1/03/2020 10:54:00 PM

Kaya. THE iconic Malaysian sweet treat. Coconut, eggs and sugar, flavoured with fresh pandan and slowly cooked until thick and luscious. Enjoy it on toast with butter, on crackers, or straight from the jar. The best part is that this recipe is super quick and easy compared to the traditional versions - all done in less than an hour.

Coconut Egg Jam

So, I am obviously obsessed with kaya right now. I've always loved kaya (I am Malaysian after all), but in the last few months, the obsession really turned up a notch.

  • On our most recent trip to Penang in April, we went on a bit of a kaya toast bender, trying a whole bunch of different toast places over the five nights we were there.
  • After fifteen years of friendship, I realised that Paris foodie and lover of sweets, Clarice, had never tried kaya! So on the way to Europe on our last trip in September, I picked up a jar of kaya in Singapore airport to bring as a gift to her... only to leave it on the plane. D'oh!
  • Shortly after I left Paris, Clarice sent me a message saying that a local cafe, The Hood, had started serving kaya toast (on baguette, cute) with half-boiled eggs, so that she could try it! 
  • She also texted me asking what the etiquette was: "Do I spread jam on the bread then dip it in egg?" I obviously responded, (some dip, I don't), but rather than just leaving it there, I also took the opportunity to send her ten photos of different kaya toasts and eggs that I'd had in Malaysia and Singapore over the years with long descriptions. (Even I don't understand myself sometimes).
  • Seeing as I'd already gathered a bunch of photos, I decided to start a little series on Instagram "A Kaya Toast A Day", sharing different kaya toasts I've enjoyed over the years. Kinda like a kaya-themed advent calendar. 
  • I noticed kaya gaining traction in western cafes (apart from The Hood in Paris, there's also been Ottolenghi's Nopi in London, even my beloved Beatrix Bakes!)
  • It really was time for me to make my own kaya! Over a few weeks, I made a couple of batches using different recipes, and landed on this one below as my ideal kaya.

Coconut egg jam

The traditional kaya recipes, made by amahs back in the day, are notoriously labour intensive. They involve stirring. And stirring. And stirring. All day long. Eep. My uncle in Penang devised a less labour intensive method using a bain marie in the oven for the second half of cooking, but it still takes four hours from start to finish. (In fact, his "simplified" version is so laborious that he only does it in huge batches, 30 eggs and a litre of coconut milk at a time). I love kaya, but I do not have the energy for that!

These days, it seems most people use a shortcut recipe - mixing together eggs (sometimes whole eggs, sometimes just yolks), with white sugar, coconut milk / cream and pandan extract, then cooking it over a double boiler until thickened. (This method is similar to a crème anglaise, for those of you familiar with western cooking).

There are essentially two versions of kaya - plain pandan (which is a green colour), or kaya with a little caramelized sugar added (which goes a deep brown colour). I believe the addition of caramelised sugar to kaya is a hack to emulate the caramelisation that usually comes from the long slow cooking in the traditional method.

I tried two recipes, both shortcut method. The first one I tried was a caramel version, from my friend Charmaine's blog Wok & Skillet. It was a really good and easy recipe, but I personally found that the caramel flavour overwhelmed the pandan and coconut, and it was all that I could taste. (However, if you enjoy a deep caramel flavour, have at it!)

Caramel Kaya
Caramel kaya

I much prefer a version without the caramelised sugar, as it allows the gentle pandan and coconut flavours to shine. After much research and comparisons, I used a recipe from Nyonya Cooking, which has the virtues of being simple and easy, and uses all whole eggs rather than just yolks. You'll see it's a muted green colour, more of a khaki than that lurid green you see in some pandan flavoured baked goods. I like the au naturel colour, but you could always add some green colouring if you want to emphasise the pandan! (No judgement from me).

Coconut egg jam

So, after that loooong introduction, let's talk about this kaya recipe in a bit more detail! You start by making some pandan extract - just whizz up some pandan leaves with water, then strain in a sieve. (I can find pandan leaves at Asian grocers - sometimes fresh leaves, more often in big packets in the freezer). I LOVE the fragrance!

Pandan juice
Pandan juice

Then after that it's very easy - mix the pandan extract with eggs, tinned coconut milk, and white sugar, then cook in a double boiler, stirring all the while, until thickened. Some recipes say this takes ten minutes; I find it always takes longer, like thirty to forty minutes. Having said that, I do prefer a thicker kaya so am happy to keep going for a bit longer. And perhaps I'm a little timorous with the heat - still scarred from the great "custard curdling incident" of 2005.

Coconut egg jam

Let the kaya cool, then store in a sterilised jar! (I never properly sterilise jars, but just wash them in the dishwasher and let them steam dry before using. If you want to sterilise properly, there are hundreds of guides online). I've found that the kaya lasts for a couple of weeks in the fridge. (Always use clean and dry utensils to prevent it from going mouldy).

Ok and now that you know how to make kaya, here are some ideas on how to eat it! The traditional way is the simple kaya toast with half-boiled eggs.

Kaya toast with half boiled egg
Kaya toast with half boiled egg

Toast some white bread, slather with lots of butter and kaya and make a little sandwich. Cook some eggs, and add some soy sauce and white pepper. The quintessential Malaysian breakfast! (PS in parallel with my kaya adventures, I've been trying to learn how to make half-boiled eggs, and failing miserably. They always ended up over cooked, under cooked, or unevenly cooked, blaaaah. Well, my lovely wife got sick of me complaining about it and surprised me with a Malaysian half-boiled egg maker! It's a simple device - you put your eggs in the top, pour boiling water over, and once the water drips off, the eggs are perfectly half-boiled, creamy and runny and soft. It works really well. Yay!)

One of my favourite ways to eat kaya is spread between Ritz crackers. The salty sweet vibe is my jam!

Kaya with Ritz Cracker
Kaya with Ritz Cracker

And lastly, I went a bit OTT with this batch of kaya, and made some coconut and kaya scrolls for a brunch party the other week. They were awesome! I'll share the recipe for these soon.

Kaya and Coconut Scrolls
Kaya and Coconut Scrolls

In the meantime, here's the kaya recipe! I hope you love it as much as I do!

Recipe adapted from Nyonya Cooking

7 pandan leaves
50 millilitres water
5 eggs
150-200 grams sugar
250 millilitres coconut milk

Roughly chop the pandan leaves and place in a small bowl with the water. Blend with a stick blender to a rough paste. Sieve the pandan leaves to make the pandan extract, pressing down with a spatula to extract the maximum green goodness.
Whisk together the eggs, sugar and coconut milk in a heatproof bowl. Whisk in the pandan extract.
Fill a saucepan with an inch or so of water, and bring to a simmer over a medium heat. Place the bowl over the saucepan. (Make sure the bowl fits snugly in the saucepan, and make sure that the water itself doesn't touch the base of the bowl).
Whisk the mixture over the heat until thickened. Many recipes say this takes 10 minutes; I find it always takes at least 30-40 minutes.
Allow to cool completely, then pour into a sterilized jar. Keep refrigerated.
It should last 1-2 weeks.

Have you made this recipe? Leave a comment below! Tag me on Instagram @sarahcooksblog and hashtag #sarahcooksblog

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  1. I must try to make this one day but my rellies seem to keep me in a steady supply of kaya. And my favourite three words from this post were "kaya toast bender". Forget alcohol! Kaya is where it's at!

  2. I love your suggestions for kaya-Ritz sandwiches, and kaya-coconut scrolls! Yummmm. Just yesterday I was wandering through my own archives and found a black-sesame waffle with kaya on top. I need to get some kaya.



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