Auntie Karen’s “Ma Lai Go” Chinese Sponge Cake

close up of a cup of tea with a slice of Auntie Karen's Mai Lai Go from

Ma Lai Go is often served as a dessert at Chinese dim sum restaurants. It’s a perfectly light and sweet punctuation to an often savory dim sum lunch despite the cake’s plain and unassuming appearance.

Update 2/3/2023: This post has been edited for clarity.

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Ma Lai G0, a Dim Sum Dessert

Ma Lai Go, also known as Malaysian Cake or Malay Cake, is a beloved traditional Chinese dim sum dessert (“lai” sounds like lie). Heads turn when a server walks around a dim sum restaurant and yelling “Ma Lai Go!” It’s one of my mom’s favorite desserts and one of our family friends, Auntie Karen gave me her recipe years ago (thank you!!). It makes me so happy to see my family enjoy this treat worry-free.

I have adapted Auntie Karen’s ma lai go recipe to perfection over the years. I think that her addition of using sweet rice flour (also known as glutinous rice flour or mochiko) is brilliant and gives the cake a nice texture.

Also her original recipe uses 1 teaspoon of almond extract and 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract, instead I use 2 teaspoons of Rodelle’s vanilla extract (affiliate link) out of precaution to avoid almond extracts. I wrote more about using almond extracts or not in a separate post about making “almond” tofu.

Auntie Karen's ma lai go recipe nut free wok
Ma Lai Go is typically cut into a rhombus shape and served at the end of a dim sum brunch with tea.

Allergy Aware Ma Lai Go and More!

You can expect that this ma lai go recipe will be moist and delicious even when served plain, without frosting. The flavor is light and simple so you can enjoy the taste and smell of the vanilla and brown sugar. Ma Lai Go is typically made without any intentional addition of nuts in the ingredients however, it does contain wheat, milk, and eggs, some recipes may use almond extract or coconut milk for flavoring. If one is allergic to milk, I think it’s an easy substitution to use any non-dairy milk substitute.

Tips to Ma Lai Go Success

  • The first time you make ma lai go, check to make sure that the bowl in which you use to steam the cake can hold 8 cups of water. If you cannot fit a 2 quart bowl into your largest pot, you can divide the batter into two large bowls (4 cup capacity), set up two steamers, and steam the cakes for 40-45 minutes. Or you can halve the recipe and steam one cake but I am almost certain that you’ll be making another one soon. 😉
  • It’s important to set everything up when your bowl is empty and a large stock pot is cold to make sure that you can safely put a 2 quart sized bowl into the pot without your hands or fingers touching the sides.
  • Check that there is enough room under the bowl for enough water to keep steaming the cake for almost an hour. You will need about 1.5 to 2 inches of water in the pot without the water touching the bottom of the bowl.
  • Also allow for at least 1 inch of clearance between the finished cake and the top of the pot.
  • If you need to, you can use a shorter steaming rack or a stable shallow upside down dish that will allow for 1.5 inches of water in the pot, but limit yourself to steaming at only medium heat so that you don’t run out of water.
  • A traditional recipe might steam the ma lai go in a parchment paper lined bamboo steamer in a wok. I personally avoid using bamboo steamers because I don’t like resulting smell or taste so I use a large bowl instead.  Also boiling water in a wok will ruin a wok’s seasoning which is why I use either a steamer set or improvise as described above.
  • After I place the bowl of batter into the steamer, I place a piece of cheesecloth between the cake and the lid to prevent water condensation from dripping onto the cake and creating a soggy mess. It’s important to secure the edges and corners of the cheesecloth with clothespins so that the cheesecloth doesn’t accidentally catch on fire, especially if you use a gas stove. If you don’t want to use cheesecloth, you can skip this step by being very careful not to let any condensation drip on the steamed ma lai go when you lift the lid.
  • If you are not familiar with making a sponge cake such as ma lai go, be sure to refer to my best tips on how to make a chiffon cake. Pay attention to the notes regarding using eggs at the right temperature, separating the eggs carefully, and how to incorporating the egg whites into the batter.
  • You can serve ma lai go while it’s still steamy and warm, after you let the cake cool down enough to be handled or you can serve it at room temperature. It can also be made one day ahead for an event and refreshed by steaming it for a few minutes if desired.
Auntie Karen's Mai Lai Go

I’m a Brand Ambassador for Rodelle!

I’m proud to announce that I will be a brand ambassador for Rodelle, a company which I recently told you about in my post about making Ice Cream in a Bag and my review about some of their products. I’m excited because it’s my first time being an official Brand Ambassador and Rodelle is wonderful:

  • I had shared that I learned about Rodelle when I bought their vanilla beans at Costco during the holiday season in 2015. When I reached out to their customer service with allergen questions, they exceeded my expectations in how they take allergen related questions seriously and answer with as much information as possible yet treat customers with respect and kindness.
  • Most importantly for us in the food allergic community, “Rodelle does not utilize peanuts or tree-nuts on its production floor or in its products” and since I started looking at their website last year, they have added allergen statements to product  pages so consumers don’t have to hunt on their website for a general allergen statement. I love that they are honest and realistic in saying that they aren’t a “nut free facility” because that would require additional steps to verify. They encourage customers to visit their website and/or contact them if there are any concerns about additional allergens or want more details.

Now that I am a happily one of Rodelle’s newest brand ambassadors, what this really means for you is that I will have more reasons to share with you my favorite allergy mom approved dessert recipes.

This recipe for ma lai go as written is free of peanuts, tree nuts, soy, fish, shellfish and sesame. 

If you are avoiding dairy, substitute with any non-dairy milk but I recommend using 1 cup initially and gradually adding more until the batter is about the consistency of pancake batter. I haven’t tried making this recipe gluten free or egg free but have some ideas for future posts.

Let me know what you think of the recipe in the comments below.

If you love it, share with your friends!

close up of malaysian cake and a cup of tea
5 from 2 votes

Auntie Karen’s “Ma Lai Go” Chinese Sponge Cake

Ma Lai Go is often served as a dessert at dim sum restaurants. It’s a perfectly light and sweet punctuation to an often savory dim sum lunch despite the cake’s plain and unassuming appearance.

Course dim sum dessert
Cuisine Chinese
Keyword malaysian sponge cake
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Total Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Servings 12
Calories 262 kcal
Author Sharon @Nut Free Wok & Auntie Karen <3


  • 4 eggs
  • non-stick cooking spray or parchment paper squares
  • 2 cups all purpose flour can also substitute 50/50 AP and whole wheat
  • 1/2 cup glutinous rice flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 1/2 cup brown sugar packed (I prefer organic dark brown sugar)
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil or canola oil
  • 1 12 oz can of non-fat evaporated milk shake for a minute before using
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract (I used Rodelle’s


  1. Take 4 eggs out of your refrigerator and place them in a bowl of warm water for 10 minutes, dry them with a paper towel, and set aside so they can air dry.
  2. Spray an 8 cup (2 quart) capacity bowl or large casserole with a nonstick cooking spray (or line with parchment paper squares), set aside.
  3. Set up your steamer with at least 1.5 inches of water and boil the water at low heat while you make the cake.
  4. Mix the flour, rice flour, baking powder, and baking soda in a medium size bowl with a fork or a whisk.
  5. Separate the egg whites and egg yolks into two large mixing bowls.
  6. Use an electric mixer to whip the egg whites slowly until they start to foam, gradually increase the speed and keep beating until the egg whites start to form swirls and stiff peaks.
  7. Add cream of tartar and keep mixing for another minute, set aside.
  8. Beat the egg yolks, add brown sugar, and mix until fully incorporated.
  9. Add oil, mix.
  10. Add evaporated milk, mix.
  11. Add vanilla extract, mix.
  12. Add about half of the flour mixture and mix the batter on low speed, add the remaining flour, and mix.
  13. Check that the steamer has enough water to steam for one hour (at least 1.5 inches of water, add water if needed) and that it is boiling at medium to medium high heat.
  14. Add the egg whites to the cake batter and use a spatula to gently fold in the egg whites until the batter looks even.
  15. Transfer the cake batter to the large bowl that has been prepared for steaming, gently smooth the batter with a spatula so that it’s even (refrain from tapping the bowl), and place in the steamer.
  16. Meanwhile place a piece of cheesecloth on the steamer, place the steamer lid on top of it, and secure all the edges and corners with a clothespin or two,and steam the cake for one hour (do not get distracted during this step!).
  17. ALTERNATIVELY if you have safety concerns regarding using cheesecloth on a gas stove or don’t have cheese cloth, steam the cake for one hour and then lift the lid quickly and be careful not to allow any condensation to drip onto the cake.
  18. You can serve the cake warm or at room temperature, in 2-3 inch sized rectangular or parallelogram shaped blocks.

Other Nut Free Dessert Recipes You Might Like:

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About Sharon Wong 271 Articles
Welcome to Nut Free Wok, a blog about Allergy Aware Asian Fare. I hope that you will find my food allergy mom experiences helpful and enjoyable to read as I write about recipes, cooking techniques, Asian ingredients, and food allergy related awareness and advocacy issues. My professional experiences include education, teaching, and a little bit of science and computers. Thank you for visiting! ~Sharon Wong, M.Ed.


  1. I have never had anything like this and it looks so delicious that needs to change! I can tell how much you love it by your glowing description! Your directions make it very do-able!

  2. Hi: I love this cake and it’s the exact same recipe as my aunt. I have a big problem and that is…after it has steamed for one hour and while it is cooling, it always deflates about 50%. For some reason it does not happen to my aunt. I followed the recipe exactly as stated. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong. Please comment.

    • Ahhh!! There could be a lot of reasons why your cake might deflate. Are you using fresh baking powder (you can test it by stirring some water and baking powder together, should be bubbly)? The other thing is to make sure your egg white is very stable, beat it until it’s stiff but mix it gently into the batter just enough that there are no lumps of egg white). You can also read my other cake baking tips in my orange chiffon cake recipe post:

      • Should I be cooling the cake upside down? Should I be whipping the egg whites with cream of tartar from the start and how long does it take to get stiff? I remember my aunt whipped the egg whites with cream of tartar to start, but your recipe ask that the cream of tarter be added later.

        • It’s not necessary to cool this cake upside down. Your question about adding cream of tartar at the beginning intrigued me and after reading about it some more, it makes sense. The acid from cream of tartar acts as a stabilizer so why not stablize the egg foam from the beginning. However, I’ve made sponge cake the same way since I started baking and it turns out everytime. Did you read the baking tips in my orange chiffon cake recipe? I learned one more thing that I didn’t know before, mix your egg whites in a glass or stainless steel bowl and not in a plastic or copper bowl. I don’t know why your mai lai go doesn’t turn out, I hope you can figure it out and let me know.

  3. Hi, i tried making it with sourdough starter, coconut milk and gula melaka/ coconut sugar along with egg free custard powder. It works like a charm but not gluten free.

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