Ma Lai Gao (馬拉糕) – Even Softer, Fluffier & Tastier!

48 comments All Recipes Cake Recipes Egg Recipes Featured Snacks & Treats
A very easy-to-follow recipe for a Chinese dim sum favourite, ma lai gao (馬拉糕), or Chinese steamed sponge cake, that’s extremely soft and springy, fluffy, and tasty!
Ma_Lai_Gao_1

When you think of making ma lai gao (馬拉糕) or Chinese steamed sponge cake, think of the saying, “Good things come to those who wait.” Because patience and time is exactly what you will need in this traditional method of making this ever-popular Chinese treat. But, I promise, it will be so worth it.

Hot on the heels of a successful attempt a few days ago, using the quick method for making Chinese steamed sponge cake, I was curious and intrigued by what I had read about making ma lai gao, the traditional way.


I can’t say if this is an authentic recipe or method (have seen recipes that make a yeasted dough version), but the ma lai gao I made this way turned out even softer, finer, and fluffier in texture, and with a deeper, fuller flavour. I can’t say enough with just words, so I really hope the photo below says it better!

What you don’t see in the photo, is that when I released my squeeze on the slice, the cake sprung right back up! It was really that springy!

Ma_Lai_Gao_5
I also figured that if I was going to make ma lai gao the authentic way, I should be using the real tools to steam these cakes! So I went shopping, and bought myself a pair of bamboo steamers.

Bamboo steamers are inexpensive, yet versatile and hardy vessels for steaming virtually any food – rice, noodles, vegetables, meat, seafood, or snacks and treats.

It might be a good idea to buy at least 2 sizes, a larger one that’s about the same diameter as the pot you regularly use for steaming, or that can be placed on a steaming rack in a Chinese wok and be covered fully under the wok lid.


A smaller one that can fit inside a pot fitted with a steaming rack, and be fully covered with the pot lid on, is ideal for making smaller cakes. The bamboo steamers I bought are roughly 20-cm (8-inch) and 25-cm (10-inch) in diameter.

If you don’t have a bamboo steamer, worry not. You can use a standard cake pan (one that can fit in your steaming pot). Check out these helpful instructions here in my previous post.


So, how is this method different from the quick method for making ma lai gao that I posted a few days ago?


Primarily, the batter is allowed to rest for at least an hour, before adding the last few ingredients, and then steamed. I actually let the batter rest for slightly more than 2 hours, though it’s not uncommon to find recipes suggesting that the batter be allowed to rest overnight.

Also, the use of a low-protein flour like cake flour, as well as custard powder, in addition to plain flour, contributed (in my humble opinion) to a much softer, finer texture. I’d seriously consider trying out a yeasted version next time, which recommends allowing the batter to rest for as long as 12 hours.

But for now, this will be my #1 go-to recipe, as my family and friends absolutely raved about the texture and flavour of this ma lai gao!

Ma_Lai_Gao_12

Ma_Lai_Gao_9

To ensure that your ma lai gao is airy and fluffy in texture, here are some tips that I hope will help:

(a) Sift the flours and custard powder twice. When sifting, try to sift from a height a couple of inches above the mixing bowl, to incorporate more air into the flour mixture.

(b) Whisk the eggs and sugar until the ‘ribbon’ stage. At ‘ribbon’ stage, the mixture should have paled in colour, thickened considerably, and tripled in volume – this may take 3-4 minutes (though I find that I usually need 5-6 minutes) in an electric mixer, depending on the speed and temperature of your eggs (always use eggs at room temperature). Simple test for ribbon stage: When you lift the whisk out of the batter, some of the batter on the whisk falls back into the bowl, making distinct ‘ribbons’ before slowly disappearing into the batter.


(c) Use a light hand, with quick and light folding action, when folding in the dry ingredients, as well as when folding in the oil. Do not ‘slap’ the batter around in the bowl (due to a vigorous or heavy hand), otherwise, you will lose the air bubbles that you have worked so hard to incorporate, and the cake will be less airy, and denser.


Ma lai gao is best enjoyed when eaten immediately, but will keep for up to 2-3 days when kept in an airtight container, in a cool, dry place. If eating a day or two after, re-steam the ma lai gao for a few minutes, and it will still be as good as the day it was made.

Ma_Lai_Gao_6

4.43 from 19 votes
Print Recipe

Ma Lai Gao (馬拉糕)

A very easy-to-follow recipe for a Chinese dim sum favourite, ma lai gao (馬拉糕), or Chinese steamed sponge cake, that's extremely soft and springy, fluffy, and tasty! (Adapted from source: 'Nonya Kueh' by Chef Ricky Ng).
Course: Breakfast, Cakes, Dessert, Snack, Snacks and Treats, Tea
Cuisine: Asian, Chinese
Servings :1 (One) 25-cm/10-inch round cake
Prep Time: 15 mins
Cook Time: 30 mins
Total Time: 1 hr 45 mins
Pin This Recipe Tried this? Leave a comment

INGREDIENTS

  • 100 g plain flour
  • 50 g cake flour
  • 40 g custard powder
  • 4 eggs
  • 110 g soft brown sugar
  • 100 g caster sugar
  • 100 ml grapeseed oil (or neutral-tasting oil)
  • 2 tbsp evaporated milk
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 1/3 tsp baking powder
  • 1/3 tsp baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)

INSTRUCTIONS

  • Combine plain flour, cake flour, and custard powder, in a mixing bowl, and mix well with a wooden spoon. Sift the flour mixture once, and set aside. In a separate mixing bowl, combine the brown sugar and white sugar, mix well, and set aside.
  • Using an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, whisk eggs on high speed (speed 4 to 5 on my Kitchen Aid mixer) for 15 to 20 seconds. While whisking, gradually add in the combined sugars, in a steady, continuous stream. Continue to whisk until the egg mixture turns pale in colour, thickens, and triples in volume (ribbon stage - see Recipe Notes below), about 5 to 6 minutes.
  • Sift the flour mixture a second time. Divide the flour mixture into 3 portions. Fold the flour mixture, one portion at a time, into the egg mixture, using a light and quick hand. Cover the batter with a dry tea cloth, and set aside to rest for 1-2 hours.
  • Meanwhile, prepare the bamboo steamer. Line the base and sides of a 10-inch bamboo steamer with greaseproof paper. When batter has sufficiently rested, prepare enough water (for at least 30 minutes of steaming) in a deep pot and bring to boil, over high heat.
  • In a small bowl, combine evaporated milk, honey, baking powder, and baking soda. Fold into the batter until well incorporated. Lastly, add the oil, and gently fold into the batter, until well combined.
  • Pour the batter into the prepared bamboo steamer, cover with bamboo lid, set it stably over the pot of boiling water, and steam for 30 minutes, or until a bamboo skewer inserted into the centre of the cake, emerges free of sticky batter. Slice as desired, and serve immediately.

Notes

#1. Steaming Equipment. There are a few options for setting up your steaming equipment.
(a) Using a Chinese wok.  Make sure that you use an appropriately sized cake pan that, when placed on the steaming rack in the wok, can be completely covered under the wok lid.
(b) Using a 2-vessel steamer pot. Typically, this is the modern food steamer in which the bottom vessel holds the water, while the top has a perforated base and lid, to allow the steam to rise from the bottom vessel towards the top. Make sure you use a cake pan that can sit inside the top vessel, with sufficient room between the sides of the vessel and the cake pan (to facilitate placing the cake pan in the vessel, and taking it out), and with sufficient space between the steamer lid and the cake pan. The steamer lid must be able to fully sit on the pot, without gaps.
#2. Amount of Water and Water Level. Whether using a wok or 2-vessel steamer pot, fill with sufficient water (depending on the steaming time required), leaving at least a 1-inch gap between the water level and the base of the steaming rack (in the case of the wok), or the base of the top vessel (in the case of the steamer pot). This will minimise the need to top up the water should the water evaporate too quickly. If you need to add more water, be sure to add boiling hot water to ensure a consistent steaming temperature, and to minimise drastic fluctuations in air pressure.
#3. Preparing and Filling the Cake Pan. To prepare your cake pan, grease the base and sides of your cake pan, then line with greaseproof paper on the bottom and all around the sides. Fill the cake pan with batter not exceeding 2/3 of the pan’s height, to allow room for the cake to rise. Steam in batches, if your cake pan cannot accommodate all the batter at once.
#4. Covering the Cake Pan.  Once you've filled your cake pan with batter, gently lower the cake pan into the top vessel of the steamer, and place a dry tea cloth over the top, ensuring the cloth does not touch the batter. This is important, as the tea cloth will absorb droplets of condensation that form under the surface of the lid, and thus, prevent wetting the surface of the cake or turning it soggy. Place the top vessel back on top of the bottom vessel, and cover with the steamer lid. The water in the bottom vessel must already be gently boiling, before you place the top vessel (with the cake pan) on it.
#5. Preparing the Cake Batter.  Make sure you have your ingredients at room temperature. Be sure to whisk the eggs and sugar until the ribbon stage - goal is to trap as much air as possible. At 'ribbon' stage, the mixture should have paled in colour, thickened considerably, and tripled in volume - this may take 3-4 minutes (though I find that I usually need 5-6 minutes) in an electric mixer, depending on the speed used. Simple test for ribbon stage: When you lift the whisk out of the batter, some of the batter on the whisk falls back into the bowl, making distinct 'ribbons' before slowly disappearing into the batter. Use a light hand, with quick and light folding action, when folding in the dry ingredients. Do not 'slap' the batter around in the bowl (due to a vigorous or heavy hand), otherwise, you will lose the air bubbles that you have worked so hard to incorporate, and the cake will be less airy, and denser. The batter should be thick, but smooth. Lastly, to introduce the oil, it is a good idea to scoop out about 1/4 cup of the batter and mix it in with the oil, with a spatula by hand, until well blended, and then pouring it back into the rest of the batter. Finish up folding the oil mixture into the batter by hand, until well incorporated.
 
Did you make this? Share it on Instagram!I'd love to see! Don't forget to mention @foodelicacy or tag #foodelicacy so we can drool with you!


48 Comments

  1. Sure, Geri. I’d probably do the same myself?. Hope you like how it turns out!

  2. Do you think I can substitute the evaporated milk with plain milk?
    Hesitant to open a can of evaporated milk for 2tbsp

  3. Hi Celia,
    Can I check if it is ok to leave it cover just 1 hr?

  4. You are so welcome, Winnie! Thank you for dropping in and hope you’ll like the recipe! I’d love to hear how it turns out if you could share, ya? ???

  5. Have been looking for a good Ma Lai gai recipe after eating it at Tim Ho Wan . Thanks fir all the extra tips u wrote

  6. Thank you so much for sharing!? So happy to know you were delighted with how this cake turned out!

  7. I followed your instructions. The cake came out great, and it tastes delicious. It was still soft and spongy the next day. Thank you for sharing.

  8. Thanks so much for sharing, Jean!! I’m keeping my fingers crossed for your success ??

  9. Hi Celia,
    As there were no more bubbles left and the mixture looked dull, I decided to discard it and do a fresh one. Blurr me, I forgot to get castor sugar, so used fine sugar 80% but it is still a tad too sweet to my liking. The cake is slightly denser esp the bottom. Next time, I shall improve on the folding and also get a steamer basket! Thanks! :DD

  10. Yes, Jean, I’m dying to know cos that happened to me once and I started over..ha ha!?

  11. Hi Celia,
    Whilst letting my cake rest, I misread your recipe and went ahead to mix the baking powder, baking soda, honey and milk about 1.5hr ahead of time. And I could see the bubbling effect in the bowl. Wonder if it will make a difference to the cake? Shall update you…. haha! ?

  12. Hi Jean, thank you so much for your kind words and lovely comment!? If you live in Singapore, you can find these bamboo steamers from kitchen equipment supply stores like Sia Huat or Lau Choy Seng in Chinatown. I’ve also seen them in HDB shops selling housewares. Though I think that you can still get soft and fluffy ma lao gao in a regular cake pan. The texture of the cake could be more a result of how the batter was handled. Either way, I’d love to hear from you if indeed the bamboo vessels make the difference!?

  13. Hi Celia,
    Thank you for sharing your wonderful blog with very nice pics! That must have taken a lot of effort, time & passion. ? Could you advise where to shop for the bamboo steamers pls. My daughter has tried this recipe before without the bamboo steamers but the cake was not as soft or fluffy. She thinks these bamboo steamers does make a difference. Thanks.

  14. Hi Jessica, ooooh…so glad it worked out so well for you! ???Thank you so much for sharing ?With any leftovers, just re-steam (covered) for 10 to 15 mins and the ma lai koh will be as soft and moist as the first day! I always have extras from this recipe (just hubby and me who can only eat so much) so I often give away and re-steaming works like a charm!?

  15. I am back! I didn’t have time to make it again until now, and I actually invested in a bamboo steamer just for this recipe. I follow all the instruction this time. My family said it was the best mai lai koh out of all the others ones I made. Definitely very moist and spongy and super delicious. Though, the next day the cake was kind of dry. I never encounter this problem due to the fact my family usually finishes everything! But, I made this one pretty late at night.

    Definitely making this again. Thanks for sharing your recipe!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Subscribe