastic bags with a green label. I have not tested this recipe with Mochiko or Bob’s Red Mill’s sweet rice flour, but they will probably work too.

I wanted the nian gao filling in these cookies to have a distinct flavor that would complement the chocolate chip cookie exterior. So I added ground ginger and a bit of molasses to the filling. The molasses helps to highlight the gingery flavor of the nian gao. If you don’t have molasses at home, feel free to leave it out.

PAR-COOKING NIAN GAO

Before wrapping the nian gao inside the chocolate chip cookie dough, you need to par-cook the nian gao batter.The most convenient way to do this is to microwave the batter until you get a mochi-like dough. You can also steam the batter inside a wok for about 7 to 8 minutes, until the batter turns solid.

CHOCOLATE CHIP DOUGH

To give these cookies some extra flavor, I added orange zest to the chocolate chip cookie dough. I generally incorporate orange zest by rubbing it into the granulated sugar, until the sugar turns orange.

Guittard Chocolate Chips

In terms of the chocolate, I used Guittard’s bittersweet chocolate bars, which I chopped into small chunks. The chunks of chocolate should be about the size of chocolate chips (see photo above). If they are too big, the chocolate chip dough will be more difficult to wrap around the nian gao. 

Guittard’s bittersweet chocolate contains 70% cacao, and they come in 6-ounce packages. However, this recipe only uses 5 ounces of bittersweet chocolate (2.5 chocolate bars). I tried a batch with 6 ounces of chocolate and thought it was too much for the cookies. If you’d rather not have any chocolate leftover, you can use all 6 ounces here. 

You’ll want the dough to be at room temperature when you shape the cookies. That way, the dough will be soft enough to wrap around the nian gao filling.

ROLLING COOKIES IN DEMERARA SUGAR

To give these chocolate chip nian gao cookies a light crunch, I roll the cookie dough in a bowl of demerara sugar. The crunchiness of the sugar contrasts very nicely with the chewy texture of the nian gao filling. Turbinado sugar or other types of coarse sugar will also work. You can also leave out the demerara sugar if you like.

CAN I PREPARE THE DOUGH AHEAD?

You can make both types of dough a day ahead and refrigerate overnight. Before shaping the cookies, let the chocolate chip cookie dough and nian gao reach room temperature so the cookies are easier to shape.

Chocolate Chip Nian Gao Cookies

REHEATING THE NIAN GAO

When the cookies are still warm, the nian gao filling is incredibly soft, reminiscent of a warm marshmallow. As the cookies cool, the filling stiffens into a more mochi-like texture. If you want to soften the center of the cookies a day or two after they’re baked, reheat the cookies in the oven at 350ºF (175ºC) for about 4 to 5 minutes.

Chocolate Chip Nian Gao Cookies


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Servings: 8 large cookies

Author: Lisa Lin

Chocolate Chip Nian Gao Cookies (Mochi Cookies)

They may look like chocolate chip cookies on the outside, but nestled in each cookie is a chewy piece of nian gao that has a mochi-like texture. The cookies are covered in demerara sugar, which provides a light crunch that contrasts with the soft nian gao center.I typically weigh my flours and sugars, and I recommend that you do the same here. If you don’t have a scale, measure the flour using the spoon-and sweep method.This recipe yields 8 large cookies, and I usually just eat half a cookie at a time. You can make them into 10 smaller cookies. See notes for directions on making smaller cookies.

Prep Time45 minutes

Cook Time15 minutes

Ingredients

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough

  • 1 3/4 cups (210g) all-purpose flour, measured with spoon-and-sweep method
  • 2 teaspoons (4g) ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon (1g) ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon (3g) baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt, or 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 cup 100g granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon (6g to 7g) orange zest (from 1 medium-large orange)
  • 1/2 cup (112g) unsalted butter, at room temperature and sliced
  • 1/2 cup (100g) packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 5 ounces bittersweet chocolate (70%), chopped into chocolate chip-sized chunks (see note 1)

Topping

  • 4 tablespoons demerara sugar, (see note 2)
  • flaked sea salt, optional

Instructions

Make Nian Gao Filling

  • In a microwave-safe bowl, whisk together the glutinous rice flour, ginger, and brown sugar. Add the molasses and coconut milk and mix until you get a smooth batter. It’s okay if you see very tiny lumps of flour in the batter.

  • The cooking times may vary depending on the wattage of your microwave and the type of vessel/bowl you use to microwave the batter. Therefore, use the cooking times I provide here as guidelines, and pay attention to the visual cues. Microwave the nian gao batter on high for 1 minute.

  • Take the bowl out of the microwave. The batter should start solidifying around the edges, but should still be quite runny. Use a silicone spatula to loosen the cake around the edges and give everything a quick stir. It’s okay if you have a lumpy batter here.

  • Microwave the batter for 30 seconds. The batter should have solidified further. When testing the recipe in my microwave, 50% of the batter was still runny at this stage. Use the spatula to loosen the cake around the edges and give everything a quick stir.

  • Microwave the batter for another 30 seconds. When testing the recipe in my microwave, there was barely any runny batter left in my bowl. Use the spatula to work any residual runny batter into the dough and keep mixing for about 45 seconds to 1 minute, until you get a cohesive dough that has a rich brown color. If there’s still a lot of runny batter after 1 minute of mixing, microwave the dough for another 30 seconds and mix again. (See note 3 for steaming directions)

  • Let the nian gao cool for 15 to 20 minutes while you prepare the chocolate chip cookie dough. It is very important to let the nian gao cool so that it’s less sticky when you handle it later.

Make Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough

  • In a bowl, whisk together the all-purpose flour, ginger, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt. Set it aside.

  • Add the granulated sugar and orange zest into a bowl and use your fingers to work the zest into the sugar. The sugar should look orange by the end of this process.

  • Add the sugar and orange zest mixture, butter, and brown sugar to the bowl of a stand mixer. Fit the mixer with a paddle attachment. Mix on medium-low speed until the butter is light and airy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

  • Add the egg and vanilla and mix again until just combined. Carefully add the flour at once, and mix on medium-low until the flour is just combined.

  • If you want some of the chocolate pieces to look prominent once the cookies are baked, set aside 8 to 16 larger chocolate pieces aside. Pour in the remaining (or all) chocolate chunks and mix on low for about 20 to 30 seconds. Use a spatula to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl to ensure the chocolate chunks are evenly distributed.

Notes

  1. Chocolate Bar or Chips: I like using Guittard’s bittersweet chocolate bars, which come in 6-ounce packages. This recipe only uses 5 ounces of bittersweet chocolate (2.5 chocolate bars). I tried a batch with 6 ounces of chocolate and thought it was too much for the cookies. If you’d rather not have any chocolate leftover, you can use all 6 ounces here. You can use semi-sweet chocolate, but note that your cookies will taste sweeter. Also, if you are pressed for time, feel free to use 1 cup of chocolate chips.
  2. Demerara Sugar: The demerara sugar gives the cookies a light crunch, which contrasts nicely with the chewy nian gao/mochi center. You can also use turbinado sugar. If you’d rather not buy a bag of demerara sugar for this recipe, simply leave it out. The cookies will still taste good.
  3. Steaming Directions: Place a steaming rack inside a wok and fill it with water, until there’s about a 1/2-inch gap between the water line and the top of the steaming rack. Cover the wok with a lid and bring the water to boil. Pour the batter into a bowl and steam the nian gao on medium-high heat for 7 to 8 minutes. Check the nian gao. If you no longer see any runny batter, it is ready. If there’s still runny batter, steam it for a few more minutes. Let the dough cool for 15 to 20 minutes. It is very sticky when the dough is still very warm.
  4. Making Smaller Cookies: You can make 10 smaller cookies. Each portion of cookie dough should be about 70 to 72 grams each (1/4 cup); each portion of nian gao should be about 23 to 25 grams each (about 1 1/2 tablespoons). You likely will have some nian gao left over. The baking time will be the same.
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