A few weeks ago, Aunty and I were making ma lai gao.

Ma Lai Gao (马来糕) is a traditional Cantonese steamed brown sugar sponge cake served in many dim sum restaurants. I never discovered the beauty of it until I tried Tim Ho Wan’s version. So we tried to make our own ma lai gao!


When Tim Ho Wan finally opened in Toa Payoh, aunty and I gave it a try and we fell in love with their ma lai gao. It was soooooo soft and light and the sweet note lingers. After finishing it, aunty said:”LET’S TRY DOING THIS AT HOME!” Faint lah, she is always looking for ideas!

So she went to dig her old recipe book where she cut recipes on newspapers and paste it in a big book, and found a ma lai gao recipe. It was a real trial and error for us because everything is in chinese and when we translate to English, there may be many variations. For example, the recipe requires 布丁粉, and Aunty bought a mango flavour pudding powder -_-!!. When I research on the recipe, most website recommended custard powder.


This is our first try. We used the orange sugar instead of brown sugar, hence you see the middle part is still orange. The chinese recipe suggested us to set the mixture aside for overnight. But I was very impatient and wanted to try the ma lai gao soon. So we only let it sit for an hour or so. The final result wasn’t satisfactory, in our opinion. And the most funny thing is, it has the weird mango flavour (because we used mango pudding powder zzzz).

malay steamed cake

With a never give up attitude, we tried again. This time, we fine tune the recipe and made our 2nd malay steamed cake. Using a super old school mixer, we beat the eggs till it is pale in colour and fluffy. Then we mixed with brown sugar and let it stay for 2 hours (because I was impatient again).



And this is our 2nd try. Much much better in my opinion, firstly because it doesn’t have the mango pudding flavour. And the colour looks good. It is soft and full of holes like a honeycomb.

After making our second ma lai gao, we were watching TV show and they were featuring the ma lai gao from Tim Ho Wan. The chef were saying, the tip for making ma lai gao to be super soft is to make sure we let the batter ferment overnight. If you want a super soft and fluffy ma lai gao, you really need to have patience to do this.

MAH LAI GAO (Malay Steamed Cake)


50ml evaporated milk
180g all purpose flour
300g brown sugar
4-5 eggs
25g custard powder
125g grapeseed oil
1 teaspoon baking powder
2/3 teaspoon baking soda
1.5 teaspoon water
2/3 teaspoon soya sauce


1. Lay an 8″ round pan with parchment paper.
2. Beat eggs till light and fluffy.
3. Add evaporated milk and oil to the egg mixture and mix well.
4. Sift the flour, baking soda, custard powder and baking powder in a bowl. Mix with brown sugar.
5. Quickly fold in all the flour into the egg mixture. Make sure all the flour is combined, add soya sauce. 
6. Set the mixture aside (cover with lid) for final fermentation for about at least 6 hours (I have no patience, I only let it rest for 2 hours).
7. Preheat the steamer by bringing the water to a boil with the lid on. Make sure there is enough water.
8. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Lightly cover the pan with foil and place the pan on the steaming rack. Cover with the wok lid, steam for 30 minutes.
9. Remove pan and cool the cake. Serve. Re-steam leftover slices for 3 minutes on high before serving.