A visit to a dim sum restaurant is not complete without a proper dessert to close the meal. My favorite dim sum sweet treats are egg tarts, steamed sponge cake (a.k.a. Ma Lai Gao), or a mango pudding. When I visit a dim sum restaurant with my family, we usually order multiple sweet treats at the end of the meal since we can share the food.
Today’s recipe teaches you how to make Ma Lai Gao at home. It is a simple dessert using ingredients that are familiar to most bakers. It does require a steamer to make this cake, so please make sure you have one before starting.
What is Ma Lai Gao?
Ma Lai Gao is a Cantonese steamed sponge cake served in dim sum restaurants or traditional Chinese tea houses.
The cake comes in two colors, yellow and brown, depending on the sugar. Regular sugar produces a yellow color cake, while brown sugar produces a brown color cake. I prefer brown color, but you can use regular sugar if you prefer a yellow cake.
If you order a Ma Lai Gao in a dim sum restaurant, you will get a small basket with a small cake cut into four quarters. Tea houses usually serve the cake by the slice. Using my recipe, you will get a cake that serves eight, perfect for hosting a Chinese tea party.
Ingredients for Ma Lai Gao (dim sum steamed sponge cake)
- Eggs. I always use large size eggs. A large size egg weighs about 50 grams per egg without the shell.
- Brown sugar. I use light brown sugar, but you can use dark brown sugar for a darker color cake.
- Evaporated milk. You can also use whole milk or 2% milk, but the cake will not feel as rich.
- Unsalted butter. If you are using salted butter, please omit the salt.
- Vanilla. I am using a teaspoon of vanilla. Most ma lai gao in dim sum restaurants have a more pronounced egg flavor, and if you prefer this, feel free to reduce the amount of vanilla.
- all-purpose flour
- baking powder
- Baking soda. You can skip baking soda, but the cake will feel less airy.
How to prepare Ma Lai Gao
Prepare a steamer pot with about 2 inches of water over medium heat. Lightly grease an 8-inch round cake pan and line the bottom with a piece of parchment paper.
2. Mix the cake batter
Beat eggs and brown sugar in a mixing bowl on a medium speed for 5 minutes until thick.
Add evaporated milk, melted butter, and vanilla, and beat for another minute.
Sift in all-purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Fold with a spatula (or use the lowest speed of the electric mixer) until the flour is just mixed.
3. Steaming the cake
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and steam the cake for 30 minutes.
TIPS: If you are not using a bamboo steamer, you may want to wrap the steamer lid with a kitchen cloth. Steam that rise up to the lid may condense into water droplets that drip on to the cake surface and make the top wet and soggy.
4. Resting and serving the cake
Remove the cake from the steamer. After 5 minutes, gently loosen the cake from the pan and remove it from the pan to cool on a wire rack.
Cut the cake into eight slices and serve with a pot of hot tea.
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