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Ma Lai Gao - Steamed Brown Sugar Cake

Ma Lai Gao is a steamed cake that is a pretty popular item in Chinese dim sum. Whenever I go to have dim sum, I usually end up ordering egg tart instead of ma lai gao. Partly because I know that more skill is required to replicate a good egg tart at home compared to ma lai gao. But for daily tea, I actually prefer ma lai gao - steamed brown sugar cake compared to egg tart, so comforting.

Ma Lai Gao - Steamed Brown Sugar Cake

Ma Lai Gao - Steamed Brown Sugar Cake

Dried jujubes (or figs)

Most ma lai gao is plain, but when I make them at home, I usually add some chopped up dried fruits to make the cake feels extra special. To fit Chinese theme, you can use dried jujube/red dates, or dried fig, both should be quite easy to find in Chinese/Korean grocery stores. If you use dried jujube, make sure to remove the seeds first before chopping them finely. Of course you can always choose the more typical dried fruits, such as raisins, cranberries, or prunes. Or just leave the cake plain.

Ma Lai Gao - Steamed Brown Sugar Cake

Ma Lai Gao - Steamed Brown Sugar Cake

You do need a steamer

If you use an 8" round cake pan, your cake should ends up about 1" tall. If you use a 7" round cake pan, it will be taller (about 1.3" if my math is correct!). And if you use a 6" round cake pan, it will be even taller (about 1.8" tall!). But whichever cake pan you choose, you will need a steamer to cook the cake. If your rice cooker comes with a steamer basket, you may be able to just use your rice cooker to steam the cake. Mine comes with an 8" round steamer basket, which works out to be the perfect vessel for this cake.

Ma Lai Gao - Steamed Brown Sugar Cake

Ma Lai Gao - Steamed Brown Sugar Cake

Ma Lai Gao - Steamed Brown Sugar Cake

5.0 from 5 reviews

Author: Anita Jacobson




Prep Time: 15 mins

Cook Time: 30 mins

Total Time: 45 mins

Serves: 8

Print Recipe


  • 3 eggs
  • 75 gram (6 tablespoon) dark brown sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 100 gram all purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoon milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 45 gram (3 tablespoon) melted butter
  • 2 dried jujube/red dates (~ 12 gram), remove seeds and roughly chopped (optional)


  1. Prepare a steamer (I use my rice cooker), and line an 8" (or 7") round cake pan with a parchment paper (I use my 8" steamer basket that comes with the rice cooker).
  2. In a mixing bowl, beat eggs and dark brown sugar on high speed until thick.
  3. Add salt, baking soda, and half of the all purpose flour. Beat with low speed just until mixed, then add the rest of the all purpose flour and mix again.
  4. Add in milk, vanilla extract, and melted butter. Stir with a spatula until mixed, then fold in the dried jujube until well mixed.
  5. Pour into the prepared cake pan (or steamer basket), and steam for 30 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean.
  6. Remove cake from steamer, cut into serving slices, and serve while hot.


  • Tommy Tommy says:

    You listed butter as an ingredient but was not used in the instructions. Why?

    • Anita Anita says:

      Ooops! I'm so glad you caught it and let me know, Tommy. The melted butter should go with the milk and vanilla (step 4). I have updated the recipe, and I hope you will give it a try.

  • Cindy Gordon Cindy Gordon says:

    I think this is going to become a fast family favorite! SO YUMMMY!

    • Anita Anita says:

      Woohoo, I am so glad your family love the cake. :)

  • Kate Kate says:

    I LOVE sugar cakes and I've been craving it forever, thank you for this recipe I'm making this ASAP!

  • Noelle Noelle says:

    This recipe turned out so great! I have a new found love for brown sugar cakes, thank you!

    • Anita Anita says:

      You are welcome Noelle. And if you happen to have coconut palm sugar at home, it makes for a very delicious substitute too.

  • Sara Welch Sara Welch says:

    I know what I will be making tomorrow! This looks delish! Excited to give this a try!

  • Diana Diana says:

    I have never tried baking a steamed cake before, but now I'm intrigued! This sounds and looks sooo good!

  • Betty Betty says:

    Hi, mine did not rise much. It’s dense and chewy instead of soft and fluffy . Do u know what went wrong? Thank you.

    • Anita Anita says:

      Hi Betty, I'm not sure why it's dense and chewy. Could it be possible that the baking soda is already expired? Or could it be you are using baking powder instead of baking soda?

  • Laura Pang Laura Pang says:

    Does it work with just 1/4 baking soda? The other recipe show 1 tsp baking powder and 1 tsp baking powder. I find it taste a little bitter.

    • Anita Anita says:

      Hi Laura Pang, I've successfully made this cake several times with 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda.

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