Served during weddings, Lunar New Year and other celebrations, the Chinese dessert known as “eight treasure rice” is made with eight different fruits, nuts and seeds. It’s said to be auspicious because the pronunciation of “eight” in Chinese is close to the pronunciation of the Chinese word for luck or fortune. Although the dessert is brushed with sugar syrup before serving, it’s not very sweet. Our recipe includes extra sugar syrup to serve on the side for those who want to bump up the sweetness. Feel free to substitute other fruits, nuts and seeds.
Soak the glutinous rice with enough cold water to cover in a medium bowl for at least 8 hours or overnight.
Shortly before the rice is ready, soak the lotus seed and red dates with enough cold water to cover in a medium bowl until the dates have softened, about 40 minutes. Drain the lotus seed and dates and keep them in the bowl. Using a sharp paring knife, make a vertical cut into a date (stem-side facing up) until you hit the seed and then carefully rotate the knife around the seed. Remove the seed from the date halves, scraping off as much of the flesh as you can. Discard the seed and return the date halves to the bowl. Repeat with the remaining dates and then set aside with the lotus seed.
Fill a 12-inch skillet or wok with about 2 inches of water, then place a 10-inch bamboo or metal steamer basket in the skillet. Make sure the water doesn’t touch the bottom insert. If it does, remove some of the water. Remove the steamer basket and bring the water to a simmer.
Meanwhile, line the steamer basket with two layers of damp cheesecloth. Place the soaked rice in the basket, spread it in an even layer and poke a few holes halfway through the rice to help it cook evenly. When the water is simmering, put the basket in the skillet, cover and steam until the rice is just past the al dente stage, about 50 minutes (see Cook’s Note).
Meanwhile, soak the goji berries with enough cold water to cover in a small bowl until softened, about 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.
Lightly spray a 24-ounce heatproof ceramic or metal bowl with nonstick cooking spray, then cover the entire bowl with a piece of damp cheesecloth, letting the ends fall over the sides of the bowl. Lightly spray the cheesecloth with nonstick cooking spray. Set the prepared bowl aside.
When the rice has finished steaming, transfer it to a large bowl and discard the cheesecloth. (Keep the skillet and steamer for a later step.) Add 1 tablespoon of the sugar, the butter and 3 tablespoons water to the rice and stir until the sugar has dissolved and the butter is equally distributed. Keep the rice covered to prevent it from drying out as you proceed with the recipe.
Fill a small bowl with water and dip your fingers in it, as needed, when working with the rice to keep it from sticking to your skin. Place the soaked lotus seed in the center of the prepared cheesecloth-lined bowl. Arrange the soaked goji berries and pumpkin seeds in a circle around the lotus seed, alternating them and pointing the ends toward the center to form a flower design. Gently dot 1/4 cup of the rice over the design without disrupting it. Gently press the rice into an even layer and cover the entire design.
Arrange the raisins and golden raisins in a circle around the edge of the rice, alternating them and putting them end to end. Gently dot 3/4 cup of the rice over the raisins without disrupting them. Gently press the rice into an even layer and cover all the raisins. Spread 2 tablespoons of the red bean paste evenly over the rice, keeping about a 1-inch border around the perimeter of the rice. Dot 3/4 cup of the rice over the red bean paste. Gently press the rice into an even layer and cover all the bean paste.
Arrange the apricots, dates halves, and cherries around the edge of the rice, alternating them and pointing the ends toward the center of the bowl. Dot 1 cup of the rice over the ring of fruit without disrupting the pieces. Gently press the rice into an even layer and cover all the fruit. Spread the remaining 1/4 cup red bean paste evenly over the rice, keeping about a 1-inch border around the perimeter of the rice. Dot the remaining rice over the red bean paste. Gently press the rice into an even layer and cover all the bean paste. Fold the edges of the cheesecloth over the rice and drizzle with a little warm water if the cheesecloth has dried out.
Replenish the water in the skillet, as needed, and bring to a simmer. When the water is simmering, set the bowl in the steamer, cover and steam until the rice is tender, about 40 minutes (see Cook’s Note). Remove the bowl from the steamer and let the rice rest for about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, whisk together the remaining 3 tablespoons sugar, the cornstarch and 1/2 cup cold water in a small pot until the cornstarch and sugar are dissolved. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat and cook until the mixture thickens slightly, about 4 minutes. Cover the sugar syrup and keep warm.
Pull the cheesecloth away from the top of the rice. Cover the bowl with a serving plate a couple inches wider than the top of the bowl. Pressing the plate firmly against the bowl, carefully flip the bowl over. Set the plate on a counter, gently remove the bowl and peel the cheesecloth off the rice. Brush about half of the sugar syrup onto the rice. Cut the dessert into wedges like a cake and serve with the extra syrup on the side.
When steaming the rice, if the water runs low, add warm water and raise the heat to bring it to a simmer as quickly as possible. The goal is to disrupt the steaming as little as possible.
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