Serves a Crowd

Steamed Sponge Cake (Bak Tong Gou)

January 30, 2019
5 Ratings
Photo by Bobbi Lin
  • Prep time 30 minutes
  • Cook time 45 minutes
  • Serves 6 to 8
Author Notes

Steaming is such an underrated technique when it comes to sweets and desserts. And this classic Cantonese cake perfecty encapsulates the power of steaming. It's surprising in more ways than one - there's that soft chewiness, which gives way to a delightful sweetness, followed by a bit of tang from the yeast. It really flips the Western definition of cake, and I hope it rocks your world like it did mine. —Jun

Test Kitchen Notes

Featured in: The Underused Technique My Mother Relied on for Her Cakes. —The Editors

What You'll Need
  • 1/4 cup coconut milk, can be substituted with water
  • 1 teaspoon (5g) instant yeast
  • 1 cup (130g) rice flour
  • 1 cup (250ml) water
  • 1/2 cup (100g) caster sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon (2g) salt
  • 1 teaspoon (5g) oil, for lubricating cake tin
  1. In a small pan or microwave, heat up the coconut milk until just lukewarm to touch (~100°F)/ Then sprinkle the yeast into it, give it a quick stir, and let it sit for 10-15 minutes, until the yeast starts to bubble.
  2. In a pan, mix the rice flour, water, sugar, and salt together. Whisk it briefly until it comes together, then place it over medium-low heat for 3-5 minutes. The mixture will thicken into a runny paste. Remove it from the heat when it starts to steam, and let it cool to room temperature. Don’t let it boil.
  3. When the rice flour batter has cooled down, transfer it into a bowl. Add the yeast mixture to it and give it a quick stir. Let it sit, covered, for an hour to proof. It won’t quite double in size like a bread dough would, but it should be bubbly and have expanded slightly.
  4. Ready a steamer to cook the cake. If you don’t have a dedicated steamer, you could keep a pot of water on a rolling boil, and put a rack or stand on it that rises up at least 1 inch above the water. Oil the sides of your cake tin well. (I like using a 6-inch cake tin so the cake ends up taller.) Give the cake batter a quick stir, then pour it through a sieve into the cake tin. Cover the cake tin with a layer of aluminium foil, and steam it on high heat for 20-25 minutes. The cake is done when a skewer poked through the middle of it comes out clean.
  5. When done, let the cake cool for around 10 minutes, then remove it from the cake tin. If the cake sticks, you can ease the edges out by gently tugging on it. Slice the cake into 6-8 pieces, and serve! I find it’s at its best when still slightly warm.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Jennifer Woo Regrut
    Jennifer Woo Regrut
  • bhilz
  • Eric Kim
    Eric Kim
  • Jun

12 Reviews

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Kistida May 29, 2021
Oh I miss such treats from home. Thank you for this!
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TWoo February 22, 2019
Just came out of the pan! Not bad for a first attempt...Doesn't taste quite right, but it doesn't taste badly either...Didn't use the coconut milk, will try that next!
trvlnsandy February 18, 2019
In the photo it looks like there's a plain glaze on the cake. Is there?
bhilz February 18, 2019
Curious to see what the author says, but I have a feeling that it's just the surface of the cake after being steamed, since there's no browning and it's been in direct contact with the humidity in the steamer.
trvlnsandy February 18, 2019
Kind of what I thought, but.... sounds like it would be sweet/flavorful enough as it is
Eric K. February 20, 2019
Hi there! bhilz is correct; there's no glaze. It's just that beautiful on its own. :)
Jun February 22, 2019
Thanks for this, Eric! And yup there's no glaze; it's quite magical, eh? :)
Jennifer W. February 17, 2019
Why do you pour it through a sieve?
Jun February 22, 2019
Ah! It's just a precaution to sift out any stray lumps in the batter. You could do without this step if your batter is well-whisked and super smooth.