Ma lai gao: Chinese Steamed Cake

Ma lai gao is a traditional steamed cake often served at dim sum or found in Chinese bakeries. I grew up eating these cakes on my visits to Toronto and loved the light, yet moist and chewy texture of this cake! It is a very simple cake that is steamed, and while some recipes call for a bit of yeast, this one does not (which I find simpler!) Like most Chinese cakes of this type, icing nor glazes are used so that the true taste of the cake becomes the focus. And while this recipe yields one 9” cake, it is just as easy to make individual cakes steamed in ramekins.


  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ cup evaporated milk
  • 4 Tbsp butter, melted
  • 4 eggs
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ tsp. vanilla extract (or almond)
  • ¼ tsp baking soda


  1. Grease/butter a 9” pie dish.
  2. Sift flour and baking powder together. Set aside.
  3. Melt butter and add evaporated milk. Then add baking soda & stir to combine. Set aside.
  4. Beat eggs on high speed until the eggs begin to become light & fluffy. Add sugar & extract. Beat well until eggs are light and fluffy.
  5. Reduce mixer speed to medium and slowly add in the milk & butter mixture into the eggs.
  6. On low speed, slowly add flour to eggs until just mixed and smooth. Finish mixing by hand to make sure the batter is well blended.
  7. Pour into a greased 9” pie dish.
  8. Steam 25-30 minutes until toothpick comes out clean.

Steaming options:

A more traditional way to steam food is to use a Chinese bamboo steamer (a 2-tiered small bamboo steamer placed in a wok is pictured to the left). As my steamer was too small for my Ma Lai Gao, I had to create a steamer. Essentially, I used a large corning ware pot and placed a small ramekin (face up) in the center to support the metal dish (pictured below right). Small metal racks can be used to support the cake, too. Only a couple of inches of water are necessary as you don’t want the water to get into the cake.

Substitution for baking powder:

I found myself without baking powder when I was making this recipe. A good substitution for baking powder is to use 2 parts cream of tartar to 1 part baking soda.


Although I have not yet tried, I’m thinking that adding Chinese 5-spice powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, or other spices would make a great spicy steamed cake. If you decide to try different variations, I’d love to hear about them!

Feel free to post any suggestions, modifications or comments. Thanks!

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