Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Chinese Steamed Cake Ma Lai Gao 古法馬拉糕

Dim Sum Series, part 4:

This steamed cake is called ma lai gao. I have tried a few recipes using different ways to leaven the cake batter: beating whole eggs (physical), using yeast (biological) and/or baking soda/powder (chemical). None of the above gave me a satisfactory result.

The average maximum heat a household steamer can generate is about 212F/100C. This temperature is so much lower than the usual 350F/180C oven temperature used in baking a cake. It means that the way the cake batter is prepared is a crucial factor in determining whether it is a dense or soft cake.

I kept telling myself that there must be a way to make a fluffy and moist steamed cake. So, as a last resort, I went back to the traditional method: using an aged (prefermented) dough. This is a combination of biological and chemical methods. By making an aged dough (similar to a levain in making a sourdough bread), natural yeast and bacteria are cultivated. Later on, baking soda is added to balance the pH level. Leavening is provided by the yeast and baking powder. Although egg beating is not required in this recipe, some patience and time is required :).... However, you will be rewarded with a steamed melt-in-your-mouth cake that was achieved without the addition of lard (commonly used in restaurants).

For an updated recipe, click here



但我試過用不同方法去做馬拉糕 : 全蛋打法、用酵母發酵、用泡打粉等,這些都是不同方法令蛋糕鬆發,但效果都強差人意,做不出鬆軟如綿的口感及質地。這些都是近代許多人用所謂簡易的方法,嘗試用一些捷徑將傳統的方法改變,去迎合大眾。但很可惜的是新不如舊,傳統用麵種做的馬拉糕確實比其他方法更勝一籌。 剛剛蒸好的糕有入口即溶的感覺, 又沒有用豬油, 超正 !!

似乎˹條條大路通羅馬˼  今次不適用於做馬拉糕 !


 Ingredients to make an 8 inch round pan:

150g aged dough 麵種 (click here for making aged dough 麵種做法點擊這裏)
125g sugar 糖
18g milk powder 奶粉
18g custard powder 吉士粉
1/4 tsp baking soda 梳打粉
125g egg, slightly beaten 蛋液
75g evaporated milk 花奶

1/4 tsp lye 鹼水
6g baking powder 泡打粉
50g unsalted butter, melted 無鹽牛油溶液

milk powder, lye and custard powder

麵種 aged dough
1)  In a large bowl, mix sugar, milk powder, custard powder and baking soda together.
2)  Add aged dough and mix well with your hands until the aged dough is incorporated into the mixture.

3)  Add the egg and evaporated milk and mix until blended.

3)  Cover and let the batter ferment overnight in a warm spot. (See notes)
4)  The day after, a well fermented batter should have tiny "eyes" on the surface. Line the bottom of a pan with parchment paper. Prepare the steamer. 
5)  Add lye to the batter and mix well.

overnight batter
 6)  Take a few tablespoons of the batter and mix with baking powder. Pour the mixture back to the batter and stir well.
after the addition of lye and baking powder: lots of bubbles
7)  Add the melted butter and stir well. 
8)  Pour the batter onto the prepared pan and steam over high heat for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium high (without opening the lid) and steam for an additional 15 minutes.

1)  In winter time, put the batter inside an oven with the oven lights on. The warmth from the oven light will provide an optimum environment for the batter to ferment.
2)  The lye solution is used to balance the acidity of the batter. It may be substituted with baking soda.
3)  The addition of double acting baking powder helps the batter to rise while steaming. 

Recipe modified from: Fine Dim Sum in Hong Kong

1) 將糖、奶粉、吉士粉及梳打粉放大盆中拌勻
2) 放入麵種用手拌勻,再逐少加入雞蛋液拌至幼滑無粒粒。
3) 倒入花奶攪勻,蓋保鮮紙放溫暖處過夜。
4) 過夜發酵後的漿會有蜂眼呈現, 表示可以繼續。
5) 加入鹼水拌勻。
6) 準備燒水及蒸盤。
7) 取出少許漿與泡打粉拌勻,再倒回盆內攪透。
8) 加入牛油液再拌勻。
9) 倒入已鋪上紙的盆,用大火蒸十分鐘,將火調低一點(切勿打開蓋),再蒸十五分鐘至熟。


1) 漿可放開了燈的焗爐內保溫發酵
2) 鹼水用來中和漿發酵後的酸性
3)  粉漿加入泡打粉後蒸時受熱膨脹令蛋糕鬆起



  1. hi, what is lye water? can we substitute all purpose flour with cake flour for aged dough?

  2. hi again, can the aged dough be stored for future use? if can, what is the method of storage n how many days can it be stored? tks so much!

    1. Hi,
      Lye is a combination of potassium carbonate and sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) solution. It is used to neutralize the acidity of the aged dough. As the dough sits for a long period of time at room temperature, all the microbes will grow and produce acids.
      After the aged dough is mature, it can be kept in the refrigerator for about a week. But you have to revive it before usage.
      And I think you can use cake flour to make aged dough.

  3. Hi Phoebe,
    After the 2nd 17 hours of the aged dough, I realized I dont have the evaporated milk, so I put it in the refrigerator last night. Can you please let me how to revive the aged dough before use ? Thank You

    1. Hi Cindy,

      I think you just need to take it out from the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature before using.

  4. 150g aged dough 麵種 (click here for making aged dough 麵種做法點擊這裏, I finished this part 4) 過夜發酵後的粉漿會有蜂眼呈現, 表示可以繼續. Now I found out the dough is 200g and you only need 150g for this recipe. What should I do now? I have not add lye , baking powder and butter yet. Please advise. thank you

    1. You can either use all or discard the excess.

  5. Where can I find custard powder?

    1. For retail, some Indian/Mediterranean groceries, or World Market. Or online sites, Amazon, etc.


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