Chinese steamed sponge cake

Ovens aren’t commonly found in China, so bread products are often steamed on the stovetop. This light, eggy cake, similar to a genoise sponge cake, is traditionally made from flour, sugar and whole eggs. But a touch of baking powder makes for a more reliable rise. Adapted from Grace Young’s classic Widsom of the Chinese Kitchen.


  • 5 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup cake flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder (optional)
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


  1. Line an 8-inch cake pan with wax paper or parchment paper. Identify a wide pot or wok that can accommodate the pan and a rack that can fit in the pot and hold the pan above water level (you can also sit the pan on 2-inch high cans with ends cut out). Add water to about 1/2-inch below rack. Cover pot and heat water while you mix cake.
  2. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt.
  3. Add eggs to a large mixing bowl. Using an electric mixer on high speed, beat eggs for one minute and add sugar slowly. Beat for until mixture thickens, about five minutes.
  4. Gradually whisk flour mixture into eggs. Add vanilla extract.
  5. Pour batter into prepared pan. Set pan on rack and cover pot. Turn heat to medium and steam until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, about 20-25 minutes. If you run out of water during cooking (ie you stop seeing steam), carefully add boiling water to pan. Take care when removing lid so that condensation from lid does not drip on cake. Serve cake warm or cooled.


  • If using different-sized eggs: total egg volume should be about 1 cup.
  • Cake flour substitution: remove two tablespoons from 1 cup of all-purpose flour; replace with two tablespoons cornstarch (aka corn flour). Or if you don’t have cornstarch, simply use the smaller amount of all-purpose flour.
  • You may also substitute almond extract for vanilla.

Here’s a link back to the post and pictures.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Rick 16 December 2016 at 2:43 pm

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I followed your recipe today and my sponge cake came out perfectly. It is exactly what I have been looking for to serve with tea. I didn’t have any cake flour and was too lazy to go shopping so I substituted with cornstarch per your instructions. I couldn’t be happier with the result. Thank you again!

I posted a photo of my cake on imgur along with attribution and a link to your site.


cg 17 December 2016 at 4:36 pm

hi rick – well done, cake looks great! you are too sweet to share that with me. i am so glad to hear it was such a success for you. =) happy holidays!


LeeAnn (@shantismurf) 2 April 2017 at 7:41 am

I can’t wait to try this with my 6yo, 3yo and 1yo “helpers”. They are very interested in the bamboo steamer I dug out of the basement yesterday. I’m wondering if you’ve ever tried adding plumped raisins, thawed wild blueberries, or maybe (dare I say) chocolate chips? I need to make it before I start experimenting, but I think it’ll be yummy no matter what!


cg 17 April 2017 at 10:25 am

hi leeann – i am sorry i was so slow getting back to you! i haven’t tried adding anything to it – sponge cake is a little unpredictable, and i’d be afraid to weight it down. but if you want to experiment, i’d try chocolate chips or raisins first – less moisture to interfere. good luck!


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