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Ma La Gao – Delicious Chinese Steam Cake


Have you ever been to a Chinese restaurant for “Yum Cha” or “Dim Sum”? Just thinking of it makes me dribble. Chinese “Dim Sum” goodies are always exquisitely handmade by “Shi Fu” or who we call chef in Chinese, and served in those little bamboo steamers. The delicious Ma La Gao is the most common Dim Sum you can find in any Yum Cha restaurant.

Ma La is the Cantonese translation of Malay, and Gao means cake. But despite its name, Ma La Gao is actually a Chinese brown sugar sponge steam cake. It is easy to make (you cannot fail, I promise) and you can totally taste the original of the food. Today I am going to reveal a secret recipe from Billy Wong, a member of Better Chinese family. Grab your stirrer and let’s make Ma La Gao!

Preparation time: 1 hour
Cooking time: 30 minutes
Serves: 9-10


Here’s what you’ll need to get cooking …

  • 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 1/4 evaporated milk
  • 4 1/2 Tbsp butter
  • 4 1/2 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • Dash of vanilla extract
  • 1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/3 cup custard powder or vanilla pudding mix (leave out dash of vanilla if using the pudding mix)
  • 4 jumbo eggs
  • 1/2 cup  light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup plain white sugar

How to make it …

  1. Use an 8″ round bamboo steamer and line with parchment paper.
  2. Melt the butter and mix with milk, and oil.
  3. combine flour, custard powder, baking powder and bicarb together in a sieve to remove lumps.
  4. Beat the egg and sugar together for about 2 minutes.
  5. Mix in the liquid ingredients.
  6. Mix in the dry ingredient.
  7. Pour into the lined steamer and steam for 30 minutes.
Photo courtesy of Calgary Reviews

Photo courtesy of Calgary Reviews

Enjoy the fluffy and moist Ma La Gao now, yum-my.



Joanne Hsu is a Marketing Associate at Better Chinese. Originally from Taiwan, Joanne came to the States for school and is excited to introduce and share Chinese culture with the world. Please visit our blog if you love Chinese culture and Chinese language teaching or just stop by for some interesting stories about China.

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9 Responses leave one →
  1. Sophia permalink
    September 21, 2014

    Thank you, Joanne! I’ve been looking for a recipe. I will definately try it! A couple of questions:
    1) Steps 4 & 5 “Mix in”, do you mix with spoon and not “beat” as in step 3?
    2)Will it work in a 8″ cake pan instead of bamboo steamer?
    3) What is the technique in ending the steaming process so that water does not get dripped back onto the cake?

    • Joanne
      Joanne permalink
      October 6, 2014

      Dear Sophia,

      We found the Ma La Gao master to help answering the questions, here are the answers and I hope it helps, please share with us how it goes!

      1) Steps 4 & 5 “Mix in”, do you mix with spoon and not “beat” as in step 3?
      – Yes, you have to gently mix the cake batter with spoon.

      2) Will it work in a 8″ cake pan instead of bamboo steamer?
      – Bamboo steamer should work better because this type of cake requires a lot of air bubble to make it rise. But it doesn’t hurt to try with a regular cake pan. Please also share with us if it works well.

      3) What is the technique in ending the steaming process so that water does not get dripped back onto the cake?
      – My trick is you need a large steamer because after opening the lid once done cooking, water will mostly drip on the side, not in the middle. But if you use a small steamer, water tends to drip all over the lid. And this will damage the cake.

  2. Tay permalink
    December 10, 2014

    Hi ! I can’t really understand that step to do ma la gao . Can u explain more detail ?

  3. Terri permalink
    December 27, 2014

    Thanks for sharing. I reduced the sugar (we don’t like things too sweet in this house) and used corn starch in lieu of custard powder (not a popular ingredient here). Turned out lovely.

    Sophia, to avoid water from dripping back into the cake, place a tea towel on top of the steamer before putting the lid on. Wrap the ends up to the knob of the lid so it doesn’t create a fire hazard. The tea towel will absorb the droplets.

  4. Kaiya permalink
    January 25, 2015

    Thank you, Joanne for the recipe. It looks very delicious! I will be making it for my students this year! Thank you for sharing the recipe! Happy Chinese New Year!

    • Joanne
      Joanne permalink
      January 27, 2015

      Dear Kaiya, glad that you going to try it! Please let us know if your students like it!

  5. February 4, 2015

    I am wondering if the custard powder or pudding is instant or the one that you cook?

  6. Judy permalink
    February 5, 2015

    Would this recipe work in a rice cooker? I have the Zojirushi rice cooker that has a cake setting, but not sure whether this would work. Thanks.

  7. Candy permalink
    April 10, 2015

    Hello Judy,

    Does the melted butter have to be cooled before mixing with milk and oil?


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