Corner Café

July 24, 2008

Ma Lai Koh (failed version) 馬拉糕(失敗版)

Filed under: Dim Sum — SeaDragon @ 9:00 pm
Tags: ,
Ma_Lai_Koh 06
My magical two-tone Ma Lai Koh!

Ma_Lai_Koh 05

Did I stumble upon something magical? Well, not really, and I have no idea how I did that, to come up with a two-tone cake!
Actually this is not the first time it happens to me. My Honeycomb Cake from a couple of years ago did the same thing, two tone in colour – again I have no idea how that happened either.
First of all, I knew it was going to turn out unsuccessful right from the beginning but never expected it to turn out like this. So let me start from the beginning.
The recipe was originally from ‘Cookeasy’, a very good food forum from Hong Kong which no longer exist. I have wanted to try the recipe for ages as it was supposed to be from a dim sum chef and the old-fashion method of making the cake using sourdough starter, not the quick shortcut version most recipe books published nowadays. There were two methods of making the sourdough starter, using either 2 to 1 or 1 to 1 ratio of flour and water. In one of the sourdough starter recipes I saved from that forum too, it mentioned that Ma Lai Koh used the 2 to 1 ratio starter and it would take 24 hours before it would be ready to be used. As you know, me being me, I was looking for a shortcut by using instant yeast since I have never been successful in keeping my sourdough for a long period. It always ended up in the bin as it was taking up too much space in my fridge. I was hoping by adding yeast, it only needed about 12 hours, that is, just overnight, so I could prepare the starter the night before the weekend and have the weekend to work on the recipe.
So I mixed the flour and water, adding a little instant yeast and a little sugar as food for the precious little buggers. The dough was rather dry and my instinct was screaming at me, add more water, add more water. I don’t know why, as usually I would listen to my instinct, but not that night as I was too preoccupied and was getting ready to settle down in front of the telly for a long night of the Tour de France telecast! So I left it as it was to ferment overnight.
As you know, everyone should listen to their instinct when it is screaming at you not to do something. The next morning, I checked the starter, it hasn’t increased in volume but there’s a distinct sour smell emanating from the dough. Oh well, I thought, and I started to add the ingredients for the main dough. As expected since the starter was quite dry, it was very difficult to mix in the ingredients. I mixed as much as I could but with lumpy consequences, but I was telling myself, the yeast would ‘break down’ the lumpiness when they got to work on the dough. Then I left it to proof. A couple of hours later, I checked again, shock horror, all the lumps were floating merrily on top of the batter! I should have known better!
Unfazed, I put the batter through a sieve to press out all the lumps. The lumps had actually gone quite hard, as if repelling any liquid they came in contact with, and it took me a good half hour or so to sieve the batter through. At this stage, I was expecting a glorious disaster of hard as rock cake or something similarly inedible.
Not wanting to quit, I pressed on. As if that’s no enough, I seem perpetually to choose cold winter days to experiment on yeast dough. After six or so hours, nothing seemed to be happening, with just a few bubbles on the surface of the batter. Ready to give up at this point, I turned on the oven at its lowest heat setting and put the batter in for a warm final proof session.
After an hour, I decided enough is enough, I added the last few ingredients according to the recipe and put it into the steamer to cook.
Surprise, surprise, the cake actually turned out not too bad and was quite edible. The yellow part is a bit denser, but the brown part actually tasted quite good like Ma Lai Koh should taste like. However, the biggest surprise was the two-tone in colour, can anyone give an explanation how that could have happened?
Final thought, after the similar result of getting two-tone colour in both my Honeycomb Cake and this Ma Lai Koh, I had a light-bulb moment and was thinking could the Honeycomb (Beehive) Cake be the inspiration for the creation of Ma Lai Koh? There were stories about how Ma Lai Koh got its name and one was that ‘Ma Lai’ being the Cantonese pronunciation of ‘Malay’, as in ‘Malay cake’. However as far as I know, there were no steamed cakes from Malaysia that tasted like Ma Lai Koh. However, the Honeycomb Cake does have some similarity in texture and taste, and it is also brown in colour. Although Honeycomb Cake is baked and not steamed, however, thinking about it, Chinese don’t bake in the olden days, so steaming would come more naturally if someone were trying to recreate the Honeycomb Cake in the Chinese fashion. It is not too crazy a thought, is it?

Update June 22, 2015:
Here’s the original recipe I used which was taken from an excellent but defunct Hong Kong cooking forum, Cookeasy, many years ago. I missed those forums, there were hundreds of fabulous traditional recipes being discussed by home cooks, before the arrival of blogs/facebook which basically destroyed many of those forums as people stopped discussing recipes, and stopped visiting forums, what a shame!
This recipe was posted by a forummer called “Cannes”:

馬拉糕 (茶樓式)

材料A: 麵種 340克
砂糖 340克
麵粉 57克
高筋粉 38克
奶粉 38克
吉士粉 38克
雞蛋(5個大) 340克
材料B: 鹼水 1/3~1/2湯匙 (冬天1/3湯匙﹔夏天則要1/2湯匙或多些)
發粉 (加清水76克攪溶) 14克 (約1湯匙)
豬油 (任何油都可用﹐但要熱油) 95克





  1. Read your “failed” Ma Lai Koh story. This is the recipe I have from my mother. Would you like to try it and post it here??

    8 oz (224g) plain flour
    2 oz (56g) custard powder
    2tsp baking powder
    1/2 tsp soda bicarbonate
    6 eggs
    12 0z. (336g) sugar
    1/2 tsp vanilla essence
    5 oz (140g) lard or oil
    olive kernels


    *Sift flour, custard powder, baking powder and soda bicarb together twice. Leave aside
    *Beat eggs and add sugar gradually with whisk until light and fluffy
    *Sift dry ingredients again then fold into egg batter. Add vanilla essence AND LEAVE ASIDE FOR 1 HOUR
    *Warm the lard (oil) and fold evenly into batter
    *Line 2 sheets of greased paper, large enough to cover bottom and sides of steamer rack (bamboo steamer about 8-9 inches diameter)
    * Sprinkle olive kernels on top
    * Pour batter into steamer and steam over high heat for 50 minutes.

    Tell us if you are successful. I have eaten this in my younger days and it really tastes quite like the ma lai koh.

    After steaming, cool abit and serve it warm. It tastes better when warm!!

    Hope to hear from you.

    Comment by mumsy — August 29, 2008 @ 10:09 am | Reply

  2. mumsy,
    Thanks for so generous in sharing your mother’s recipe. I will definitely try it out, probably after the Mid-Autumn Festival, and let you know of the result. Cheers 🙂

    Comment by SeaDragon — August 29, 2008 @ 6:21 pm | Reply

  3. Is there any way you could post the recipe? The link is broken, and I’m eager to try.

    Comment by Anon — June 20, 2015 @ 1:51 pm | Reply

    • LOL, you are making me work hard, I lost a lot of recipes in the intervening years after my desktop computer crashed and burned a couple of times and a lot of data were lost and cannot be retrieved. I’ll have to search through my old computer and see if that recipe survived. It was a recipe in Chinese as it came from a Chinese forum, can you read Chinese?

      Comment by SeaDragon — June 21, 2015 @ 10:14 am | Reply

      • Yes! I can read Chinese. PLEASE HELP ME! I’ve made 11 batches of ma lai gao in the past 5 days trying to get it right. I overfermented my starter dough for one of them, so one of my ma lai gao tastes alcoholic. Another one, I tried to make by harvesting the wild yeast and it ended up smelling like blue cheese! And the rest are mediocre but not amazing!

        Comment by Anon — June 22, 2015 @ 1:54 pm | Reply

        • Found the recipe last night, have posted it above, hope you have success with it.

          Comment by SeaDragon — June 22, 2015 @ 7:04 pm | Reply

          • THANK YOU SO MUCH!!

            Comment by Anon — June 25, 2015 @ 5:10 am | Reply

  4. I read online that Tim Ho Wan has a ma lai go that does not require yeast or brown sugar or molasses to give it its brown color. I am very interested in this recipe you used back in 2008. I’m trying to make ma lai go without yeast or any leavening agents. I’m actually making a 1:1 starter right now, but if you could post the recipe, I’d love to try the 2:1 starter too! Most of my baking experience is in Western cuisine, so this is all new to me.

    Comment by Anon — June 20, 2015 @ 1:59 pm | Reply

    • The brown colour is due to the baking soda used, if you add just enough of it, it turns the cake brown while cooking.

      Comment by SeaDragon — June 21, 2015 @ 10:41 am | Reply

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: