Steamed Malaysian Sponge Cake is one of my favourite dim sum items. It’s soft, fluffy and no one can resist it when it comes out onto the table freshly steamed, fragrant and super comforting. Here’s how you can make your own version at home without the need for any fancy mixers!
Despite its name, the cake is not Malaysian but is Cantonese. The cake is possibly Malaysian only in its name; 馬拉 refers to Malaysia and 糕 refers to cake, hence Malaysian Sponge Cake. This cake is steamed instead of baked too, which I think results in a cake with a nicer texture. The cake doesn’t brown on the surface as a result but this is part of the aesthetic of the cake.
This cake recipe is the quicker version since there are two ways to make this cake. Malaysian Sponge Cake can also be yeasted but obviously this takes much more preparation than just a standard cake batter mix. The yeasted version is much more traditional and is the way they do it in many dim sum restaurants and results in a much more aerated and irregular crumbs with large holes (the tell-tale sign that yeast was used). However the quicker version is much more easy to make and perfect for first-timers.
As I have mentioned the cake is steamed. Usually I would grease and line a metal tin that fits inside my wok or steamer with baking parchment and steam the cake in that however this time we lined a bamboo steamer with baking parchment and steamed the cake directly in the bamboo steamer; this method was much easier and the quantity of batter in my recipe fit perfectly inside my 10in bamboo steamer. After putting the cake batter into the basket, I put the lid of the steamer basket on top to prevent water dripping onto the surface.
One of the key ingredients in the cake is custard powder. Not only does the custard powder add a golden colour to the sponge, it adds a unique richness to the sponge with its flavour and makes the cake more delicate. If you can’t find this however, simply increase the vanilla extract to 2 teaspoons and add the same amount of cornflour/cornstarch. Usually brown sugar is used for this cake which adds a stronger flavour, however I find that you still get a great sponge using granulated sugar so this is up to you.
Make sure to check out my other authentic Chinese recipes:
215g granulated sugar
60ml vegetable oil (or any other flavourless oil)
1 tsp vanilla extract
5 medium eggs
35g custard powder
300g self-raising flour
First prepare the steamer basket by lining it with a piece of baking parchment large enough to line the basket completely with some overhang to lift the sponge out easily after steaming. Set aside.
In a bowl, beat together the margarine and granulated sugar with the oil until even and incorporated. Add in the vanilla extract and honey and continue to beat until incorporated. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well to incorporate each egg before adding the next egg.
At this point, prepare the wok/steamer by bringing enough water to a full rolling boil.
Sift in the custard powder and flour and using a rubber spatula, fold in the dry ingredients until just incorporated. Then give the cake batter a vigorous beat for 5 seconds. Transfer the cake batter to the lined steamer basket and level out the surface. Cover the cake with the bamboo steamer basket lid.
Steam the sponge cake for around 20 – 25 minutes or until an inserted skewer/knife into the very centre of the cake comes out clean. Avoid lifting the lid during the cooking which could slow down the cooking by reducing the temperature. Once cooked, lift the steamer basket out and allow the cake to cool for about 15 minutes.
You can serve the cake warm straight from the steamer basket or once fully cool, slice the cake and reheat the cake in the microwave for that freshly steamed feel, without the hassle!