Yes, you read right. This is a gluten-free cake made from glutinous rice flour. It’s a modern spin on the traditional Chinese New Year Cake. This nouveau version is much easier because it’s baked, not steamed. Celebrate the Lunar New Year in style by learning how to make this festive red bean sticky rice cake. (Plus it’s delicious all year round.)
Someone must have thought they were clever naming sticky rice flour glutinous rice flour after the Latin word glūtinōsus, which means stick or glue-like. I grew up calling it glutinous rice flour too.
In the 2010s, we started finding more gluten-free flours and food products on the market. This was a great development for people who are allergic to gluten.
Considering glutinous rice is gluten free, glutinous rice flour needs a new PR agent!
Its terrible branding means this terrific gluten-free flour is largely overlooked.
Maybe if it were called “sticky rice flour” or “mochi rice flour”, it would be featured more prominently in savory and dessert recipes.
This recipe should change your mind on using sticky rice flour. If it’s your first exposure to glutinous rice flour for desserts, then you’re in for a treat. If you’re a fan of mochi desserts, you’ll love this cake.
I make this red bean cake throughout the year—why wait until the New Year to enjoy this moderately sweet, chewy, and satisfying dessert?
Let’s dive in to learn how to make it.
Can you put beans in a cake?
Yes! A lot of desserts from Asia, including Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, and Vietnamese sweets contain beans. Growing up, the most common types of beans I came across in desserts were mung bean and red bean (sometimes called adzuki after its Japanese name).
Even in New Zealand, I once ate a carrot cake that contained kidney beans. The beans added a unique and surprising texture to the cake that I loved (not to mention extra fiber and protein without upping the sugar).
SIDE NOTE: Alex told me that this cake reminded him of a bean burrito. What?! He said the version with the red bean sandwiched in the middle tasted like a sweet breakfast bean burrito. Well, it’s made from rice and beans… 🤣
What kind of beans are in this cake?
For this mochi cake, I prefer using red bean. I buy it already cooked and sweetened in a can. But you can cook your own red bean from scratch if you prefer.
TIP: I like to use a canned Japanese red bean that contains both paste and solid red beans because I enjoy including both textures. However, it’s a bit pricier ($4.99 for the Japanese red bean versus $3.99 for the red bean paste). You can buy red bean paste if you’re looking for a budget option or you can’t find the Japanese red bean.
Where to buy glutinous rice flour
I purchase the harder-to-find ingredients (glutinous rice flour, coconut cream, red bean) for this recipe at the Asian grocery store because my local grocery store (Safeway) typically doesn’t sell glutinous rice flour or canned red beans.
The remaining ingredients like eggs, pecans, and oil I buy from Costco.
If you don’t live near an Asian grocery store, you can purchase the glutinous rice flour, canned sweetened red bean, and coconut milk from e-commerce stores (affiliate links). Although these ingredients aren’t feather light, they have a long shelf life, which makes them ideal for shipping.
TIP: I search for “glutinous rice flour”. But sometimes it goes by other names like “sticky rice flour” or “sweet rice flour” or “mochi flour”. If you’re unsure, check with the store clerk to see if it’s correct. Or buy glutinous rice flour from an eCommerce store if you can’t find it in your local grocery store.
Since I moved to Boulder, I was nervous about high-altitude adjustments.
I’m ecstatic to report that my original recipe works for high altitude without adjustments (whew!).
If you live in a higher altitude, you should be able to follow my original recipe. If you have problems with it rising too much, reduce the baking soda from 1 teaspoon to ½ teaspoon.
The motivation for dusting off this recipe during the 2020 holiday season was to bake this cake for a new friend. Kelli came by to help us remove our popcorn ceilings and did great work with her dad, Al. When I found out she is highly allergic to gluten and corn and avoid dairy, I asked if she can have mochi. Since she responded yes, which got my wheels turning.
The original recipe that my mum gave me uses coconut milk. I prefer to stick to this non-dairy milk because many Chinese people experience some degree of lactose intolerance, so I’m careful not to use cow’s milk in case I unknowingly gift the cake to a friend who can’t eat it.
NOTE: You can use any type of milk, including almond milk or soy milk. If you prefer to use cow’s milk, that works well too. I’ve made this recipe with cow’s milk many times because Alex looooves the flavor of dairy.
This cake recipe is flexible. Much more flexible than most Western baking recipes, which require strict proportions of eggs to flour to liquids.
Similarly, there are many variations on this glutinous rice cake.
For example, you can fold the nuts and red bean paste into the batter instead of dropping big chunks in. Personally, I like adding chunks even though it’s a bit more work because I like the surprise of biting into a treasure trove of red bean. You could sprinkle chopped nuts on top.
Here are common variations I’ve eaten and made for this baked glutinous rice cake:
- Chunky style like I show you in the recipe
- Don’t add any of the red bean or nuts to the batter. Bake half of the batter spread in the cake pan for 15 minutes. Remove the cake from the oven. Spread the red bean and chopped nuts over the first layer of cake. Add the remaining batter over the top of the red bean and nuts. Bake for 30 minutes (or until the tester comes out clean). (See Figure 1 below.)
- Thoroughly mix the red bean and nuts directly into the batter. Yes, the solids tend to sink to the bottom of the cake. But this is the most convenient method.
- Mix the red bean into the batter. Then pour it into the cake pan. Then spread the nuts on the top of the batter and bake. This makes for a pretty presentation. Just be careful the nuts don’t burn.
- Swirl the red bean into the batter after adding the batter into the cake pan. This can make a marbled pattern similar to the chunks but it’s more integrated and mixed in.
The gist is that you can tailor the cake to your energy level and the effort you want to put in. I encourage you to try all kinds of variations. For example, while I haven’t tried it, I bet you could add dried fruits like raisins or chocolate chips to the batter.
- Big mixing bowls: You’ll need plenty of room to mix the wet ingredients, the dry ingredients, and then mix the wet and dry together to form the cake batter. I like these all-purpose glass bowls.
- Whisk: This whisk helps thoroughly mix the rice flour with the wet ingredients
- Or electric hand mixer/stand mixer: If you have an electric mixer, you can use that to mix the wet and dry ingredients.
- Sieve/strainer: If you’re intent on the smoothest batter possible, it can help to strain the batter through a sieve or strainer to remove lumps of flour. Because the batter ends up thin, similar to crepe batter, you can strain it using the same method. I like this set of 3 strainers because it’s a great deal. I use the biggest strainer for cake batter.
- Cake pans: I prefer using a cake pan like a 9 x 13-inch pan because I like making a shallow cake that has a large surface area exposed to turn golden brown. This creates the whole cake that acts like a muffin top, which is my favorite way to eat this cake (rather than having a deep cake with less browned surface on top). I like cake pans with fitted lids to easily store my cake.
Tips for success
- The cake batter is quite thin. Don’t worry, it will set when baking and come out of the oven as a puffy cake.
- Even though the cake rises while baking, it tends to collapse after it comes out of the oven. (I wonder if it’s because there’s no gluten to hold the structure.) Don’t worry if you see it collapse, this is normal. The cake ends up dense like mochi so it’ll taste great even if it shrunk after resting for 10 minutes.
- You know how much I hate overly sweet cakes. So when I make this cake, I don’t add any sugar to the recipe. I rely on the existing sugar in the canned red beans, which I find to be plenty sweet enough. However, if you’ve got a sweet tooth, I added an optional ½ cup of sugar in the ingredients list for you. Of course, you can bump it up to 1 cup of sugar if you insist on a very sweet cake.
- You can scale this recipe by doubling or tripling it to make enough cake for a party. However, I’d urge you to stick to 1 batch following the recipe ingredient quantities because the cake dries quickly so you don’t want a lot of leftovers. It’s best eaten as soon as possible.
Baked red bean glutinous rice flour cake
- cake pan
- parchment paper
- measuring spoons
- Measuring Cups
- Mixing Bowl
- Silicone Spoon
- 3 large eggs
- ½ cup (112 g) Canola oil
- 2½ cups (565 g) coconut milk, or your favorite milk
- 1 lb. (454 g) glutinous rice flour
- 1 teaspoon (5 g) baking soda
- 1 teaspoon (5 g) Salt
- ½ cup (100 g) sugar, optional
- 1 can red bean, sweetened, about 16 oz./430 g
- 1 cup (100 g) pecans, use your favorite nuts
- Gather the ingredients.
- Preheat the oven to 350° F/ 175° C. Line a cake pan with parchment paper.
- Crack the egg whites and yolks into a bowl. Discard the egg shells.
- Beat the eggs until the whites and yolks are combined.
- Mix the wet ingredients together (the eggs, oil, and coconut mik) until combined.
- Mix the dry ingredients together (the glutinous rice flour, baking soda, salt, and sugar if you're using sugar) until fully combined.
- Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Stir until well combined. The batter will be quite thin.
- Add half of the canned red bean to the cake batter.
- Stir until the red bean is spread evenly throughout the batter.
- Pour the cake batter into the prepared cake pan.
- Drop teaspoon-sized pieces of red bean into the batter. Top with nuts, such as pecans, walnuts, or cashews, if desired.
- Bake for 45 minutes in the oven. Check the cake with a cake tester. It is done when the tester comes out clean (with some sticky residue). Allow to cool for 15 minutes before serving.
- Enjoy your red bean sticky rice cake!
How to cut it
Cut the cake with a sharp knife (sharpen your knife first if it’s dull). Because this cake is sticky (remember mochi!), the easiest way to cut it is with a sharp knife and confidence.
Push your knife down to make a clean cut all the way through the cake. Then pull your knife in one movement. This cake doesn’t do well with small back-and-forth cuts because the sticky texture inside clings onto your blade.
Once I cut a strip, I like to cut my cake into bite-sized squares or rhombuses. The rhombus is a pretty shape that makes for a nice presentation.
Can it be made in advance?
This mochi cake tastes best the same day it was baked. That said, we frequently eat it over 3 days. So you can make it in advance and serve it a day or two after it’s out of the oven. But avoid leftovers as much as possible.
How to store it
Wrap the cake well because when it dries out, it hardens. If you’re unable to finish the cake on the same day you baked it, store the leftover cake whole in an airtight resealable plastic bag. I leave it on the counter at room temperature.
TIP: I avoid cutting the cake when I’m storing leftovers. The less exposed surface area, the less likely it will dry out. I use extra large heavy-duty bags from Alex’s McMaster-Carr orders because they’re much bigger than the gallon-sized ziplock bags. I also like Costco’s bags that store frozen foods (they’re huge and heavy duty). If you can’t find big enough resealable plastic bags, you can cut your cake in half and store the halves in different bags.
How to reheat it
I usually eat the cake at room temperature. However, if I want it to be warm and chewier, I will reheat it for 15 seconds on high in the microwave.
Can you freeze it?
Yes! I tested it and confirm you can freeze the cake. The only snag to freezing this cake is that it dries out easily. The edges hardened and weren’t pleasant to eat. So here are my recommendations if you want to freeze the cake:
- Avoid cutting the cake into pieces before freezing: Keep the cake whole to avoid exposed surface area that will dry out.
- Seal the cake well before freezing: I used a heavy-duty resealable plastic bag.
- Cut off the edges before serving: Remove the hardened edges for a better texture before you eat the cake.