Eight Treasures Sticky Rice Bundt Cake: Ringing in the Lunar New Year with Ba Bao Fan 八寶飯

By Charleen - February 10, 2022

We celebrated the first weekend in the Year of the Tiger with a dumpling wrapping party -- the first since the pandemic. It was great fun to get together with friends and family again. After enjoying all-you-can-eat pork-cabbage dumplings, gluten-free crystal dumplings, and various potluck sides, the evening was capped with this spectacular (and surprisingly easy) Instant Pot riff on a festive Chinese treat. Ba Bao Fan 八寶飯 literally translates to Eight Treasures Rice.

Instant Pot Bundt Pan Ba Bao Fan - a traditionally flavored, sweet sticky rice cake

Thanks to the pandemic, I had plenty of time for online cooking courses in the MasterClass series.  These in turn gave me the confidence to try making a recipe for spring rolls that I had clipped and carried around with me for over 4 decades. Although I did not much care for the shrimp-snow pea filling because the soy sauce masked the delicate flavors of the main ingredients, I found myself making spring rolls over and over again, basing my seasonings on Grace Young's vegetable spring roll recipe in The Breath of a Wok. What I did learn from that old recipe was how simple it was to make spring roll wrappers. Can't get to the Asian Market for wrappers?  No problem if you have flour, water and a pastry brush!  

Among my more ambitious cooking endeavors was this beautiful, rich mushroom-topped celebration rice cake, based on a vegan recipe I found online by Yotam Ottolenghi. I had trouble finding some of the ingredients, so I adapted the recipe inspired by childhood memories of Ba Bao Fan 八寶飯. I also wanted to save time by figuring out how to make it using a Bundt pan that fit perfectly in my 6 quart Instant Pot. It was stunning to both eye and tongue!

A riff on Ba Bao Fan with 8 savory treasures, modified from Ottolenghi's Celebration Sticky Rice Cake

Interestingly, I learned that "Bundt" itself was a word invented by Dave Dalquist by adding a "t" to part of the German word bundkuchen.  Although Google translate suggests it might mean anything from a Federation of Cakes to just a bunch of cakes, the Norway House website states that bundkuchen means "a cake for a gathering." So perfect for a lunar New Year celebration... albeit by Zoom for 2021

Pork-cabbage and red cabbage-carrot filled dumplings waiting to be cooked

So when it came time to plan the finale for our 2022 Dumpling Club party to ring in the Year of the Tiger (now that everyone is vaccinated and boosted), I decided to try making a more traditional, sweet Ba Bao Fan 八寶飯 in a Bundt pan for extra pizzazz. 

Recipe Hunt

The first step was to read through several recipes -- and ideally find one that used the same amount of sticky rice as the savory celebration rice cake. While most recipes I found in both cookbooks and online used a bowl to create a dome-shaped treat, I already knew the Bundt pan worked well for cooking 350-400 g portions of rice in the Instant Pot, with attractive results. 

Sticky rice 糯米飯 (nuò mǐ fàn) is also called glutinous rice or sweet rice (although both are misnomers as it is gluten-free and sweet only in the sense that it is used in desserts with added sugars). I have actually enjoyed a greater variety of savory sticky rice dishes than sweet. Sticky rice is short-grained with more amylopectin than than amylose, so the cooked grains end up soft and sticky, the opposite of the separate, fluffy texture of amylose-rich rices like basmati.

I found a recipe at the Red House Spice blog, which gave some nice suggestions for fruits and nuts such as pumpkin seeds for the green color, red jujubes, and a drizzle of honey to serve. But the recipe called for only 200 g of rice steamed for 50 minutes in a traditional wok set-up.

In contrast to most recipes, which involve layering soaked but raw glutinous rice, the What to Cook Today recipe layers precooked rice with the toppings and the red bean paste 紅豆沙 (Hóng dòu shā).  Even better, it gave directions for using the Instant Pot to cook the rice, and called for 2 cups. A quick weighing with a balance confirmed that each cup of sticky rice weighs 200 g.

I liked the idea of pre-cooking the rice for two reasons.  I would not have to worry about serving rice that might be undercooked as some brands of sticky rice require longer soaking times. More importantly, looking at the shape of the Bundt pan with its high steep sides, I felt that any topping patterns I tried to make would just slide to the bottom (top of the finished dessert), leaving the sides bare if I tried to add raw rice and water to the arrangement.  

Advance Prep

I was able to easily find sticky rice 糯米 (Nuò mǐ), golden raisins and jujubes (Chinese red dates, 棗 Zǎo) at my neighborhood Chinese market. At the supermarket, I picked up dried mango slices and a container with mixed nuts, cranberries and pumpkin seeds. However, I could not find canned red beans or red bean paste 紅豆沙 (Hóng dòu shā) anywhere. So I bought a bag of adzuki beans (紅豆 Hóng dòu) and returned to the Red House Spice page as I recalled seeing a link for homemade red bean paste.

Two types of jujube (red dates), dried and sweetened in syrup, golden raisins, dried mango slices, a mixture of cranberries, pumpkin seeds and various nuts, and red (adzuki) beans

My plan for the Eight Treasures was as follows:
1. red bean paste
2. mango
3. jujubes
4. golden raisins
5. cranberries
6. pumpkin seeds
7. pecans
8. local honey from bees raised by friends, cooked into a floral syrup

Making red bean paste

After determining that 200 g of adzuki beans was slightly less than 1 cup, I skipped the overnight soaking step and cooked them in 2.5 cups of water in the Instant Pot at high pressure for 25 min, followed by a natural release. They looked and smelled quite good even without seasonings.

Cooked red beans, drained as per the recipe, with butter and sugars.

The recipe said to drain the cooked beans and then place them in a blender along with 2 Tbs each of dark brown and white sugar and 80 g of melted butter. This is where my troubles started. The mixture was so dry that even after adding multiple rounds of water, several tablespoons at a time, it was too stiff even for my Wolf blender.  I had to repeatedly use the opening pulsing action of the smoothie setting, and then turn it off as the blades just cut through the thick mass in one plane at high speed, unable to elicit any movement. 

The mixture was way too dry, even after several additions of water

There seemed no point in cooking the puree in order to thicken it until it held its shape, as it was already there. So I crammed it into a 2 cup container (eating the part that did not fit), and refrigerated it to try fixing later. I really wish I had retained the hot cooking water instead of pouring it down the sink. 

After our overnight ski excursion, I sought out more online resources, and discovered that other bloggers such as Maggie Zhu recommend blending the cooked red beans with their cooking water, and then adding the oil and sugar in the pot while cooking it down. 

While my blob of beans was pretty tasty on its own despite being dry, I felt that it needed additional oil and sugar for optimal flavor considering it was going to add a mildly sweet punch to the minimally sweet, fragrant rice.  So I placed it in a pan, added a few more tablespoons of water so it would not burn, and stirred in 1.5 Tbs of canola oil, and 4 Tbs of sugar.  The paste turned into a more pleasing, darker red color -- ready to layer into the rice cake.

Cooking the sticky rice

After soaking the glutinous rice for several hours, I drained the soaking water and added the rice to a small bowl that would fit inside my Instant Pot. I put 2 cups of water into the Instant Pot liner and placed a trivet inside.  I also added 2 cups of water inside the bowl to cover the rice and placed the bowl on top of the trivet. After sealing the Instant Pot, I cooked it at high pressure for 15 min, followed by a 10-15 minute rest. 

Sticky rice before and after cooking in the Instant Pot.  I forgot to place the foil sling for getting the bowl out easily.

In the meantime, I soaked the mango, dried jujubes, cranberries and raisins in a bowl of water.

Mango slices, red dates (jujubes) and golden raisins soaking, while picking out the cranberries to soak.

After opening the lid, I realized I forgot to place the foil sling beneath the bowl, but was able to get it out using hot mitts. I stirred in butter and light brown sugar, as I did not want to change the color of the rice too much, and set it aside. 

The base of the Ba Bao Fan is delicious on its own, even before adding the treasures and syrup!

Layering the Bundt cake

Soaked and sliced fruit, pecans and red bean paste ready to layer. Fruit soaking water in background.

After slicing the dried mango into thin strips, I tried cutting the jujube, and discovered a spindle shaped pit inside. I cut half of them around the middle, pulled them apart, and removed the pit, slicing them into attractive scalloped discs. The other half, I cut away from the pit longitudinally into wide strips. 

Be careful to remove the pit in the center of the dates

After buttering the Bundt pan, I arranged the mango slivers within 8 of the larger grooves, placing the strips of jujubes towards the middle, and the discs of jujubes a bit further out. I scattered the pumpkin seeds in between everything and broke bits of pecan in a ring round the base of the cone. 

While I was able to get the mango to stand up along the sides of the pan, the smaller items could only be arranged along the bottom of the pan

Due to gravity and the steep sides of the Bundt pan, I had to improvise on how to hold the other treasures in place. So I pressed about 1/3 of the rice into the bottom of the pan, pressing gently over the design I had made to hold it in place.

Next, I flattened patches of rice and embedded either pecan halves or a mixture of cranberries and golden raisins on one side of each patch. I pressed these against the side of the Bundt pan in an alternating patter with the fruit or nuts facing outwards. This served to hold the pattern in place along the sides, as well as ensuring that the red bean paste layer would be concealed from the outside.

After the bottom pattern was held in pace with a layer of rice, I embedded nuts, golden raisins and cranberries on flattened portions of rice, and then pressed this against the sides of the pan in an alternating pattern (left). After adding red bean paste, I covered it with the remaining rice (right)

I layered about 1/4-1/3 of the red bean paste into the pan, and then covered it up with the remaining rice. The whole pan was covered with a reusable lily pad silicon sealing "lid" and popped into the refrigerator to be steamed in the Instant Pot while guests were enjoying the dumplings.

All layered and ready to be steamed just before serving the next day.

While I was doing this, my husband made a batch of Joanne Chang's Intense Chocolate Brownies from her Flour cookbook, adding 1/4 cup of Kahlúa. It was very tasty if subtle. Next time he plans to try adding 1/3 cup. Of course, we had to sample a small piece for quality control!

Kahlúa brownie with Trader Joe's French Vanilla Ice Cream

Party Day

Menu: Celebrating the Year of the Tiger

Potato samosas and vegetable pakora with tamarind and cilantro sauces

Vegetable maki sushi rolls

Pork-cabbage or red cabbage vegetarian dumplings 餃子 (jiǎo zi)

Pork-Chinese chive or red cabbage vegetarian crystal dumplings (gluten-free) 水晶饺 (shu ǐjīng jiǎo)

Sichuan green beans 干煸四季豆 (gān biān sì jì dòu)

Hot & Sour Dumpling Soup

Chocolate Kahlúa Brownies

Eight Treasure Rice Pudding 八寶飯 (Bā bǎo fàn)  

Topo Chico water

San Pellegrino citrus beverages

La Croix Grapefruit-tinged water

Misc. wines

Maggie's Farm Falernum

Bai jiu 白酒

Cooking the syrup for Ba Bao Fan

Upon consulting the Time Life book on The Cooking of China, which I got from my parents years ago, I decided that the plain sugar + water syrup in the online recipe I was following seemed rather unappealing. The Ba Bao Fan recipe in the Time Life book was superfussy, but the syrup consisting of sugar, water, almond extract and a bit of cornstarch for texture got me thinking.

I was already planning to use local Autumn honey instead of sugar for the syrup, and the idea of adding a floral note appealed to me. Although I had read that Osmanthus flowers can be used, I had no idea what this flower smelled or tasted like.  So I settled on adding a bit of rose water in place of the almond extract of the Time Life syrup recipe, substituting honey for the sugar. 

Rose water and autumn honey

After titrating the rose water to taste (adding 1/8 tsp at a time), I set the syrup aside with the cornstarch nearby to be reheated and thickened immediately before serving the Ba Bao Fan.

Dumplings, etc.

As with my prior Dumpling Wrapping party, most of the prep work involves chopping up all the vegetables, mixing in the seasonings and ground pork, turkey or minced dry tofu, and cooking some side dishes. I love my Ledge sink by Create Goods! Being on the short side, it is nice to have a cutting board that is two inches lower than the countertop.  Plus, it's easy to scoop the chopped bits into a hand or bowl held just below the edge of the cutting board.

Prepping pork-cabbage filling

My husband is assigned with the task of preparing the dough for wrapping. We were expecting 17 people, five more than the prior party.  So we used 13.75 cups of all purpose flour, 2.5 pounds of ground pork, and nearly a whole head of flat Chinese cabbage for the northern style cold-water dough dumplings. 

Northern style dumpling dough on top, and a potato starch dough in the bag.

Flat Chinese cabbage is amazing!  There is almost no core in the cabbage that would need to be cut out, so it easy to shred. The few somewhat thicker leaves in the center can be easily picked out to be frozen for a future soup stock. 

Flat Chinese cabbage has only a minimal core, so it is easy to create thin shreds, which was then cut crosswise to form shorter strands

As we had a gluten-free guest, I also prepared a double recipe of pork and chive crystal dumplings.  Chinese chives 韭菜 (jiǔ cài) add such a wonderful flavor, color and aroma!  However, the smell is very strong and may be interpreted as unpleasant when trapped in the refrigerator. Nevertheless, it is worth seeking out for the distinctively rich flavor.

Prepping filling for pork-chive crystal dumplings. 

We set up two wrapping stations, using our large island for boiled dumplings made using cold water flour dough and, on a separate table, a gluten-free wrapping station.  This year we had three fillings, pork-cabbage, pork-chives, and red cabbage-carrot. The potato flour-based gluten-free dough created stunning transparent dumplings once steamed with a beautiful contrast between the chives and the red cabbage. However, the skin was a little too rigid after cooking. I like the flavor and mouthfeel of the tapioca wrappers used to make har gow (Cantonese shrimp dumplings) better! 

Wheat flour dumplings, before (top) and after (left) boiling. Steamed potato starch crystal dumplings.

One of our guests prepared a soup designed for dumplings to be added. Another guest cooked 6 pounds of green beans using my recipe for shortcut Sichuan style beans. From other guest, we had vegetarian sushi appetizers, a red cabbage-carrot based vegetarian dumpling filling, and a delicious array of Indian pakora and samosas. My son brought this amazing Taiwan-made KAVALAN single malt whisky, and we rounded out the shots with Maggie's Farm Falernum.

We ate well for our Lunar New Year Party!

We wrapped and cooked 180 boiled dumplings and 24 steamed gluten-free crystal dumplings. After enjoying the dumplings along with the sides, we had enough leftover for everyone to pack some up to take home.  Then we were ready for dessert!

Veggie maki rolls, shortcut Sichuan green beans, wok-roasted spinach based on Walter Kei's roasted sesame spinach in Grace Young's The Breath of a Wok, and a mixture of dumplings 

As soon as the dumplings were wrapped and the counter cleared, I placed the Bundt pan containing the rice cake into a foil sling and onto a trivet into the Instant Pot, with 2 cups of water beneath the trivet. The cake was steamed for 30 min, and kept warm until everyone was done eating. 

I reheated the honey-rose syrup, stirred in a few spoonfuls of cornstarch water until it started to thicken, and turned off the burner. I took the Bundt pan out of the Instant Pot, covered it with an inverted plate, flipped it while wearing hot mitts in case of steam, and it unmolded like a dream. Syrup was ladled into the central hole and around the sides, and served on the side with extra fruit.

After all this good food, the evening was capped with Chocolate Kahlúa Brownies and Ba Bao Fan!

Eight Treasures Sticky Rice Bundt Cake Recipe - Love2Chow

Red bean paste (can be in advance) - makes enough for 2 rice cakes. This is half of what I made above.
100 g or 1 cup of adzuki beans
1.5 cups water
3 Tbs butter
1 Tbs canola oil or other neutral flavored oil
2 Tbs dark brown sugar
2 Tbs white sugar

Glutinous rice base (can be made several days in advance)
400 g (2 cups) glutinous rice, soaked for several hours or overnight
2 cups water
3 Tbs light brown sugar
2 Tbs butter

3-4 slices dried mango or apricots
1-2 Tbs golden raisins or dried longan
1-2 Tbs cranberries or gogi berries
8 jujubes or Chinese red dates
12 toasted pecans
1-2 Tbs roasted green pumpkin seeds

Syrup (optional). This is half of what I made above as there was about 1/2 cup leftover.
2 Tbs honey
1/2 cup water
1/8-1/4 tsp rose water
1 tsp cornstarch dissolved in 1 Tbs cold water

For red bean paste:
1. Rinse beans and place in inner pot of Instant Pot. Add 1.5 cups of water. Cook at high pressure for 25 min and allow at least 20 min for natural release.

2. Strain beans, reserving cooking water.  Add beans to blender or food processor along with 3 Tbs butter and ~1/4 cup of the warm cooking water. Blend, adding more water if necessary to form a smooth paste.

3. Transfer paste to a small saucepan on medium heat. Add 1 Tbs of neutral flavored oil and stir until incorporated. Add 2 Tbs each of dark brown sugar and white sugar. Cook, stirring constantly to prevent burning, until paste can hold its shape, but is still spreadable. Remember, it will thicken as it cools and the butter solidifies.

4. Refrigerate if not using that day, and rewarm in pan or microwave before assembling rice cake. Unused red bean paste can be stored in the freezer. It is used in a large number of Chinese sweets.

For rice base:
1. Soak rice for several hours. Soak dried fruits while rice is cooking if assembling that day.

2. Add 2 cups of water to the inner pot/liner of an Instant Pot. Place a trivet over the water. Rinse the sticky rice and drain. Place in stainless steel of glass bowl that can fit in the Instant Pot. Add 2 cups of water to the rice in the bowl, making sure all rice is covered. 

3. Place bowl in foil sling and onto trivet in the Instant Pot. Pressure cook on high for 15 min.  Let rest for at least 10 min before releasing pressure. Taste a bit of rice to make sure it is fully hydrated, soft and sticky. If not, cook another 5-10 min. 

4. Remove the bowl from the Instant Pot, and stir in butter and brown sugar while it is warm. 

Toppings, assembly and final steaming:
1. Soak dried fruits for at least 30 min before assembly.  Bring rice and red bean paste to room temperature, if refrigerated. 

2. Slice the mango into thin strips. Slit the sides of the red dates or cut in circle around the middle to remove the pit, depending on whether you want to cut them into strips or circles. Drain the other fruits. Break 4 of the pecans into small pieces and leave the other halves intact. 

3. Rub a stick of butter up and down the ridges of the pan. Arrange mango into 8 bands extending up the sides of the Bundt pan. Arrange jujube date pieces in between as high up as they will stay, facing the more colorful side outwards. Scatter pumpkin seeds and pecan bits in between. 

4. Carefully spread about 1/3 of the rice across the bottom, pressing down gently to hold toppings in place. Flatten out 8 discs of sticky rice large enough to press two pecans on one side. Use 4 for pecans and embed a mixture of golden raisins and cranberries on one side of each of the other 4.  Alternating nuts and fruits, press to the sides of the pan above the jujube dates and between the mango bands, with the toppings facing outwards against the buttered pan. Add more sticky rice to cover the mango strips.

5. Spread about half of the red bean paste in the cavity formed.  Cover with remaining rice.  

6. The rice cake can be refrigerated at this point a day or two, then steamed to warm everything up and meld the toppings with the rice just before serving. 

7. About 45 min before serving, place 2 cups of water and a trivet in the inner liner of an Instant Pot. Place foil sling under Bundt pan and lower onto the trivet. Pressure cook for 20 min, and keep warm until syrup is done and ready to serve.

For syrup: 
1. Make syrup while rice cake is being heated in the Instant Pot.  In a small sauce pan, warm 1/2 cup of water and dissolve in 2 Tbs honey. Add 1/8 tsp rose water, mix and taste. You want just a hint of rose to rise from the honey. If desired, add some more to taste. Keep warm. 

2. When rice cake is done, bring syrup to a simmer.  Add cornstarch and stir until thickened slightly.

To serve:
Use foil sling to remove Bundt pan from Instant Pot. Place a serving dish over the top of it, and carefully invert to unmold. Pour syrup into the middle and around the edges and serve warm with syrup and extra chopped up toppings on the side.

Cross section of Ba Bao Fan (8 Treasures Rice Cake)

🐾 Dumpling fillings do not require exact measurements. A little extra vegetable, ginger or garlic never hurt anyone! Have fun and play around with it. Just make sure everything is finely shredded or chopped so nothing pokes a hole through the dumpling dough!

🐾 Although I keep thinking it would be nice to have a tortilla press for the gluten-free wrappers, any flat item can be used to press them. We used a small 4 x 5 inch glass baking dish. After rolling small balls, use your fingers to pinch into a disc. Then press with the baking dish, twisting back and forth a little to get it as flat as possible.

🍃 Save the foil sling, after letting it dry, for getting things out of the Instant Pot to reuse multiple times.

🍃 We keep take out containers that are made with polypropylene (#5), a nonreactive microwave-safe plastic. These come in handy to allow guests to pack up leftover. We also keep a few sets in each car, and bring them into restaurants. Re-using high quality takeout containers saves both resources and time (you don't have to wait for the waitstaff to bring new boxes to the table).


Please post comments below or photos to Instagram, Facebook or Twitter 

Tag @love2chowblog and hashtag it #love2chow 

All photos and content © 2022. 
All Rights Reserved. Contact admin@love2chow.com for permissions.

  • Share:

You Might Also Like