Make the best soft fluffy and moist ma lai gao Chinese steamed sponge cake with this easy and fool-proof recipe. No yeast needed. The cake be steamed with a steamer or Instant Pot Pressure Cooker.
Ma Lai Go or Ma Lai Gao or Malai / Malay Cake is one of my favorite Chinese steamed cakes. I had this very often for breakfast when I lived in Singapore. I stopped by this little shop on my way to work to get them. Now that I’m so far away from home, the only way to enjoy this is, well, to go to a dim sum restaurant or to make it myself. I can certainly do the former, but making your own ma lai gao is really not that complicated and this recipe gives really good ma lai gao!
WHAT IS MA LAI GAO?
This Cantonese style ma lai go steamed sponge cake got its name from “Malay” and “gao” means cake. It is said that ma lai gao was inspired by the British version of baked cakes, but due to lack of oven in Asia back in the olden days, the cooks adapted the cake to be steamed instead and changed up some ingredients by using local Southeast Asian ingredients like coconut milk instead of cow’s milk and pandan flavor. The Cantonese chef later brought this steamed version back to Hong Kong and adapted it to what it is today.
You may see some ma lai gao have a dark brown color and some are pale yellowish in color. It’s all the sugar that is used in the recipe that yields the color. I like to use coconut sugar (gula merah / gula Melaka) because it gives an amazing flavor to the cake.
TRADITIONAL MA LAI GAO VS THIS EASY MA LAI GAO RECIPE
Traditional ma lai gao is made with levain (starter dough). Making levain on its own is a challenge, especially for people like me! Professional chefs swear by levain to produce soft and spongey ma lai gao. In this modern day, you don’t see ma lai gao made with levain that much anymore, if at all. Levain is being replaced with baking powder and baking soda in this recipe. This ma lai gao recipe does not use levain or any yeast, but I can tell you that the cake is still soft and spongey and pretty fool-proof!
WHAT MAKES MA LAI GAO SOFT WITHOUT LEVAIN
This ma lai gao recipe is a courtesy of a friend, Sandra Yap. I saw her making these ma lai gao one day and I just knew I had to try out her recipe. I was a bit skeptical at first because the recipe calls for resting the batter for at least 2 hours to let the dough ferments and my thought was what would happen to the baking powder and the baking soda if I don’t steam the cake immediately? Well, it is actually the resting the batter part is the secret in producing soft, airy, and spongey ma lai gao. **UPDATE**: I’ve tried resting the batter for only 1 hour and the result is still really soft and spongey
MA LAI GAO INGREDIENTS:
The best thing about making ma lai gao is that it uses common ingredients that most people have in their pantry:
Cake flour yield a softer texture cake compared to if you use all-purpose flour
This recipe used 5 large eggs.
- BAKING POWDER AND BAKING SODA:
These two helps to make the cake light and airy without any yeast
- COOKING OIL:
Any neutral taste cooking oil can be used. The oil also keeps the cake really moist
- DARK BROWN SUGAR:
This contributes to the dark brown color and also a nice molassey aroma. You can use light brown sugar too, but try to use dark brown sugar or coconut sugar if you can
- WHOLE MILK:
I prefer whole milk because it has that extra fat that keeps the cake moist too. You can certainly opt for low fat milk if you want
this is an optional ingredient you can add to your ma lai gao. I usually just subtitute with cornstarch. It contributes to a nice soft texture to the cake
A little bit of salt will certainly bring out the flavor of the cake.
HOW TO MAKE SOFT FLUFFY MA LAI GAO (STEAMER OR INSTANT POT)
1. Combine dry ingredients. Mix the flour, baking powder, baking soda, custard powder, flour, and salt and whisk to mix
2.Beat the eggs. In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs until they are pale and fluffy with a mixer on high speed for 3 minutes. Add sugar in batches and continue to beat until the mixture is thick and creamy and reaches that “ribbon” stage, meaning when you lift the batter up, it will fall down into a thick trail and remains visible for few moments and then slowly disappear. It is important to reach this stage to get a nice fluffy cake
3. Fold in the flour mixture into the egg mixture in batches.
4. Combine until flour is absorbed by the wet ingredients but don’t overwork the batter too.
5. Line the cake pan or bamboo baskets with parchment paper
6. Fill the batter to cake pan or bamboo baskets
Fill it up about 3/4 way through the pan or baskets and let them rest for 30 minutes to 2 hours before steaming
7. Steaming the cake.
– If using steamer: Bring water to a boil and then steam the cake over high heat for 30 minutes
– If using Instant Pot (remember to half the recipe for the cake to cook properly):
Press “Saute” on Instant Pot and bring 3 cups of water to a boil and then turn off
Pressure cook on high for 45 minutes and then release pressure immediately after
8. Enjoy. Let the ma lai gao to cool down slightly and then cut into the desired size and serve the cake warm or at room temperature
MA LAI GAO VARIATIONS
Use light brown sugar. Light brown sugar will give pale brown color cake and not as dark as when you use coconut sugar or dark brown sugar.
You can add matcha powder or use pandan extract or another flavor you like.
My kids can easily down 2-3 of these soft fluffy ma lai gao cake in one sitting!! I can absolutely relate to that!
1. MA LAI GAO IS DENSE AND NOT FLUFFY
There are few possibilities:
1. Please make sure the eggs are at room temperature. Cold ingredients don’t whip as well
2. You did not beat the eggs and sugar until they reach “ribbon” stage. This is important to create that soft fluffy texture
3. Make sure you steam on high heat and make sure you use a pan that conducts heat well such as aluminum or stainless steel. Do not use thick glass or pan as this will prolong steaming time too.
I recommend using something like this:
8 x 3 inch round pan or 9 x 2 inch round pan
7 x 3 inch round pan (will yield taller cake)
6 x 3 inch round pan (if using instant pot to steam)
2. IF USING INSTANT POT
If you use an instant pot to cook the cake, make sure you bring the water to a rolling boil first using saute mode and then pressure cook as instructed in the recipe. This will shorten pressurize time to ensure a fluffy cake
*Recipe is written for 6-quart Instant Pot. Cooking time should remain the same for 8-quart size but will take slightly longer to pressurize*
Easy Soft Fluffy Ma Lai Gao (Chinese Steamed Sponge Cake)
Half the following recipe if you plan to use Instant Pot to steam the cake:
If using regular steamer- use one of these (see notes):
If using 6 quart Instant Pot- use one of these (half the recipe and use 3 eggs) :
- 6" round cake pan with at least 3-inch depth
- Make sure the eggs are at room temperature. I get them out from the fridge 30 minutes before I plan to start working on the recipe. You can also soak them in lukewarm water (NOT hot water, you don't want to cook the eggs) for 10 minutes to bring them down to room temperature
- Line the pan with parchment paper. You can use 8-inch or 9-inch square or round cake pan. If you use 7 inch pan, make sure it's at least 3 inches in depth.
Prepare the batter:
- Mix the dry ingredients with a whisk and set aside
- In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs until they are pale and fluffy with a mixer on high speed for 3 minutes. Add sugar in batches and continue to beat until the mixture is thick and creamy and reaches that "ribbon" stage, meaning when you lift the batter up, it will fall down into a thick trail and remains visible for few moments and then slowly disappear. It is important to reach this stage to get a nice fluffy cake. The volume of the batter should be double or triple by now
- Then lower the speed to medium and add oil, molasses (if using), and milk and continue to mix until smooth. Turn off the mixer
- Use a rubber spatula to fold in 1/3 of the flour mixture and then combine by using the swipe down and fold over method. Work gently but quickly to fold in the flour. Do not overwork the flour. As long as you don't see any white loose flour, you are done mixing
- Pour batter into the pan and let it rest for 30 minutes. You can rest it up to 2 hours too (updated)
- If you use 6 quart Instant pot like I do, only round pan with 6-inch diameter with at least 3-inch depth will fit
Steaming the cake on the stove:
- Prepare your steamer by bringing the water to a boil. Pour the batter into the pan and let the cake steam over high heat. Steam for about 30 minutes if you are using bamboo steamer, and 35-40 minutes if you are using metal cake pan. If you choose to use smaller size, such as muffin cups, steam for about 10-15 minutes
- Remove from the steamer. Let them cool down a little bit and can be served warm or room temperature
Steaming in instant pot using pressure cooker setting :
- It actually takes longer when you steam something in the instant pot (whether you use a pressure cooker or steam function) compared to using a regular steamer on the stove over high heat and this cake needs to be steamed on high heat for fluffiness
- Pour 3 cups of water inside the inner pot of the instant pot. Press saute mode and bring water to a rolling boil and then turn it off
- Set the trivet in there and place the pan on top of it. Close the lid and turn the valve to "sealing". Press "pressure cooker" and let it cooks on high pressure for 45 minutes.
- Release pressure immediately after that. Carefully remove the cake and let it cool down a little bit before cutting and serving
DID YOU MAKE THIS SOFT FLUFFY MA LAI GAO SPONGE CAKE?
I love it when you guys snap a photo and tag to show me what you’ve made 🙂 Simply tag me @WhatToCookToday #WhatToCookToday on Instagram and I’ll be sure to stop by and take a peek for real!