mah lai goh malaysian steamed cake
Breakfast, Cantonese, Hong Kong Style, Recipes, Sweets

Malaysian Steamed Cake – Mah Lai Goh (馬拉糕)

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Here we go! I’ve been dying to make this post happen! Attempt after attempt, I’ve finally made a batch of Mah Lai Goh (馬拉糕) that I’m absolutely thrilled with (after gaining 5 pounds from eating all the failed cakes!) This dim sum classic is soft, light, spongy, and a tad sweet. I still can’t believe it took me this long to try making it, and I’m just stoked that it turned out better than I anticipated.

Mah Lai Goh (馬拉糕) is also called Malay cake or Malaysian steamed cake. However, the cake wasn’t originate in Malaysia. It’s a Cantonese steamed cake that’s often seen on the dim sum table. It’s pretty much every kid’s favorite at dim sum growing up because it’s… cake. No child can turn down cake for breakfast on a Sunday morning when your whole family goes yum cha. So how did it get its name? I can’t seem to find the absolute answer. Legend has it that Singaporeans with Malay descent are the ones who created Mah Lai Goh in the first place, then the cake was introduced to Canton (now known as Guangdong) and Hong Kong. This super moist cake get its tenderness from steaming instead of baking which uses dry heat. It’s made with light brown sugar for its sweetness, and very little dairy as in only 4 tablespoons of butter. FOUR!

mah lai goh malaysian steamed cake mah lai goh malaysian steamed cake mah lai goh malaysian steamed cake mah lai goh malaysian steamed cake

I swear pictures can’t do this Mah Lai Goh justice of how amazingly tender this brown sugar cake is. When it’s fresh out of the steamer, it smells incredible and the cake will just melt in your mouth. Part of what makes Mah Lai Goh so distinct from other cakes is the airiness and the texture (the little holes you see all over the cake).

mah lai goh malaysian steamed cake

Doesn’t this look just like what you get at dim sum?!

mah lai goh malaysian steamed cake mah lai goh malaysian steamed cake Steaming

Now, let’s go over steaming, and a little bit of “MacGyvering” when you don’t have the proper equipment like a good size wok with a dome lid. It’s totally possible but you just have to be a little bit creative. When you’re steaming, you want to make sure the kitchenware you’re using is big enough so that there’s enough steam to go around inside the pot. And that there’s enough space between the boiling water and the cake that’s being steamed. You never want your cake touching the water because that’ll just be boiling, not steaming. Think of double boiling, in a way. Also make sure there’s enough water for the entire duration of the steaming process. If you see that it’s running low, simply add more hot water to the pot or wok (never add cold water because that’ll make a sudden change of cooking temperature).

Here’s my setup since I do not own a wok (I know, why don’t I have a wok? How do I not have one? I’m honest don’t even know).

I used a stockpot, a big one. I added a Chinese steaming rack on the very bottom, filled about 2″ of water in the pot (fully covering the steaming rack), and set my bamboo steamers on top of that (that’s two, 8-inch steamers stacked on top of each other).

mah lai goh malaysian steamed cake mah lai goh malaysian steamed cake

Don’t have either a steaming rack or bamboo steamers, then you can try using a heat-resistant bowl (place it upside down inside the stockpot) and a standard cake pan. Again, you want to make sure that the cake pan isn’t touching the boiling water. Look around your kitchen and see if there’s anything else that you think might work and give it a try.

Steaming cake might sound a little weird but it really is unbelievably scrumptious.

Try it!

Malaysian Steamed Cake - Mah Lai Goh (馬拉糕)
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Serves: 1, 8-inch cake
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 3 large eggs
  • ¾ cup brown sugar
  • 7 tbsp coconut milk
  • ¼ cup butter, melted
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  1. Prepare your steamer by setting up the wok/stockpot filled with water, and get it boiling on high heat.
  2. Mix together flour, baking soda, and baking powder. Set aside.
  3. Line your bamboo steamer or cake pan with parchment paper.
  4. While the water is still reaching for the boiling point, beat eggs and brown sugar together in a stand mixer on low for 2 minutes (setting 4 on a KitchenAid).
  5. Add coconut milk, melted butter, and vanilla extract. Mix on low for another 1 minute.
  6. Add the dry ingredients to the wet, parts at a time. Mix on low until batter is well-combined, about 1-2 minutes.
  7. Pour the batter into the lined bamboo steamer or cake pan. Then carefully place inside the wok or stockpot. Turn the heat down to medium and steam for 30 minutes.
  8. Remove bamboo steamer or cake pan, and let it cool for at least 5 minutes before slicing.
  9. Serve warm.
The cake can be refrigerated and re-steamed the next day, and it will stay fresh for up to 4 days.

Recipe adapted from Cake on the Brain


  • claudia

    Hi, I’m new to baking so I dont have a stand mixer. Is it possible to do this by hand (like manually, w/o a hand mixer)?

  • Jaclyn Ng

    May I confirm if the brown sugar you had used is raw sugar? Because I had use SIS brown sugar and the final product is dark brown. Thanks.

    • Saucy Spatula

      Hi Jaclyn!

      The brown sugar I used in this recipe is light brown sugar (package did not say if it was raw or not). I’m not familiar with the SIS brand so I don’t know if that sugar is light or dark.

  • Tommy

    Hello, I’m a beginner and would like to make it. Can someone please let me know what is the size of a cup? Small or large cup? How many ounces or grams? Thanks.

    • Saucy Spatula

      Hi Tommy,
      For flour, 1 cup = about 125g. For brown sugar (make sure it’s packed when measuring), it should be about 160g. 1/4 cup better = 55g. Hope that helps!

      • Tommy

        Hi Kayiu, Thanks for the details. Also, while I was at a supermarket, I bought a plastic jug with ‘cup’ markings on it, thus I didn’t need to weigh the contents. Your lovely photos and recipe inspired me to make it. I have made it with excitement but not as light or spongy compared to yours, though the taste was quite good. As it’s my very FIRST cake made by me and I’m 50 years old, I feel quite satisfied! :-) I actually used a whisk to stir the contents by hand and I think this is probably why it’s not quite light or spongy enough. I will use an electric whisk next time to try it again. Thanks.

  • Jackie Yong

    Thanks for the recipe. I have tried it. The texture was good and it rises very well but it lacks flavour. Perhaps I added evaporated milk instead of coconut milk. There are so many ways to make this cake, yours is the fastest and sure rise method.

    • Saucy Spatula

      Hi Jackie,
      Thanks for stopping by and leaving me a note! Glad you brought up the milk concern – coconut milk does have a slightly thicker consistence and it’s got a nuttier flavor which I love :) hope you’ll give it a 2nd try!

  • Kaitlin thewoksoflife

    Oh Kayiu, we FEEL YOUR PAIN on this silly mah lai goh–my mother has been trying to develop a recipe for this and has made it 4 or 5 times, and we only JUST achieved the right recipe! GAH! Thank god we finally got it, otherwise I think some kind of gastric bypass intervention would have been in order…

    • Saucy Spatula

      I know!! :) But it’s so worth it!

  • Pingback: Spongy Chinese Steamed Cake (Ma Lai Goh) | The Worktop()

  • Monica M.

    Hi there! I’m so excited to discover your blog from Lokness! I am also originally from Hong Kong and I used to live in Brooklyn until moving to Jersey a few years ago. A cha chaan teng is about my favorite kind of place to eat at (we go to the one in Manhattan’s chinatown by the same name sometimes) and your food and recipes look amazing! We love mah lai goh and I never thought about what went into making it. I’ve been busy spending too much time trying to figure out how the bakeries make those sponge chestnut cream cakes (without success). This recipe is awesome and now I know where to go when I’m ready to make it!

    • Saucy Spatula

      Thanks for stopping by Monica! Sponge chestnut cream cakes.. not sure why I can’t picture what those are! I know the cha chaan teng resto you’re referring to! I’ve been there a couple times. I love CCTs!

      Hope to see you around more often on my blog! :) Nice to meet you here!

  • Tina Jui

    I saw this recipe on your blog, and have been wanting to make it. I finally bought a steamer so I could give it a try! I can’t believe it’s so easy to make. I always thought it would be a lot more complicated for some reason. Can’t wait to make it!

    • Saucy Spatula

      I wasn’t expecting it to be so easy either! And always thought it’s something that’s nearly impossible to accomplish at home. But I guess I proofed myself wrong!

      Let me know how it turns out for you! I’d love to know! :)

  • Maggie Zhu

    The texture of the mah lai goh looks perfect! Seems like you’ve cracked the code of the ratio. And the 7 teaspoons coconut milk is really precise (which is also the reason why I seldom cook dim sum at home, I just couldn’t get it right)! Now I know where I should go when I prepare to cook this dish :)

  • Kathleen @ hapanom

    I have never had this before, but it sounds absolutely fantastic! And it looks so incredibly moist! I have a steaming basket, but never thought to use it to make a cake – this is SO cool! I can’t wait to give this a try!

    • Saucy Spatula

      Kathleen, STEAM SOME CAKE. I know you will LOVE IT!

  • Pristine

    I’m totally going to try this– and with a makeshift steamers as well. I have bamboo steamers but need to get a steaming rack!

    • Saucy Spatula

      Steaming rack! I can’t live without one :) (But I guess I’m managing to live without a wok..?) LOL.

  • Connie | Sprig and Flours

    This is the first recipe I have ever seen for mah lai goh, and it looks amazing. I live for dim sum, and I always make sure to get the steamed cake before I get the check. I know it’s going to be a bad day if the restaurant runs out… I’m from California, and the dim sum there is amazing. Recently, I moved to Boston, and the dim sum here makes me want to cry… Love this post so much! Pinned (:

    • Saucy Spatula

      I hear you.. Boston + dim sum = meh. I lived there for a handful of years so I know what you mean. I like that it’s super moist and not overly sweet :)

  • Nagi | RecipeTin Eats

    STEAMED CAKES!! LOVE THEM!! Last year my best friend got married on a river that was in the middle of nowhere. Stupidly, I offered to do a 5 tier wedding cake. That’s when I became somewhat of an “export” on steamed cakes!!! I must’ve made 30 of them before I settled on one I was confident would work even over a campfire in a giant cauldron type thing. Love this!! And you know what, steaming cakes makes the MOISTEST cake ever. Seriously no baked cake can ever compare!

    • Saucy Spatula

      MOISTEST cakes! Omg Nagi, like always, I love you for being you with your can-do spirit!

  • Bam’s Kitchen

    I love how light and fluffy your delicious dim sum cakes looks. Look at all of those little nooks and crannies, perfect for breakfast, cha or any time of the day. I bet it tastes extra good hot out of the steamer. A very good idea to line your steamer with parchment paper-brilliant recipe. I can’t wait to try that this week. Sharing, of course!! Wishing you a very safe and happy CNY! Kung Hei Fat Choy!

    • Saucy Spatula

      Breakfast or cha – it really is perfect for both! Hope you’ll get to try to make it at home!

  • Lokness @ The Missing Lokness

    OMG! You made 馬拉糕! The texture looks perfect! I would love one batch now, please! This looks very easy. Trying it next week for CNY! 😀

    • Saucy Spatula

      YOU MUST! It’s so easy to eat the whole thing, and it’s a lot easier to make than it looks – I had no idea! Happy almost NEW YEAR! 😀