ma lai koh

ma lai koh

Ma lai koh (马拉糕) is a steamed egg sponge cake originating from Guangdong. It is a Cantonese dessert commonly found at dim sum restaurants.

According to Baidu, a traditional ma lai koh is made from flour, eggs, lard and butter. It is fermented over 3 days and steamed. An interesting point to note is the colour of the cake. It is light brown. What is so interesting? First, take a look at the ingredients of the recipe I used.

Ma Lai Koh (from Kimmy’s Cooking Pleasure, who got it from Ms. Amy Beh)


  • 150 grams plain flour
  • 2 tbsp castor sugar
  • 75 ml water
  • 1 tsp instant yeast


  • 180 – 220 grams castor sugar (I used 180 grams)
  • 35 grams bread flour
  • 35 grams custard powder
  • 2 tbsp milk powder


  • 5 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 150 ml corn oil
  • 2 tsp alkaline water


  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 – 3/4 tsp baking soda
  1. Mix all the ingredients for the preferment until a rough dough forms. Place in a medium container with a lid and let it ferment for at least 12 hours. It is important to ferment it long enough as the texture, colour and taste of the cake depends on this.
  2. Sift bread flour, custard powder and milk powder into a bowl.
  3. Place the preferment in the bowl of a standing mixer, fitted with a beater blade attachment. Turn on to low speed and gradually add in the sugar. Beat for 1 minute.
  4. Add in sifted ingredients gradually. Beat for 1 minute until combined.
  5. Change to a whisk attachment. Turn on to low speed and gradually add in eggs. Whisk on high speed for 10 minutes. Batter will turn creamy and there will be no lumps. Scrape down sides of the bowl with a spatula if necessary.
  6. Turn speed to low and gradually add in oil, then alkaline water. Beat for a minute until combined.
  7. Sift in baking powder and baking soda and beat until combined.
  8. Pour batter into a large bowl, cover with cling wrap and let it ferment for at least 2 hours. I let mine ferment for 3 hours.
  9. Line a 25 cm bamboo basket with parchment paper. Prepare a steamer with enough water to boil for 60 minutes.
  10. When fermentation time is up, whisk the batter a few times to mix evenly. Pour batter into prepared bamboo basket, cover the top and steam at high heat for 45 minutes.
  11. Let cool on rack for 10 minutes before removing from basket and slicing.
  12. Uneaten cake needs to be refrigerated.

Notice something? There is nothing in the list of ingredients that is dark in colour. The batter is yellow in colour before steaming. Yet the cake turns light brown upon cooking! I was kind of perplexed until I spotted what Baidu said. Apparently, if the batter is fermented enough, the cake will be brown in colour.

Some recipes I saw on the net includes adding soya sauce to the cake. My first reaction: Weird! Soya sauce cake? Hmmm.

The cake is gloriously fantastically wonderfully tasty! It is super soft and spongy, with the distinct eggy fragrance unique to ma lai koh. The sweetness is just nice. Those with a sweet tooth should use the higher end of the sugar recommended in the ingredients. I’ve not eaten such a nice ma lai koh since my last trip to Hong Kong! Yum yum yum! Definitely worth all the washing up.

ma lai koh1

Oh by the way, the design on the top of the cake is not intended. That is the imprint of the underside of the cover of the bamboo basket. Even with a 25 cm bamboo basket, the cake rose all the way and stuck to the top. 😛


2 thoughts on “ma lai koh

  1. BeeBee, I find it so amazing that you try all these unique and interesting baking. I know I had this cake before, but it did not look as beautiful as yours here.
    I may have missed reading, but how did you put that indentation on the cake? Is it mark of the bamboo steamer?

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