Ma Lai Go - Chinese Steamed Sponge Cake

A technique that I don’t see western bakers utilize often is steaming cakes instead of baking them. This technique is very prevalent in Asian cakes as it yields a very moist and soft end-result. The steam with the addition of rising agents like baking soda, baking powder, or yeast in the cake makes the end result amazingly light and fluffy as well, so I’d be interested in seeing how a lot of western recipes would fare under such cooking conditions.

My recipe today is another super traditional Chinese cake called “Ma Lai Go.” The cake is lightly flavored with custard powder and brown sugar (though some folks use granular – leading to a lighter yellow-colored cake). Texturally, I’d say it’s a cross between a chiffon cake and a sponge cake.

If you look at the recipe below, you’ll notice it’s not a very sweet cake, and traditionally (like most Asian desserts) it’s not. But to please a more general palate, I might increase the sugar amount by a couple tablespoons. That being said, if you’re not into sweet cakes, then maybe sticking to the original recipe first will work for you. The richness of the cake can also be adjusted by adding in a little bit of butter at the end.

A tip I have for this cake is actually something they used to teach in the bakery. If you're adding oil to a batter that includes a lot of aeration like whipped eggs, then it's good to "lighten" the oil by adding some batter to it first, before folding that mixture back into your original batter.

Also, for those of you without a steamer, feel free to do this in an 8-inch cake pan. I've seen people use both and they seem to have similar results.


1. Combine flour, cornstarch, custard powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. Set aside.

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2.Beat eggs till frothy. Then add in brown sugar and beat till ribbon-stage.

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3. Mix in milk.

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4. Fold in dry ingredients.

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5. Mix oil with about a quarter cup of batter. Gently fold this mixture into the rest of the batter. Let sit for 2 hours.

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6. After 2 hours, bring water to a boil for steaming. Line the bottom of the steamer with parchment paper making sure to cover the entire bottom. Slowly pour in batter.

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7. Steam on medium high for about 40 minutes.

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__9. Cut up and serve.__
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(Makes an 8-inch cake)

  • 1 1/3 cup flour
  • 1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon corn starch
  • 3 tablespoons custard powder
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • dash of salt
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups milk
  • 1/4 cup + 1 teaspoon vegetable oil

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