Steamed Rice Cakes (Pak Thong Koh)

I know Ben. When he was in Malaysia he, without fail, will go look for recipe books to bring home … and for me to COOK! He always does that and I hate that because it adds so much pressure to me to make them. He thinks that I can make anything … oh yeah! oh sure!

So, I had no choice because he had been placing his “present” for me on my bedside table. I know it’s his subtle way to let me know that it’s there. So, I am forced to make just one item just to placate him. I made the Pak Thong Koh (Steamed Rice Cake). This is quite common in Chinatown and chinese bakeries like T&T and Maxim’s.

Pak Thong Koh is a sweet rice cake with a tangy flavour from the yeast action. It has a very unique springy texture. It is not overly sweet, just a hint of sweetness. Great for kids too because it does not leave a mess at all.

Making this is quite easy with very simple steps. However, it takes a lot of time because it takes 6-8 hours waiting for the yeast to make it rise.


The Pak Thong Koh turned out OK taste wise but I just could not make it as white as snow. The ones that I bought from the bakeries is really white. Do you have a tip on how to make it that white?


(1) Syrup

  • 300g sugar
  • 300ml water
  • 3 screwpine leaves (Pandan)

For the Batter:


  • 300g rice flour
  • 1 tablespoon cornflour
  • 250ml water


  • 1 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 1/8 teaspoon lye water (alkaline)

Click on the link below for the instructions.


IMG_0614_edited-1Combine ingredients (2), stir well to form a batter and set aside.
IMG_0616_edited-1Boil ingredients (1) in a pot until the sugar is dissolved to from a syrup. Discard screwpine leaves and bring the syrup to a boil.
IMG_0617_edited-1I do not have instant yeast on hand, so I used active dry yeast instead. I dissolved the yeast with 1 tablespoon of warm water.
IMG_0618_edited-1Pour the boiling syrup into the batter to half-cook the batter. Let cool. Add instant yeast to the batter and mix well. Cover with a damp cloth and set aside for 6 to 8 hours for the batter to rise.
IMG_0619_edited-1Add lye water and mix well. Pour the batter into a tray and steam over high heat for 45 minutes or until cooked.

Remove, let cool, cut into pieces and serve.

If you like this Pak Thong Koh, I recommend you also check out this version of Steamed Rice Cake and Steamed Red Bean Rice Cake (Poot Jei Goa).

This Post Has 87 Comments

  1. Daryl W.T. Lau

    Love your site and especially your top homepage revolving banner. So darn cool!


  2. Chubbypanda

    As previously stated, Ben is a lucky lucky man. Why two “luckies”? One, because he has a wife who is a wonderful cook. The second, because he has a very patient wife who puts up with his “hinting”. =D

  3. Windy

    I can’t believe it! I mean Ben is being a bit naughty here…. hehe.

    Take you time and don’t give yourself too much pressure (food may not taste good otherwise). But I’m sure he will like any food you make even if you think it’s not up to your perfection. 🙂

  4. lilyng

    i think it is the cornflour that is making your koh not as white. try replacing with tung mein fun

  5. Suanne

    Hi Lilyng, I wonder if you know the English name for ‘tung mien fun’. I will try to look for it.

  6. Sakim Nat

    It’s the lye water that is making the Pak Thong Koh not white. Try using bicarbonate of soda.

  7. Sakim Nat

    The English name for ‘tung mien fun’ is Wheat Starch.

  8. Suanne

    Thanks Sakim Nat, I will try your suggestions the next time I make Pak Thong Koh.

  9. eric

    Is it plain rice flour or glutinous rice flour?

  10. Suanne

    Hi Eric, this recipe uses plain rice flour.

  11. Suanne

    Hi Sakim Nat, I tried to make it with Wheat Starch and bicarbonate soda yesterday but it turned out more brown than my original recipe. I think the bakers who make this must have used some kind of edible bleach to make it so white.

  12. Jennifer

    I’m looking for a Filipino dessert that looks VERY similar to this- I wonder if this is the one I’ve been missing! The only thing is, I live in Washington State in the United States and I wonder where I can find lye water and screwpine leaves!

    1. lolita

      get it in oriental store

  13. Suanne

    Hi Jennifer, I do not know where you can find screwpine leaves and lye water in Washington State. But, yesterday, I made the Pak Tong Koe without the lye water but substituted with 1 teaspoon of cream of tartar and it turned out the whitest I ever get. Thanks to Jess for the pointer.

  14. Jennifer

    Suanne, thank you so much. My Nana told me that it’s called PUTO but I’ve looked at Puto before (a Filipino dessert) and it doesn’t look a thing like this (which is exactly the thing I’m looking for!). Thanks! 🙂

  15. Khang Chang

    I would like to have your steam rice cake recipe.

    Khang chang


  16. MAO MOUA

    I would like to have your steam rice cake recipe.

  17. mao xiong moua

    I make your steam rice cake today, it turn out perfect, I love it. I have been looking for this steam rice cake recipe for a longest time I’m finally found it. Thankyou so much for the recipe.

  18. Irene Galvante

    I want to comment on Jennifer question where to find lye water and screwpine leaves. I live in California and I bought the lye water at Filipino stores, oriental stores, Chinatown and even big grocery stores carry lye water mostly on the Oriental aisle. About screwpine leaves, I buy this frozen but you can substitute pandan flavor (usually on the aisle with vanilla flavoring syrup).

  19. grace

    how do i steam a large batch if i only have a small steamer? is there a way to steam in the oven? thanks

  20. Suanne

    Hi Grace, I dont think you can get the steaming effect in the oven that is required by this style of cake. Perhaps you have to invest some money to get a big wok or steamer or otherwise, steam them in small batches in your small steamer.

  21. Jamie Kwan

    Just wondering is it possible to skip using the pandan leaves or is it integral to the flavor of the pak thong kou?

  22. Suanne

    Hi Jamie, Southeast Asia recipes use pandan leaves to flavour the desserts a lot. Maybe because pandan leaves are abundant in SEA. I guess you can impart your preferred flavour to the Pak Thong Kou like coconut, vanilla, almond, etc by using extracts.

  23. Jamie Kwan

    Hi Suanne, Oh that’s a great idea! I think an almond extract version would be superb. I’ll let you know how it works out. Thanks so much for always writing back. Your site is a daily highlight for me.

  24. Jamie

    Just checking but when you say cornflour, do you mean cornflour or corn starch?

  25. Suanne

    Hi Jamie, what the English call corn flour is what the Americans call corn starch.

  26. Jamie

    Awesome, I thought as much. Thanks for clarifying! Sounds like you’re having a great vacation.

  27. Lou

    Tried the recipe today. One thing I noticed right away was that my batter did not look anything at all like yours in the first picture. Mine was very watery, while yours looked formed. I double checked my measurements to make sure I did not make a mistake, but they were correct. Where do you think I failed here? Would appreciate any advice so I will succeed in my next try. Thanks.

  28. Suanne

    Hi Lou, the initial batter is rather thick but after you add the syrup, it will be watery. Did you let it rise for 8 hours before you steam it?

  29. khan

    Thank you so much, I love your site. I was so excited when I saw this recipe! I’ll have to try making this.

  30. M.Lourdes

    Thks so much for the recipe. I was looking for it since 2005 when we went to Canton and eaten this cake in a restaurant.
    Just need to know if the batter should be cooked after pouring the boiling syrup in it and for how long. Thanks for your quick reply as I would like to try it very quickly.

  31. suanne

    Hi M. Lourdes, the heat from the boiling syrup alone will half cook the batter. You don’t need to cook the batter on the stove anymore. Just let it cool a bit before you add in the yeast.

  32. delia

    Hi Suanne,
    I love eating this cake and would like to try your recipe. Since you mentioned you use 1 tsp of cream of tartar to get it white, then when do you add in this cream of tartar and to where? Hope you would be able to reply me soon. thanks!

  33. Suanne

    Hi Delia, I add the cream of tartar just before it goes to the steamer. But, I must tell you that it wont be as white as those you find in the stores, just not to disappoint you.

  34. delia

    Hi Suanne,
    Thanks for the prompt reply. Will try it out this weekend.

  35. Quinn

    Hi, my grandmother steamed this over rapidly vinegar-ed water.
    Vinegar is the key to a white ‘pak thong koh’
    She add a tablespoon of white vinegar into the steaming water.
    And I’ve checked the internet for substitution, cream of tartar and white vinegar can be substituted interchangeably at a one to one ratio. What I would like to ask is that if you add 1 tsp of cream of tartar in the batter, wouldn’t the batter produce a sourish taste?

  36. geeta

    Hello Suanne ,
    The first picture shows the batter to be very thick.
    The 250 ml water used …is it boiling hot water???

    1. Suanne

      Hi geeta, the 250ml water is just room temperature water.

  37. Sandy Wu

    To make the cake whiter, omit the lye water which cause it to turn yellow, instead add 1/4 tsp baking power.

  38. geeta

    Thanks Suanne for your response.
    I tried your recipe, omitting the lye water and added a little baking powder. It turned out white and the texture was also great.
    Thanks for sharing your recipe

    Happy Chinese New Year


  39. Mickael

    just a question, when you say syrup, you mean that :
    – sugar is completely dissolved
    – sugar is dissolved and the liquid obtained is thick ?

    Thank you so much 🙂

    1. Suanne

      Hi Mickael, syrup in this context is just when sugar is completely dissolved.

  40. ainwa

    In Washington State, I would check Uwajimaya’s market in the International District of Seattle for any Pacific Rim ingredient. There are many other small international markets representing specific countries in that area if Uwajimaya’s does not have it.

    Your talk of recipe books reminded me of a brief glimpse of Marge Simpson in an episode. She was interrupted while trying to get to sleep, reading the book “Recipes To Read in Bed”. My DH teases me all the time about reading cookbooks like novels!

  41. wasabipeas

    Hi, this looks good, I have tried a similiar recipe in the past but have always failed. My dad said put some vinegar in the water whilst steaming and the koh will come out white, just the same as making buns.

  42. b van

    I tried it this weekend, but my was still wet at the top. Can you convert the ingredients into cup measurements. Even after it cooled off, the top with still gooey. Please help.

    1. Suanne

      Hi b van,

      For granulated sugar, 1 cup is 200g.
      However, different type of flour weigh differently. It is always better to get a kitchen scale for recipe in weight. I tried to measure 1/2 cup of rice flour and the weight is 50g. This is just an approximate figure. Hope this help.

  43. mina

    the reson why your steamed rice cake did not turn out snow white because you use yeast which gives the cake a slight brown color. in order for your steamed rice cake to come out know white, you would have to use the natural fermentation process, which takes a very long time. you would prepare the starter (batter with just rice flour and water, cover it slightly ajared for 3 days until the batter turned sour and fermented with bubbles). once you have the starter then you can incorporate it into the recipe, and your cake will turn out snow white.

    1. Suanne

      Hi Mina,

      Thank you for your tips. Can you give me the exact quantity of the ingredients to create the starter and how to incorporate this starter into the recipe?

      Thank you so much,

      1. Monica

        Hi Mina,
        May I also know the exact quantity of the ingredients to create the starter and how to incorporate this starter into the recipe? I failed many times at making the pak tong goh. Thanks so much for your help.

    2. Claude

      Hi Mina, would you have a recipe for this version of the rice cake you could share please? I would love to try and make a version using natural fermentation.

  44. DK

    Did you ever solve your snow white problem? Perhaps you could use 1 TB of vinegar, added to the mixture. Saw this suggested in this recipe for Bok Tong Goh

    I’ve tried it and to me it retains the whiteness better. Also, other similar recipes suggest added a container with vinegar in it alongside the pan of rice cake batter to do the same thing and keep the whiter color.

    Good Luck!

    1. DK

      Meant to say, the container of vinegar is placed in the steamer with the pan of rice cake batter and steamed together. Also, I did try the recipe I linked and couldn’t get the “pronounced” honeycomb, only smaller honeycombs, maybe half an inch in height. I’m thinking cooking the batter as you do might make a huge difference and allow the batter to “hold” the air bubbles as the yeast gives off it’s gas? I think I’ll be trying this.

  45. Stephanie

    Can I omit lye water? What is the purpose of adding it? I read another version of recipe it is not using lye water. But I never try yet, so I wondering would it be turned out the same.

    1. Suanne

      hi Stephanie, I had tried making this by substituting 1 teaspoon of cream of tartar for the lye water and it works.

  46. Marike

    Mmm, I love bak tong goh…I can’t wait to try!

  47. Jon

    Hiya guys,

    Just wondering if you could help me out.. I’m looking for a recipe quite similar to the steamed rice cakes – they’re called or pronounced ‘hey (hay) barn’ and are traditionally made by the old grannies in the old school markets in Hong Kong or Malaysia…. If anyone also has the recipes for ‘bwut che go’ or ‘char gor’ I would be eternally grateful!! It’s the disadvantage of being a BBC – going to lose family recipes forever unless I get my act sorted!! Cheers


  48. Alice

    Hi…Could not find Lye water..can I ignore it? Thanks.


    1. Suanne

      Hi Alice, you can substitute the lye water with baking soda or cream of tartar.

      1. Alice

        Thanks Suanne. Start doing it now. Will keep you inform of the outcome. Alice

        1. Alice

          Hi Suanne,

          Thank you for sharing such a delicious and easy recipe. It was very successful but just only the colour of the Pak Thong Koh. I substitute lye water with baking powder.


  49. Serene in Singapore

    Hi! Can I check the purpose of using cornflour? Can I substitute with any OTHER flour? We are allergic to corn. Thanks!

    1. Suanne

      Hi Serene, I’m not sure the purpose of using cornflour in this recipe. But, you can substitute it with tapioca flour.

  50. marivic

    what is the best pan that i can use to this steam rice cake.thanks

    1. Suanne

      Hi Marivic, I steamed mine with a glass plate which is quite big (much bigger than a pie plate). If you dont a suitable size plate, perhaps divide into two pie plate to steam, if you can stack your steamer.

  51. Victoria C.A.

    Is there any alternative for yeast? Is baking powder ok?

    1. Suanne

      Hi Victoria, I’m not sure if you can replaced the yeast with baking powder. The risen batter has that yeasty aroma and bubbly texture to it which I dont think baking powder will yield the same effect.

  52. Fawn

    This seems to be a popular post!

    I tried your recipe earlier this week and totally forgot to add the acid (I intended to use cream of tartar). It did still rise during cooking (my whole steamer was crooked, so it was fatter on one side and flat on the other!) and the taste was delicious.

    I used to go to one particular Chinese buffet in Ottawa (Canada) just for this cake! My mom (who is Chinese) says she’s tried to make this before, but it never worked. Before this week, it had been years since I’d had this.

    I’m going to try it again without omitting the cream of tartar this time(!), and maybe add vinegar to the water, too, as suggested by some of your commenters, though the colour doesn’t disappoint me. (It was decently white, IMO.) I think I will reduce the sugar a wee bit, too, as we found it to be a little on the sweet side for our taste. But otherwise, very successful.

    Many thanks for the great recipe, which satisfies a long-standing craving.

  53. Yvonne

    Hi, this looks like a great recipe to try. Can you advise if the measurements for the yeast, cornflour and lye water are in metric (as we use this measurement unit system in Australia and the UK) or is it in (US) which I think is imperial. Your advice is really appreciated. Regards Yvonne.

  54. manuel

    Hi Suanne,

    Instead of rice flour, would ordinary rice soaked overnight and grinded be the same? Thanks.


  55. Kye

    Just wondering, I have made the same Pak Thong, following all the instruction, but mine turned out quite dense? Is there a way to make it spongy like the ones we can buy?

  56. joe

    hi i wanted to know how much lye water do you use?

    1. Suanne

      Hi joe, I follow the recipe, 1/8 teaspoon.

  57. chinchyesek

    ‘tung mien fun’

    Was once at a supermarket and asked manager if they have tapioca flour
    and she replied ‘you mean teng mien fun?’ maybe she’s right.

    Lye water is diluted sodium hydroxide- an alkal1- not sure I want to
    consume too much of that.

  58. Joe

    Hi I would like to know how come my rice cake don’t look sponge like. Like the one in the picture?

    1. Suanne

      Hi Joe, the only thing I think can go wrong is the yeast is not working. I had made this numerous times and it’s always turn out ok.

  59. Joe

    Ok what type of yeast do you use? I used the active yeast!!

    1. Suanne

      Hi Joe, I used active dry yeast.

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