I’ve been thinking about kaya a lot lately – that creamy, unctuous coconut egg jam that was the foundation of many a childhood breakfast. I ate kaya at home between toasted sandwich slices (Gardenia, of course). I ate the holy trinity of Singapore breakfasts – kaya toast, soft-boiled egg, and iced Milo – at the neighborhood kopitiam (coffee shop). And I ate kaya swirled into soft loaves of bread that my mom bought from the local bakery.
I was definitely craving kaya. Unfortunately, the store-bought specimens looked like jam only E.T. could love but maybe even he would be put off by the fluorescent yellow or green hue. And not surprisingly, it tasted bad, too.
So I did a little research to see what it would take to make kaya at home. After skimming a few recipes that required freshly squeezed coconut milk, 10 eggs, and/or hours of stirring over a hot water bath, I all but gave up.
Then it hit me. Kaya’s ingredients and texture are similar to a curd! So I looked up the recipe for lemon curd in "Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook" and realized it would be so easy to tweak to make kaya. The ingredients are surprisingly similar. The biggest difference was that instead of whole eggs, only the yolks are used. And it takes only about 10 to 15 minutes from start to finish!
To be honest, I was a little skeptical. But the recipe was easy to follow and the curd/custard turned out perfect in taste and texture the very first time! Thank you, Martha Stewart!
Easy kaya (coconut egg jam)
Makes: 1 cup
Time: 15 minutes
Martha Stewart didn’t really come up with a kaya recipe but her lemon curd recipe was the inspiration for my version. Instead of palm sugar, you can also use brown sugar – light or dark, it doesn’t matter – and/or use a mix of white granulated and brown. And feel free to adjust the amount of sugar to suit your taste. If you can’t find pandan leaves, don’t fret, just leave them out. Or you might want to try vanilla. Personally, I don’t find vanilla to be an adequate substitute for the complex flavor and aroma of pandan leaves. But, if you didn’t grow up with it, you probably won’t care. Just sayin’.
3/4 cup unsweetened coconut milk (not light coconut milk, please!)
4 egg yolks
3-1/2 ounces palm sugar (2 discs), crushed, or 1/2 cup sugar
4 pandan leaves, cut into 3-inch lengths
1. Combine the coconut milk, egg yolks, and sugar in a medium heavy-bottom saucepan and whisk until smooth. Add the pandan leaves and cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until the custard is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon, 8 to 10 minutes. To be doubly sure the custard is cooked, it should register 160 degrees F. on an instant-read thermometer. Don’t forget to scrape down the sides!
2. Remove the saucepan from heat and discard the pandan leaves. Strain through a fine sieve into a small glass bowl or jar with a lid. Leave uncovered until completely cool. Cover and refrigerate for up to 1 week.
The authentic way to make kaya toast is to grill your sandwich slices – white bread is best, Gardenia or WonderBread is even better – is over coals. Since this is not always possible, just toast it. Slather a thick layer of butter (at least 1/2-inch according to some sources), followed by a hefty layer of kaya. This is not meant to be diet food!! Remove the crusts, halve, and serve with coffee, tea, or Milo.
For something a little different, sandwich kaya and butter between two Jacob’s Cream Crackers.