Auntie Karen’s “Ma Lai Go” Chinese Sponge Cake
Ma Lai Go is often served as a dessert at dim sum restaurants. It’s a perfectly light and sweet punctuation to an often savory dim sum lunch despite the cake’s plain and unassuming appearance.
Disclosure: This post includes an announcement about my Brand Ambassador affiliation with Rodelle (whoo-hoo!). As always, I only blog about what I use and think will be helpful to readers and all opinions are mine. This post may contain affiliate links, which do not affect your purchase price but if you use the affiliate link, you will help me earn a small commission which goes toward the operating costs of this blog.
Ma Lai Go, also known as Malaysian Cake or Malay Cake, is a beloved traditional Chinese dim sum dessert (“lai” sounds like lie). Heads turn when a server walks around a dim sum restaurant and yelling “Ma Lai Go!” It’s one of my mom’s favorite desserts and one of our family friends, Auntie Karen gave me her recipe years ago (thank you!!). It makes me so happy to see my family enjoy this treat worry-free.
I have adapted Auntie Karen’s ma lai go recipe to perfection over the years. I think that her addition of using sweet rice flour (also known as glutinous rice flour or mochiko) is brilliant and gives the cake a nice texture. Also her original recipe uses 1 teaspoon of almond extract and 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract, instead I use 2 teaspoons of Rodelle’s vanilla extract (affiliate link) out of abundant precaution.
Allergy Aware Ma Lai Go and More!
You can expect that this ma lai go recipe will be moist and delicious even when served plain, without frosting. The flavor is light and simple so you can enjoy the taste and smell of the vanilla and brown sugar. Ma Lai Go is typically made without any intentional addition of nuts in the ingredients however, some recipes may use almond extract or coconut milk for flavoring. If one is allergic to milk, I think it’s an easy substitution to use any non-dairy milk substitute.
- I haven’t tried adapting this recipe to be gluten free or egg free yet but if you do let me know!
- If you want to try a top 8 allergen and gluten free dessert that is steamed, try my Chinese New Year’s Cake recipe.
- Or you might want to make Better For You Butter Mochi, it is a gluten free dessert that uses sweet rice flour and can easily be adapted to be dairy free and egg free.
- Check out what is in my cupboard for ingredient suggestions.
Tips to Ma Lai Go Success
It’s important to set everything up when your bowl is empty and the pot is cold to make sure that you can safely put a 2 quart sized bowl into the pot without your hands or fingers touching the sides and that there is enough room for 1.5 to 2 inches of water in the pot without the water touching the bottom of the bowl. Also allow for at least 1 inch of clearance between the finished cake and the top of the pot.
If you need to, you can use a shorter steaming rack or a stable shallow upside down dish that will allow for 1.5 inches of water in the pot, but limit yourself to steaming at only medium heat so that you don’t run out of water.
The first time you make ma lai go, check to make sure that the bowl in which you use to steam the cake can hold 8 cups of water. If you cannot fit a 2 quart bowl into your largest pot, you can divide the batter into two large bowls (4 cup capacity), set up two steamers, and steam the cakes for 40-45 minutes. Or you can halve the recipe and steam one cake but I am almost certain that you’ll be making another one soon. 😉
A traditional recipe might steam the ma lai go in a parchment paper lined bamboo steamer in a wok. I personally avoid using bamboo steamers because I don’t like resulting smell or taste so I use a large bowl instead. Also boiling water in a wok will ruin a wok’s seasoning which is why I use either a steamer set or improvise as described above.
After I place the bowl of batter into the steamer, I place a piece of cheesecloth between the cake and the lid to prevent water condensation from dripping onto the cake and creating a soggy mess. It’s important to secure the edges and corners of the cheesecloth with clothespins so that the cheesecloth doesn’t accidentally catch on fire, especially if you use a gas stove. If you don’t want to use cheesecloth, you can skip this step by being very careful not to let any condensation drip on the steamed ma lai go when you lift the lid.
If you are not familiar with making a sponge cake such as ma lai go, be sure to refer to my best tips on how to make a chiffon cake. Pay attention to the notes regarding using eggs at the right temperature, separating the eggs carefully, and how to incorporating the egg whites into the batter.
You can serve ma lai go while it’s still steamy and warm, after you let the cake cool down enough to be handled or you can serve it at room temperature. It can also be made one day ahead for an event and refreshed by steaming it for a few minutes if desired.
I’m a Brand Ambassador for Rodelle!
I’m proud to announce that I will be a brand ambassador for Rodelle, a company which I recently told you about in my post about making Ice Cream in a Bag and my review about some of their products. I’m really excited because it’s my first time being an official Brand Ambassador and Rodelle is wonderful:
- I had shared that I learned about Rodelle when I bought their vanilla beans at Costco during the holiday season in 2015. When I reached out to their customer service with allergen questions, they exceeded my expectations in how they take allergen related questions seriously and answer with as much information as possible yet treat customers with respect and kindness.
- Their kindness extends beyond their customers as they care about their international and local communities by incorporating sustainable farming practices and energy usage and they have partnerships and programs dedicated to helping people. See how Rodelle Cares.
- Most importantly for us in the food allergic community, “Rodelle does not utilize peanuts or tree-nuts on its production floor or in its products” and since I started looking at their website last year, they have added allergen statements to product pages so consumers don’t have to hunt on their website for a general allergen statement. I love that they are honest and realistic in saying that they aren’t a “nut free facility” because that would require additional steps to verify. They encourage customers to visit their website and/or contact them if there are any concerns about additional allergens or want more details.
- If you do decide to purchase any of their products and share a review on Amazon (affiliate link), send them an email and they will send you a free sample (visit their website for more program details, subject to change). How awesome is that?
Now that I am a happily one of Rodelle’s newest brand ambassadors, what this really means for you is that I will have more reasons to share with you my favorite allergy mom approved dessert recipes. If they have new products, I can try them and let you know. Do you like giveaways and prizes? I can do that too! Take a look at their ingredients for baking and cooking on their website and tell me in the comments about your dream Rodelle gift basket. I am planning a terrific giveaway next month so be sure to leave your suggestions in the comments today.
This recipe for ma lai go as written is free of peanuts, tree nuts, soy, fish, and shellfish.
If you are avoiding dairy, substitute with any non-dairy milk but I recommend using 1 cup initially and gradually adding more until the batter is about the consistency of pancake batter. I haven’t tried making this recipe gluten free or egg free but have some ideas for future posts.
- 4 eggs
- non-stick cooking spray (or parchment paper squares)
- 2 cups all purpose flour (can also substitute 50/50 AP and whole wheat)
- ½ cup glutinous rice flour
- 2½ teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 1½ cup brown sugar, packed (I prefer organic dark brown sugar)
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (or canola oil)
- 1 12 oz can of non-fat evaporated milk (shake for a minute before using)
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract (I used Rodelle's
- Take 4 eggs out of your refrigerator and place them in a bowl of warm water for 10 minutes, dry them with a paper towel, and set aside so they can air dry.
- Spray an 8 cup (2 quart) capacity bowl or large casserole with a nonstick cooking spray (or line with parchment paper squares), set aside.
- Set up your steamer with at least 1.5 inches of water and boil the water at low heat while you make the cake.
- Mix the flour, rice flour, baking powder, and baking soda in a medium size bowl with a fork or a whisk.
- Separate the egg whites and egg yolks into two large mixing bowls.
- Use an electric mixer to whip the egg whites slowly until they start to foam, gradually increase the speed and keep beating until the egg whites start to form swirls and stiff peaks.
- Add cream of tartar and keep mixing for another minute, set aside.
- Beat the egg yolks, add brown sugar, and mix until fully incorporated.
- Add oil, mix.
- Add evaporated milk, mix.
- Add vanilla extract, mix.
- Add about half of the flour mixture and mix the batter on low speed, add the remaining flour, and mix.
- Check that the steamer has enough water to steam for one hour (at least 1.5 inches of water, add water if needed) and that it is boiling at medium to medium high heat.
- Add the egg whites to the cake batter and use a spatula to gently fold in the egg whites until the batter looks even.
- Transfer the cake batter to the large bowl that has been prepared for steaming, gently smooth the batter with a spatula so that it's even (refrain from tapping the bowl), and place in the steamer.
- Meanwhile place a piece of cheesecloth on the steamer, place the steamer lid on top of it, and secure all the edges and corners with a clothespin or two,and steam the cake for one hour (do not get distracted during this step!).
- ALTERNATIVELY if you have safety concerns regarding using cheesecloth on a gas stove or don't have cheese cloth, steam the cake for one hour and then lift the lid quickly and be careful not to allow any condensation to drip onto the cake.
- You can serve the cake warm or at room temperature, in 2-3 inch sized rectangular or parallelogram shaped blocks.
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This post includes an announcement about my Brand Ambassador affiliation with Rodelle (whoo-hoo!). As always, I only blog about what I use and think will be helpful to readers. Additionally, I may mention the names of stores and/or brand names of products that I use because readers ask and I share products and sources which I use and think may be helpful to readers, all opinions are my own. Please note that manufacturing practices and ingredients can change at anytime without notice and readers are always responsible for assuring allergen safety before buying or consuming foods. NutFreeWok.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. Thank you for your support!