Monday, July 16, 2007

Ma Lai Koh

It is summer and there are so much to do, leaving me no time to do much posting although i did cook and still tweaking recipes. When a friend asked me about 'ma lai koh' - the old kind with lots of holes, i had to ponder for a very long period to try and recall how this cake should be. The only memory of it is that it was very fragrant of the lard as soon as the steamer lid was opened and the color of the cake was light brown. Thanks to my friend and sifu TT who posted the original recipe, i have managed to tweak and come up with the cake i like.

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90 g all purpose flour
1/4 tsp yeast
1/4 tsp sugar
80 ml water

Cake :

80 gm brown sugar
1 1/2 tbsp condensed milk
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla essence
50 gm melted butter
1/4 tsp salt
28 gm cake flour
1 tbsp custard powder
1 tbsp milk powder
1/4 tsp vinegar
1/8 tsp pottassium carbonate & sodium bicarbonate solution(kan sui)
1/2 tsp double action baking powder



Mix all the ingredients and leave for 2 to 4 hours(it can be left for longer but it made the cake too yeasty.)


Bring water in steamer to high boil.

Line a perforated 8 inch cake pan with greaseproof paper and put in steamer to preheat.

Add the brown sugar and condensed milk to the starter and using your hand, mix and blend in until well combined.

Using a whisk, add in eggs and vanilla, whisk well.

Add in melted butter and salt. When well mixed add cake flour, custard and milk powder.

Lastly add in vinegar, potassium carbonate & sodium bicarbonate solution and double action baking powder. Mix well and pass batter through the sieve.

Pour into preheated prepared cake pan and steam for 30 minutes.



Anonymous said...

Hi Lily, Just need to clarify if it is 1/8tsp of EACH of the pot. carbonate and sod. bicarb or a combined 1/8 tsp of the 2. Or is it either one of the 2? I found this bottle of pot. carb. solution in my pantry after mum left and have no idea what to use it for! Maybe I can try this recipe! Thx!

East Meets West Kitchen said...

So happy to see you posting recipes again! This looks like another must-try recipe. :)

lilyng said...


it is 1/8 tsp of the solution which is a combination of potassium carbonate and sodium bicarbonate.

there are so many recipes using this 'kan sui'

Lee Ping said...

Dear Auntie Lily,

Good to see recipes from you again. :)

Does your Sifu TT have a blog?

SteamyKitchen said...

you are always making yummy delicious things that my mom used to make for me!!

lilyng said...

lee ping

my sifu tt is in my link - playing with my food

Anonymous said...

hey lily.i have been trying to make the yau char kway by using yr recipe.but i cannot get the double acting baking powder,is there any substituition of it,or can i use single acting baking powder?

lilyng said...


i suppose you could but you would have to add the baking powder in just before you pour in the batter to steam.

QQ red apple said...

lily.... I'm sorry for late reply cause I was busy with my 3 young kids-- summer break. Hahahah... about yellow split bean-----is kacang putih without skin, not mung beans. hong kong peoples called it 'woon tau'. you may buy it at supermarket in package. hope can help you!!!!!!!!!!

lilyng said...

qq red apple

kacang putih is dhall and in cantonese 'wong tau' is soya beans.

still not sure which one?

QQ red apple said...

hi lily,

sorry for confusing- I make some mistake .
It is not wong tau, hongkongnese call it mah tau. it is kacang dhall without skins. mandarin would call it ' wan tou'. you may have a look at here
Hope it would be useful.

cutejoos said...

hi lily,
what is custard powder? don't think I have ever encountered that ingredient before. Any substitutions available? Thanks & I love your blog!!!

lilyng said...


custard powder is a premix of cornflour/cornstarch. flavoring and coloring.

so, i suppose you could sub with cornflour/cornstarch + vanilla + yellow coloring

may said...

Hi ! Stumble upon your blog by accident. Great blog. So many recipes/food from my childhood.
Can't wait to try them out.

Btw what it is cake flour. Is it the same as plain flour ?

Ms J said...

lily, can you come over to my house for a one on one cooking lesson - a busines transaction of course (you know what i mean)? i am lousy with malay food and my husband loves SOTO. I live in Erie, 20mins from where you are. I have a 7 month old baby so its not easy for me to go to you.
let me know ok.
i need help with culinary skills..i am a lousy cook. kesian laki i

lilyng said...


cake flour has a very low gluten content and it is available under the brand name 'soft as silk' or 'swan'.

you could remove a tbsp of plain flour and replace with cornflour from one cup

lilyng said...

ms j

i thought you were supposed to email me. anyway, i am glad you are here.

how i wish i can come to your house as i babysit my grandchildren 24/7, night and day - a 2 yr old and the 5 yrs go to kindy and i have to be bus sekolah

may said...

Thanks for the information. I can't wait to try it once I gather all the ingredients.

aiyah nonya said...

Hello, I came across your blog and I find your blog great. All the recipes are so mouth watering.
I tried the smilimg steamed cakes today and it was a success !
I find it a bit sweet. Is it possible to reduce the sugar, I wonder ?
Thanks again for the wonderful recipe.

lilyng said...

aiyah nonya

good job on your success with the smiling cakes. of course you can reduce the sugar but not too much otherwise the cake might taste too floury

Ginger said...

my mom loves this cake!
thanks for posting this up!

Anonymous said...

Dear Lily
Just to say that I love visiting your blog The recipes look lovely and I can't wait to try them out
Keep up the good work

Wiz said...

Hi Lily,

I have linked you in my blog, hope you don't mind. Love visiting your blog as there are so many recipes here. I think you can commercialize your culinary skills by writing a book.

Thanks for sharing all the recipes.

Jo said...

Hi Lily!

I was talking to a classmate about mah lai goh today, and a thought sprang to my mind - the recipe would probably be on this website. I seriously love your blog because you have so many well-explained asian food recipes - in english.

About the recipes, is the tablespoon measure 15mL or 20mL? Also, do you use american or UK cup measures? ie 1 cup= 250mL, or..?

I don't think we have "kan sui" sold in local shops here. since your recipe only calls for 1/8tsp of it, would it be okay to simply omit this ingredient? or is it essential for forming the right texture?

Also, is the batter to be poured into any cake tin and steamed? And do we steam it in those steamers with different racks that we use to steam pork buns? or do we stand the cake tin on something in a pot of boiling water to steam..? In the latter case, would it matter if the bottom of the tin (or more of it) is submerged in the water?

haha sorry, I have one more question! since italian 00 flour is a really fine flour as well, it should be okay to substitute it for the cake flour, right?


Jo said...

Hi sorry, me again :P

Can we use white wine vinegar? coz that's the only type of vinegar I have in the pantry :(

lilyng said...


white wine vinegar is fine and for the kan sui perhaps you could use 1/2 tsp baking soda.

for the steaming, i use the steamer pot and if you wish to use the wok, raise the baking pan so that water will not touch the bottom of pan

a cup is 240 ml and a tbsp is 15 ml, a tsp is 5ml.

i have not used italian 00 flour and i hope that the 00 does not mean no gluten, then it will be like cornflour. try with plain flour and don't work the batter too much.

Jo said...

hi lily,
thanks for the reply!

italian 00 flour is a really fine flour, but i think it still has gluten - it's the type of flour used to make pasta.

Can we pour the batter directed into the pan while it's in the steamer, or would it cause uneven cooking? Do we have to take the tin out of the steamer when we add the batter?

also, since this cake is steamed, and so will presumably be more moist, can we still use a cake tester to check whether the cake is done or not? Or do we just assume that after 30 minutes it definitely will be done? And should this cake be eaten warm or allowed to cool completely on a cooling rack before serving? oh oh and does this cake keep well (how many days will it keep fresh for?)and should I store it in or out of the fridge, in an airtight container, or otherwise?

Please enlighten me :)


lilyng said...


take the heated cake pan from the steamer and pour the batter, then you will not be scalded by the steam. you must test for doneness as the time is only a guide and steamers differ, so will be cooking time.

this cake is delicious warm or room temp but my preference is warm. You can keep in the fridge well wrapped for at least a week.

Anonymous said...


I was just wondering is 90 g consider grams, that would be 3 1/3 ounce right? Then what is gm stand for.


lilyng said...


yes you are right. g or gm is short for grams.

Jo said...

Hi Lily,

I tried out this recipe for tea two weekends ago, and it turned out ok - I did find, however, that I did not end up with much batter by the end of the mixing process, which resulted in a rather flat cake. I have suspicions, however, that maybe it did not rise as high as in your pic because I did not use lye water. As you recommended, I substituted this with some baking soda, but only used maybe 1/4 tsp, rather than your recommended 1/2 tsp for a reason I can't quite remember. Do you think this might have been the reason for the lack of volume? I did see an ok-sized hole in each slice, but there certainly weren't as many as in your pic - again, do you suppose this is due to the absence of lye water/enough baking soda? I did get a few holes through the top though, from the condensation that built up under the steamer lid :P Any tips for preventing this from happening? I thought of covering the tin with a piece of parchment, but I figured condensation can still build up under that also.

Althought he cake was flat, it was not at all gluggy or dense - it was so soft and spongey! My family liked it very much and mum said although my rendition didn't look that good, it tasted like the real deal. I like how the cake remained soft even hours after cooling - is that characteristic of ALL steamed cakes? If so, can I steam normal sponge cakes? Or will steaming require some alterations in ingredients? I love baked sponges, except I always seem to end up with firm edges upon cooling. Maybe it's just me.. maybe it happens with all baked goods..

Anyway, thanks very much for sharing this recipe! I had a look at the "tall"/yumcha version on your 'sifu''s blog and will try that version for tea tomorrow :)

lilyng said...


kan sui is a very much stronger alkali than baking soda, so if you omit it, sub with perhaps 1 tsp.

the reason for the cake not rising to as high as it should could be many factors -

condensation is the killer, a slight drop and the cake will not rise. use a large piece of muslin/linen/cotton cloth and tie the lid of the steamer, this will prevent condensation.

the correct size pan - if you have changed to a larger one, then it will alter the height of the cake.

If your baked goods ended up wih firm edges especially sponge cakes, then you could have overbaked them

~.t R i X _ P L @ n E t .~ said...

Hi lily,I love your blog with all the delicious food.I linked your blog to mine for easier references.:) for this malai koh recipe, can i omit the 1/8 tsp pottassium carbonate & sodium bicarbonate solution(kan sui)and substitute it with 1/2 teaspoon baking soda as per your comment before?Do you know where can we buy1/8 tsp pottassium carbonate & sodium bicarbonate solution(kan sui)in USA?In which section in the store?
for the 1/2 tsp double action baking powder is it the same as regular baking powder? Please advice and please continue your hard work in your blog. Thanks!!!

lilyng said...


i have posted a picture of the bottle of kan sui here

it would be easier if you could print the picture and ask the asian store where it can be found.

here in the United States, all the baking powders on the supermarket shelves are double action.

Lisa Choo said...

Hi Lily, just curious - is Kan Sui harmful? I noticed you use it in quite a few recipes. I somehow have the idea it is not good for your health but i know i eat it a lot without knowing too especially in Malaysia. How much is a safe level?

Anonymous said...

Hi Lily,

I am in the U.S. and not familiar with metrics. Is 90g under the Starter section the same as 90gm? If so, my calculation would be 6 tbsp of flour for the starter. Right?

In the cake section, 28 gm cake flour will translate to 1.87 tbsp. There is not much flour used in this recipe. I must have have missed somthing.

Please help.


lilyng said...


the flour for this cake is 90 gm for the starter and 28 gm for the main ingredients. therefore making it to about 118 gm which is 4 ozs/slightly less than 1 cup

Anonymous said...

Thank you Lily for the metric conversion. I would love to try this recipe but I can't find any measuring cup for small grams. Are you in Denver? Do you have a recommendation for small metric measuring device for this recipe sold in the U.S.? Thanks.

Anonymous said...

May I substitute condensed milk with other milk like thick coconut milk or fat free milk? I cannot find a small box of milk powder to buy. May I substitute it with coffee creamer?

lilyng said...


actually i am in aurora.

grams can only be measured with a kitchen scale. Invest in a digital kitchen scale, it is worth the while if you are serious into more baking

lilyng said...


if you should sub condensed milk with coconut milk, then you should increase the amount of sugar and the taste of the cake will be different.

the 1 tbsp of milk powder can be omitted and i supposed you could sub with creamer.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your knowledge and posting the pictures, Lily. I love your blog. I will buy a digital kitchen scale as you suggested. Thanks again. The reason why I want to use coconut milk is because I have a number of cans in my house. I will not know what to do with the remaining condensed milk if I use only a small portion out of a can.

lilyng said...


the condensed milk keeps very well in an airtight container and in the fridge. make a cup of thick black coffee and add in condensed milk.

Anonymous said...

Hi Lily, I bought ovalette today. Will you recommend using it in this Ma Lai Koh recipe? If so, how would you use it?


lilyng said...


ovalette is used when you want the eggs to remain fluffy and it is there to stablelized the batter. in this recipe, the starter does a good job and the eggs are needed for flavor.

Betty said...


Thank you for this recipe, I tried it and it turned out great. I've lived in Mexico for 8 years now and I do miss some of the Dim Sum food I used to eat in Toronto. I've never found a recipe for this that turned out close to the real thing until now. Thank you, thank you, thank you! Can't get Kan Su here so I used 1/4 tsp baking soda instead.

Anonymous said...

Dear lily,
could you explain the role of vinegar, kansui & double action baking powder in this recipe? all these rising agents role are so confusing.

if i do not use them but only baking soda, would the koh be flat?

Also, how important is the starter? i've seen (but not tried)some ma lai ko recipe that just use baking soda alone.

Thanks so much

Anonymous said...

Dear LIly,
Further to my earlier questions, if I use baking powder alone, instead of baking soda, how then would the outcome of the ma lai koh?

I'm just confused with all the function of these agents :
1) baking soda
2) baking powder
3) kan sui
4) double action baking powder
and how individually or combined, it would affect the outcome.

Thanks again.

lilyng said...


you can still make a very good ma lai koh with just baking powder alone. the added baking soda is to give the cake more holes and the vinegar is there to make the baking soda to work. kan sui is also alkali and works the same as baking soda, only it is more potent.

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