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Malaysian Steamed Brown Sugar Cake - Ma Lai Go

Updated: Aug 21, 2021

Ma Lai Ko (Malay Cake)

This dessert is probably something that will be close to your heart if you are from Malaysia. A light and fluffy sweet steam cake originated from China and adapted in Europe then brought back to Malaysia during the British-ruled period. This cake is called "Ma Lai Ko" in Asia and directly translate as "Malay Cake". The general composition of this desserts are brown sugar, flour, custard powder, vanilla and eggs. There are two methods to make the Ma Lai Ko, which are the ones that uses baking powder as a raising agent or alternatively the baking powder can be substituted by naturally leavened or instant yeast. In this recipe, we will be using baking powder.

This cake are often seen in Chinese Yumcha Restaurant and if you happen to be having some Yumcha one day and have not tried this cake before, you need to order them and taste for yourself.

Evaporated Milk

In Asia, evaporated milk are often used in their desserts. Evaporated milk is best described as a concentrated milk with 60% of the water reduced therefore giving a more depth in flavour.

Another product that is similar to evaporated milk is condense milk but the difference between the two is that condense milk contain a high amount of sugar added to the milk reduction whereas evaporated milk often do not contain any sugar at all.

Cake Flour

The cake flour I am using in this recipe contains 7% protein. If you are unable to find cake flour, you can substitute it with plain flour that usually have 8 -9% protein. I would highly recommend that you use a lower protein flour for the best delicate texture in this sponge cake. Alternatively you can substitute cake flour by adding plain/all purpose flour with some corn flour. The ratio for that would be for every 120 g plain/all purpose flour, add in 15 g of corn flour in to the mixture.

In Melbourne, you can easily find cake flour in any Asian grocery.



160 g Eggs (3 Large Eggs)

60 g Vegetable oil

120 g Light brown sugar

1 tbsp. Vanilla Bean Paste

80 g Evaporated Milk

20 g Custard powder

130 g Cake Flour

1 g Fine Salt

15 g Baking Powder



1. Place the eggs in to the stand mixer with a whisk attachment and whisk until light and airy, add in the sugar followed by the vegetable oil and continue to whisk on high speed for 3 minutes or until the mixture is light and has a lot of air pockets.

2. Add in the vanilla bean paste, evaporated milk followed by the custard powder and whisk until just incorporated.

3. Sift the cake flour, salt and baking powder then gently add in to the egg mixture in 3 to 4 additions while gently folding with the help of a rubber spatula. Ensure that there is no large lumps of flour in the mixture at this stage.

4. Leave the mixture in the mixer bowl and allow it to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes until the mixture thickens as the flour starts to absorb the liquid.

While the mixture is resting, proceed to preparing the bamboo steamer by lining two creased baking paper at the base. Place a steaming rack at the base of the pot and fill it with water without it going over the rack.

5. Once the mixture have rested, gently stir the mixture to re-incorporate the mixture with a spatula without deflating too much of the air pocket. At this point you will realise that the mixture has thicken significantly and that is what you want. Transfer the sponge mixture into the prepared bamboo steamer.

6. Heat up the water in the pot with the steaming rack at the base until it starts to boil then place the bamboo steamer onto the rack. Wrap a tea tower around the lid of the pot and tie it tight with a band. Place the lid to cover the cake batter leaving a small gap to allow some steam to escape. Continue to steam for approximately 30 minutes or when tested with a skewer, it comes out clean.

Ensure during the steaming process that the water do not dry out. Refill with boiling water when necessary.


This cake is best consumed on the day and if you are going to keep it for the next day, store in an air tight container to prevent it from drying out. This will cake will keep to up to 3 days. After a day, gently heat the cake in the microwave for better eating quality.


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