Steamed Malaysian Sponge Cake

It’s Mother’s Day, the day when all children give their mothers, and grandmothers, gifts to say thank you. Whilst it’s all good and well buying a bouquet of flowers or a massive box of chocolates, I think the best gifts are homemade, the ones that mean something to them and show love and care. I chose to make their favourite cake, Steamed Malaysian Sponge Cake.

Ma Lai Gao

I have to admit that this is my favourite cake as well because it is just so simple. There’s no need to serve this cake with anything except a cup of tea and its flavour shines through. It is traditionally served as a dim sum dish, the Chinese equivalent of afternoon tea, and like most dim sum, it is steamed rather than baked. This leads to a wonderfully fluffy texture.

You’d expect a steamed Chinese cake to contain some odd ingredient that you don’t have in the cupboard because many Chinese cakes tend to be whisked sponges and contain either cream of tartar or ammonium bicarbonate, both of which are replacements for baking powder. However there is nothing out of the ordinary here, except from maybe custard powder but this is still readily available. For a darker sponge, brown sugar is used and this also lends a deeper caramel flavour. I keep it easy by using granulated sugar.


The cake is simple and easy enough to be made completely by hand. It uses American cup measures and this is the perfect ratio. I suggest investing in a set of these and they make baking quite a lot easier and it means I do not have to convert American recipes into metric!

320g self-raising flour (2 ½ cups of all purpose flour, 3 tsp baking powder, ¼ tsp salt)

½ tsp salt

2 tbsp custard powder

½ tsp baking powder

100g margarine

300g granulated sugar (1.5 cups)

80ml sunflower oil – any flavourless oil will do

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 tbsp honey

5 eggs

Prepare your tins. You can use baking tins but I like using metal containers. They are quite shallow so it cooks relatively quickly. Grease 2 with oil and line with some parchment.

Into a large bowl, sift together the self-raising flour, salt, the custard powder and baking powder. Set aside.

In another bowl, cream together the margarine, sugar and oil until it has turned a few shades lighter and is fluffy. Mix in the vanilla and honey until incorporated.


Beat in the eggs one by one. The mixture will feel thicker with the addition of each egg. Continue to mix until it forms a smooth paste. If the mixture has curdled and looks lumpy, add 1 tablespoon of the dry ingredients.

Prepare your steamer. Electric steamers are best but you can fill a wok or large saucepan with water about 2 inches high and bring to the boil, just make sure it does not touch the steamer. Bamboo steaming baskets, like the ones below, impart a slight flavour during steaming.

Add the dry ingredients all at once and fold into the batter. You may need to add a tablespoon of water to the cake batter as it is very thick.

IMG_0776 IMG_0777

Divide between the 2 containers and place each into their own steamer basket. Steam for 20 minutes and the test is the same as baked cakes, if a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean, they are done.


This sponge is best served warm, so heat the sponge in the microwave to have that authentic Chinese dim sum feeling.


2 thoughts on “Steamed Malaysian Sponge Cake”

Tell me what you think here:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s