Chinese Inspired Petit Fours 1

With predictions of good luck and fortune, the year of the Horse is here. The slow pace of the thoughtful Snake is over and it’s time to saddle up and get going. With galloping speed, it’s time to take action and let creative fires burn freely, spend time in nature and travel the world. It’s time to leap.

In addition to presenting a new lunar year and a second chance for a new beginning, the Chinese New Year festivities always spark new culinary adventures. This year I am especially intrigued by the naturally gluten free sweets made from ingredients commonly found on savory platters.

Inspired by the traditional Chinese New Years cake known as Nian Gao (which is most often steamed, not baked), these delicious little treats are made from baked sticky rice cake and red bean paste. Topped with caramelized tangerine zest for a lovely addition to taste and texture as well as for extra luck for the new year.

Chinese Inspired Petit Fours 2

baked sticky rice cake

4 tablespoons melted butter (½ stick)
1 ½ cup coconut palm sugar
1 ½ cup full fat coconut milk
1 ½ cup full fat regular milk
¼ cup fresh squeezed tangerine juice
3 eggs
2 ½ cup sweet glutenous rice flour


Melt butter in a medium size pot and add palm sugar and coconut milk. Stir over low hear until palm sugar and coconut milk has melted and all lumps and crystals are gone.

Take off the heat and with a manual hand whisk, whisk in regular milk, tangerine juice, eggs and rice flour. Continue whisking until smooth.

Pour batter into a 8-10 inch square cake pan lined with baking paper.

Bake at 350F/175C for 1 ½ hours.

red bean paste filling

Red Ben Paste

red bean paste filling

With a frosting-like consistency, this sweet and smooth bean paste can be enjoyed as is (as it is here) or baked into buns or cookies.


½ cup dried red beans
6 tablespoons coconut palm sugar
pinch of salt
2 tablespoons oil


Rinse beans and soak over night.

Rinse again and simmer until soft, about 1 ½ hours.

While the beans are cooking, remove 1 tablespoon of the boiling bean water and mix with palm sugar in a small bowl. Set aside but stir occasionally to create a smooth syrup.

Drain the beans and transfer to a food processor. Add palm sugar syrup and salt and process for several minutes until very smooth.

Heat the oil and fry the bean mixture while stirring until the paste has dried enough to create a thick paste. It will continue to thicken into a frosting-like consistency when refrigerated.


caramelized tangerine zest

Caramelized Tangerine Peel

caramelized tangerine zest

Caramelized citrus can be used for a variety of desserts, cakes, cookies, scones etc. Try tangerines, oranges, lemons and limes and make as much or little as you want using below palm sugar to water ratio. If you prefer a less caramel color, use honey in place of palm sugar.


zest from about 5 tangerines (or make as much or little as you want)
1 cup coconut palm sugar
½ cup water


Zest the tangerines. The easiest way to get the very light and thin zest used in this recipe is by using a citrus zester like this one. If you don’t have a zester, simply use a vegetable peeler to peel the tangerines, remove the white parts, and thinly cut the orange parts into very thin strips.

Generously cover zest with cold water and bring to a boil, then drain the water and rinse the zest. Repeat twice more. This will remove the bitterness from the zest.

Bring palm sugar and water to a simmer and add the zest. Avoid stirring as this may create crystallization. Let simmer for about an hour. The zest should hold its form but still be soft and chewy.


When I made these petit fours, I choose to remove the top and side crust but keep the bottom crust. However, the crust is very tasty so keeping all the crust would be delicious and work just as well.

Cut the cake into two layers (with or without the top crust).

Spread a thin layer of bean paste on top of the bottom layer and put the top layer back.

With a sharp knife, cut cake into 1 inch squares.

Decorate with caramelized tangerine peel and lightly toasted large coconut flakes.

These were also decorated with edible Sweet William flower petals.

Chinese Inspired Petit Fours 3

Kyoto White Tasting Tray from Fortessa. Vintage Japanese blue sake bowl. Vintage pewter plate.

Photography by Philip Blankenship.