Coconut milk jam?
Caramelized coconut egg spread?
Those are pretty much the closest descriptions I can come up with for kaya, sorry. Not the best but here’s an idea: We could just stick to calling it kaya, and pat ourselves on the back for learning a new word ! *looking at you Microsoft autocorrect*
Kaya is something we all grew up with here in Malaysia (& certain other Southeat Asian countries like Singapore & Thailand). It is a sweet spread that is made out of coconut milk, eggs and sugar. Everybody eats kaya! You can find in it in your humble kopitiam (local coffeeshop) served with buttered charcoal- toasted bread, at the kuih vendor’s roadside cart alongside many other colourful sweets and lately, incorporated in various pastries and desserts like ice creams , cakes and croissants. It is ubiquitous because I think, in part to its delicious versatility.
My mum is a kaya fanatic. We always had a jar sitting around at home. It was a pantry staple to us as what Marmite or Vegemite was to others. I would say I’ve inherited from her my love for the sweet spread. Kaya was the highlight of my afternoon teas with her. I remember we would have it with cold butter on cream crackers. She used to make these kaya crackers for me and we’d have them together but I eventually wanted to prepare my own so I could control how much kaya I could have. The amount of kaya I slathered on those crackers, oh my. The crackers was just a vehicle to get yummy kaya into my greedy mouth.
Looking back embarrassingly , I did at one point in my life thought I was ‘too cool’ for kaya and opted for trendier spreads such as cream cheese and nut butters. Those were my experimental years. LOL. I’ve come back now to my true (taste) senses now and through it all, kaya will always have a special place in my heart. It really is the simple things that leaves the most lasting impressions.
If I could choose the 5 people whom I get to meet in Heaven , it would be whoever invented kaya. I mean, to be able to turn coconut milk, eggs and sugar into a luscious fragrant custard , that is truly a gift that should be granted a place in Paradise .
The ingredients are pretty simple, but mastering its taste & texture is something that takes experience & technique, not to mention lots of TLC (Tender Loving Care). This is my humble lazy version (adapted from my Mum actually) that is quite straightforward. Cause I’m a millennial and didn’t want to just stand over a stove waiting.
This recipe makes quite a bit so you can halve it if you’d like (though why would you!). I reckon it would yield a small-medium jar’s worth. If there is one tip to making kaya, it is to Remember to keep stirring! You want to make sure that the heat is evenly distributed throughout the process so as to not cause large clumps or curdling. The double boil method I used is too make sure your kaya cooks slowly and gently over the heat. (I have explained furthur in the steps below!). And because kaya requires such simple ingredients, quality stuff makes a difference! Would recommend fresh coconut milk and pure pandan extract if you can get your hands on them but if that is not possible, off -the-shelf alternatives are acceptable too.
For the first batch, I decided to forgo any of the colouration process, so that is why mine ended up with a bit of a yellowish hue. If you like green kaya, you may add some pandan juice, as I have with the second batch (was a bit heavy handed with my pandan extract, and ended up with something looking very Hulk-esque). If you’d like brown kaya, you can add in caramelized sugar at the end of the cooking process. Both are just as delicious.
Also a note on the texture, I like mine with a bit of a ‘clumpy’ texture i.e. not entirely smooth. It is a personal preference. But if you like the smooth stuff like those served in Hainanese coffeeshops or for making desserts or kuihs which require it to be smooth, what you can do is shorten the cooking process and take the mixture off the flame right at your preferred consistency. I have yet to try this but the idea is to thicken the mixture while making sure that the heat is dissipated evenly throughout. Uneven cooking and too high heat causes the clumps.
Rich and sweet , aromatic of coconut milk with a luscious velvety texture. If the ”Good Ol’ Days” had a flavour profile, for me it taste of kaya.
yields about a small-medium jar
3 large eggs (yolks & whites)
4 egg yolks
250ml coconut milk
180g granulated sugar
1-2 Pandan leaves, knotted
- Use the Double Boil method: Fill a pot with water and heat over a stove. Once boiling, lower down to a simmer. Place another heat proof bowl on top of the pot. In this bowl, we will make our kaya.
- Mix sugar & eggs in the heat proof bowl on top of the boiling pot.
- Stir gently & continuously until incorporated. About 2-3 minutes. Note: Do not beat (we don’t want air bubbles)
- Add in coconut milk.
- Stir gently & continuously making sure mixture does not curdle.
- Continue stirring until mixture thickens to desired consistency. Mine took about 20-25 minutes.
- Let cool and store in airtight jar. Should be able to keep for up to 1-1.5 weeks in the refrigerator.
Serving suggestions: On buttered bread or cream crackers