How to Make Chinese Steamed Sweet Rice Cakes

A springy sweet rice cake that is reminiscent of childhood.

grabbing rice cake

Can you recall any memories when you eat a rice cake? I sure do! I remember going to the small mom and pop shop and buying a bunch of goodies such as manapua, pork hash, and rice cake. That sweet, sweet rice cake! Well, to be honest it’s not so sweet that it gives you a cavity, but it is sweet enough to be what any kid would love to eat.

Yeast and Activating It

Making rice cake is pretty simple once you understand the different components that go into it. The ingredients are minimal but the steps to make it are important. First is to make sure you are not killing the yeast. The yeast is essential in giving the rice cake that “honeycomb” texture and making the cake rise.

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Yeast is a living organism and is dormant when bought. So, how do you kill yeast? Yeast can be killed if you activate it in hot water. Generally  you want to use warm water (110°F) to activate the yeast. So please, please don’t kill the yeast! If your rice cake turned into a block of solid mochi, it is likely that the yeast died during the activation. Another indicator is if the bubbles didn’t appear when you proof the batter.

yeast activating

Rice flour

For this recipe, rice flour should be used. It can not be interchanged with sweet rice flour. Sweet rice flour is for more of the sticky and chewy recipes like chi chi dango and butter mochi. Rice flour is perfect for rice cake because it keeps the texture of a cake. Here are links to buy the correct type of rice flour.

rice flour vs sweet rice flour

Size of pan

The size of the pan will matter when steaming the rice cake. If your pan is shallower and smaller than a 9 inch pan, you will most likely need to adjust the time of steaming by decreasing it. If the pan is bigger than it is the opposite. Experiment and adjust the timing to how the rice cake is steamed for the pan you will use. For this recipe it is written for a 9 inch pan.

How will you know if the rice cake is cooked? It’s similar to checking if a baked cake is cooked. Use a toothpick and pierce the middle of the cake. If it comes out clean, boom kanani, it is cooked!

Pan Size for rice cake

The Cover Lid

It may seem like a menial tip, but the cover lid is also something to be wary of when steaming the rice cake. Have you seen some kitchen places wrapping the cover lid with a towel? There’s a perfectly good reason why the chef has done that. When steaming or boiling anything in a pot, evaporation occurs. The process of liquid turning into vaporized steam. When a lid is covered over the pot, that steam is then trapped under the lid which then builds up condensation.

When taking the lid off of the pot, sometimes that condensation falls back into the pot. What you don’t want is for that water to drop onto the rice cake. When that moisture touches the cake, it makes the top of the cake goopy. So, to prevent that from happening, Cover the lid in a towel. The towel will then absorb the condensation. Just be sure that the towel doesn’t fall on the burner or fire. Also, if you have a bamboo lid/steamer, you don’t need to use a towel. The bamboo itself will absorb the condensation.

Lid and towel

Video Tutorial

Check out this video to help you gain more insight on how to make Chinese Sweet Rice Cake and how to clean the squid. Also, subscribe to my YouTube to help support me so I can continue making more of these contents. Mahalo!

Chinese Steamed Sweet Rice Cakes

Fluffy sweet steamed rice cake. Usually sold by the manapua man and seen in Chinatown.
Print Recipe
rice cake thumbnail
Prep Time:3 hours 30 minutes
Cook Time:20 minutes


  • Steamer


  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups rice flour
  • 1 tsp yeast
  • 1 tbsp warm water
  • 1/8 tsp oil
  • oil to grease pan
  • water for steamer


  • Dissolve the sugar in the water by heating it in a small pot. Set aside to cool down to room temperature.
  • Mix the yeast with warm water. Set it aside to bloom (usually in a few minutes).
  • Add the rice flour and sugar water to a large bowl. Mix until well combined. Add in the yeast mixture and lightly stir to combine. Cover and let it proof for 2-3 hours in a warm environment. *Add a few drops of oil 30 minutes into the proofing step.
  • Once a thick layer of small bubbles are on the surface of the rice mixture, lightly grease a 9 inch pie pan. Then add the rice mixture to the pan.
  • Boil the water for the steamer first. Add the pan to the steamer. *Cover with the lid and let it steam for 10-15 minutes.
  • Remove the pan from the steamer and let it completely cool down. Remove the cake from the pan and slice into diamonds, wedges, or cubes. Serve and enjoy!


*I added the 1/8 tsp oil to the recipe to give the rice cake more moisture.
*When covering the lid, be careful to not let the condensation from the lid drop onto the cake. You can prevent this by wrapping the lid with a towel. Using the towel will naturally absorb the water. If you are using a bamboo lid, you can skip this tip.
Servings: 8 large pieces


  1. 4 stars
    I was confused with the instructions when it said that if you had a bigger and deeper pan that you needed to decrease the time.
    also what happens if you over cook it. I had a deeper pan and i think i overcooked it and it didnt turn out how I thought.

    1. Ah sorry that was a mistake on my end. It should’ve been the opposite. If it was overcooked, decrease the amount of time to steam it. You’ll need to keep an eye on it by poking it with a toothpick every 2 minutes until the toothpick comes out clean.

  2. 3 stars
    Hi. Maybe you can explain what went wrong. I steamed it for 20 minutes, and the toothpick came out clean, but the outside of it was gooey and the inside was completely dry and crumbly. Very disappointing because I followed your instructions, and I watched the video.

    1. Hi Diane! Sorry to hear about that! It is possible that the condensation from the steam will drip onto the top of the cake, making it gooey. I’ve also heard that a few Chinese cooks that make rice cake actually put on some oil after the rice cake finishes to make it more “moist.” This recipe is a hard one. It takes a lot of experimentation to nail it. I’ve had to try this out at least 5x for it to finally work for me.

  3. The recipe says 1 teaspoon yeast for 1 tablespoon water, but the video says 1 teaspoon yeast for 2 tablespoon water. Can you confirm what is correct?

  4. I love rice cake! I haven’t made your recipe yet, but for those that don’t know a 9″ pie pan from a 9″ round cake your video calls a cake pan a pie pan. Thought you might like to correct that.

  5. Hi. I followed this recipe successfully. I used gluten free flour instead pure rice flour. I wouldn’t recommend the gluten free flower. It came out fluffy but not as glutinous and satisfying as a pure rice flour would have.

  6. 5 stars

    mahalo for this recipe! do you have any tips on best way to store rice cake and how long it can last out of fridge or in fridge?

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