A fun new way to bake with kids. Use this opportunity to teach them something about a new culture.
In a large saucepan, boil the water, add the sugar and the oil, and stir just until the sugar is dissolved. Set aside to cool for about 20 minutes.
Mix the rice flour thoroughly with the cooled liquid and transfer the mixture into an 8-inch round aluminum pan. (The aluminum pans at supermarket salad bars work very well for this). Set the dates in the middle.
Put an inch of water into a wok, a large pot, or a large flat pan and carefully set the pan of batter in the water. Cover lightly with aluminum foil and gently steam the mixture for about 50 minutes. Take care not to let the water boil over into the nian gao.
Steaming can also be done in the oven: set a large pan of hot water on the middle shelf of a 375-degree oven and carefully place the nin gao, covered loosely with foil, in the hot-water bath. The water should be gently bubbling. Steam for about 50 minutes or until the mixture is firm in the middle. Cool thoroughly before cutting the nian gao into diamond shapes. Makes 12 servings.