CAKES - Other Cakes

Sourdough Ma Lai Gao (Steamed Sponge Cake)

January 29, 2021 | Recipe by Bake with Paws
Sourdough Ma Lai Gao (Steamed Sponge Cake)

Sourdough Ma Lai Gao (Steamed Sponge Cake)

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I am always looking for something to make with the sourdough discard that I have.  I have been experimenting with using it for a traditional steamed cake called "Ma Lai Kou or Ma Lai Gao".  This recipe was derived from my Ma Lai Gao recipe that was shared last year. This is my fourth attempt at a sourdough version and I happy the result and I am ready to share this recipe.  

The texture of this Sourdough Ma Lai Gao is fluffy, spongy, chewy and not so sweet.  There is no tangy taste too.  I guess is because of the young discard I used.

Ma Lai Kou or Ma Lai Goa is also called Malay Steamed Sponge Cake and is a very popular dessert in Guangdong and Hong Kong.  You can easily find it on the menu of Dim Sum Restaurants.  It supposed to be soft, fluffy, chewy and sweet.  


I used a mixture with some high protein flour to achieve a chewy cake texture. The high protein flour in this recipe came from my sourdough discard. 

Custard Powder:-
Custard powder gives a soft and fine texture to the cake and also adds some aroma.  It can be substituted with corn starch with the addition of 1/4 tsp of vanilla extract.

Oil is needed to keep the cake moist. I used a mixture of butter and vegetable oil to provide a little moist unctuous richness.

Fermentation/Resting The Batter:
Resting will help to produce a soft, airy and spongy cake texture.  I tried to rest or ferment the batter for 2 hours, 3 hours, 4 hours and 5 hours.  The result was the same.

Pan and Bamboo Basket/Steamer:
It is better to use a bamboo basket or a pan with holes at the bottom.  The hot air will distribute better with the holes at the bottom of the pan and the cake will rise taller and have better fluffiness.    For a taller cake, please use a 7 inch round pan or bamboo basket for this recipe. A bamboo steaming basket would be the ideal as bamboo is able to absorb steam moisture. 

Use any steamer that works for you.  I used an electric steamer.  Please make sure to steam at a medium to high heat for a rapid rise and fluffy cake.  Always wrap the steamer cover with a clean cloth.   This will eliminate any risk of water droplets falling on the cake. 

Baking Powder and Baking Soda:-
These two raising agents work together to boost the cake rise for that additional airy and honey comb look that characterizes the texture of this cake and it cannot be achieved with natural sourdough levain alone.

If you have any questions regarding this recipe or any other post, please leave me a comment in the “LEAVE A COMMENT” link and I will reply you as soon as possible.  Do tag me on Instagram @Bakewithpaws if you attempt on this recipe.

How To Make Sourdough Ma Lai Gao/Ma Lai Kou (Steamed Sponge Cake)

Yields: 1 Cake


Sourdough Discard (100% hydration)
220g sourdough discard  
Note:  I fed my starter with high protein flour/bread flour.  The discard is only 1 - 3 days old. You may also build a new levain if you do not have enough sourdough discard.

Cake Batter:
5 eggs (L size, between 60 - 65g egg)
90g brown sugar  (original recipe asked for 180g caster sugar)
20g dark sugar (original recipe no dark sugar)
35g custard powder
75g plain flour
2 tbsp (16g) milk powder
1/4 tsp salt
70g vegetable oil 
40g melted butter 

Raising Agent:
1 1/2 tsp baking powder (I used double action baking powder)
3/4 tsp baking soda

7 inch bamboo basket/steamer or 7 inch round removable loose pan
You also use the 8 inch round pan or bamboo basket but the cake will be shorter.

  1. Line the pan:
    1. Line the bamboo basket with parchment paper.  If removable loose pan is used, please remove the base of the pan and line the the pan with parchment paper. It is better to use bamboo basket or pan with holes at the bottom.  The hot air will distribute better with the holes at the bottom of the pan and the cake will rise taller and fluffy.  
  2. Sponge Cake:
    1. Sift custard powder and plain flour into a bowl.  Mix in salt and milk powder. Set aside.
    2. In a mixer bowl, whisk eggs and brown sugar until fluffy at medium high speed. Then add in the dark sugar and beat till incorporated. 
    3. At very low speed, gradually add in the flour mixture and mix until all well combined.
    4. Change to paddle attachment (You may also stay with the whisk attachment).  Add sourdough discard into the batter.  Mix until all well incorporated.
    5. Slowly add in vegetable oil and melted butter.  Mix until well combined.
    6. Sift the batter with a strainer to get a smooth batter - optional.
    7. Cover and proof for 2 hours in room temperature. You will find the batter very bubbly after proofing but it didn't rise a lot compared with the yeast version.
    8. After proofing,  scoop out 4 tablespoons of batter in a small bowl and stir in baking powder and baking soda.  Pour back the mixture into the batter and mix until all well combined.
    9. Pour the batter into prepared basket or pan.
    10. Prepare the steamer, wrap the steamer cover with a clean cloth.  This will prevent steamer water dropping on the cake.  I used electric steamer here.
    11. Steam for  45 minutes over the high medium heat. Less steaming time required, around 35 - 40 minutes for 8 inch round pan or bamboo basket.
    12. Once it’s done, open the cover slightly to release the heat slowly before opening fully.  This will prevent the cake from sinking.  Transfer cake from steamer and remove the pan. Let it cool on wiring rack. 
    13. Re-steam for about 3 - 5 minutes for left over cake before serving.


  1. Do we leave the batter (with eggs) to proof at room temperature 3-5hrs? Wld there be any problems since eggs are best not to leave at room temperature for more than 2hours?

    1. Hi, thanks for reading this recipe and your question. To be honest, I tried 2 hours before and there was no difference. I would suggest you to leave for 2 hours if you are concerned. Cheers :)

  2. M interested how to make crackers with sourdough discard, i recently follow to make steamed pau. Hope it turn out as good cos i failed following other recipes. Thanks.

    1. Hi, thanks for your comments. Sourdough crackers is nice and addictive.. Happy baking :)

  3. Hi Bakewithpaws, may I know can I use the fresh levain to bake this cake? If yes, what would be the recommended grammage to be used? Looking forward to hearing from you, thank you =)

    1. Hi, thanks for reading this recipe. Yes, of course you can. It is the same amount.

      Cheers :)

  4. Hi BWP. Just wondering why is it u have less flour and more starter dough in this recipe compared to your pandan ma lai koh. Hope to make it soon. Thanks again for kind response. Regards Chloe

    1. Hi Chole, I used less sourdough discard in Pandan version because I wanted to add more pandan juice in the main batter.
      Cheers :)

  5. Hi Bwp. How u? I send an earlier msg 2 days ago but it's not been uploaded yet. Anyway just wanted to tell u I tried both your pandan and this ma lai go. Taste is very good but somehow both mine pandan and this brown sugar ma lai go do not have as many honeycombs as yours. Any idea why? Anyway they both tasted very good. Thanks for sharing. Regards Chloe.

    1. Hi Chole,

      I am well. Thanks for trying and your feedback. Did your cake rise alot? It could be the baking soda and also the steaming. Baking powder to make the cake rise and baking soda make the honeycomb look. Please make sure your baking soda is not expired and steam at high heat. I mentioned on above medium to high heat. But each steamer behave differently.

      Cheers :)

  6. Hi BWP, thank you to share the recipes. I want know about proteinflour you used, around 13? Or ? Tq 🙏

    1. Hi, Thanks for reading this post. I used Japan High Gluten Flour to feed my sourdough starter. It is about 12% protein. For the plain flour, it is about 9 - 10% protein.

      Cheers :)

  7. Can I go without custard powder? and not even cornstarch. Thanks!🙏🏻

    1. Hi, Thanks for your interest in this recipe. To be honest, I have not tried without custard powder or corn flour. I guess you can. Just replace with plain flour. But, the texture may not as fine or soft as adding custard powder.

      Please add a little bid of vanilla extract to give some aroma if custard powder is omitted.

      Cheers :)


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