Kaya (a Malay word meaning ‘rich’) is a coconut egg jam, widely eaten as a spread over toasted bread, soft buns, and as a cake filling or topping. It has a smooth texture, is creamy and rich tasting, made primarily with coconut milk and eggs, subtly flavoured with pandan leaves, and sweetened with sugar.
Kaya (coconut jam) needs no introduction if you live in Singapore, Malaysia, or Indonesia. When spread lavishly onto crisply toasted, or softly moist, steamed slices of bread, it becomes a staple meal for breakfast, tea, or at any time of the day, whenever we feel inclined for a light, delicious snack.
More often than not, I enjoy thickly spread kaya with slabs of melted butter or peanut butter on toast (kaya butter or kaya peanut butter toast), as part of a light breakfast meal served at local coffee shops here. Typically, this includes one to two half-boiled eggs, which if done perfectly, yields a slightly runny yolk, in just-cooked whites, the texture of soft, delicate tofu. And in typical Singapore fashion, I enjoy my half-done eggs drizzled over with black soy sauce and dashes of white pepper, which I then poke at and stir, and even more unceremoniously, dunk my kaya toast in. It’s a gastronomic match made in heaven, when sweet meets savoury, and dry meets wet… bon appetit!
Kaya (a Malay word meaning ‘rich’) is essentially a coconut egg jam, and is widely eaten as a spread over slices of toasted bread, soft buns, and as a cake filling or topping. It has a smooth texture, and is creamy and rich tasting, which might explain its name. It’s made primarily with coconut milk and eggs, subtly flavoured with pandan leaves, and sweetened with sugar. It’s also commonly referred to as srikaya. The colour of kaya depends on the colour of the eggs, the amount of pandan, and the extent of caramelisation of the sugar. Nonya kaya is light green in colour, while Hainanese kaya uses caramelised sugar, is darker brown in colour, and often sweetened with honey.
It’s easy to get commercially produced kaya spreads off the shelf in grocery mini-marts and supermarkets, or if you enjoy kaya with more of a ‘homemade’ taste, these are also produced and sold by specialty bakeries and confectionary shops.
As easy and convenient as it is to buy ready made kaya, I enjoy making kaya at home as it’s easy and simple enough, though it does take some patience and time to cook, as you’ll need to stir the mixture, more or less, quite continuously, to prevent it curdling and becoming lumpy as the eggs in the mixture cook. As gentle, indirect heating is required, a double boiler or bain-marie is usually set up.
Preparing a double boiler or bain-marie in your kitchen is easy! Here’s how: Use two different sized pots, one smaller and one bigger. Depending on the quantity of mixture to be cooked, place the mixture you wish to cook in the smaller pot, and let it sit inside or over the rim of the bigger pot. Fill the bigger pot with enough water, up to just below the base of the smaller pot (bain-marie). If making a double boiler (or water bath), fill the bigger pot with enough water to come up the sides of the smaller pot, being careful not to let water overflow into the smaller pot. If the water level gets too low during the cooking, just add more hot water as required.
Ultimately, what is most appealing about making kaya yourself, is that you can use all natural ingredients, without preservatives, flavourings and colourings, and adjust the sweetness to your taste. So, why wait? Enjoy!
Homemade Nonya Kaya (Coconut Jam)
- 5 eggs
- 175 g sugar
- 225 ml coconut milk
- 40 ml pandan juice*
To make pandan juice:
- 5 pandan leaves, sliced into 1-cm sections
- 3 tbsp water
- To make pandan juice, blend or pulverize pandan leaves with water in a food processor or blender, until as fine as possible. Strain the mixture, pressing it with the back of a metal spoon, to obtain pandan juice. Measure out 40 ml (leftover juice will keep well in an airtight container for up to 5 days, refrigerated).
- In a mixing bowl, combine eggs and sugar, and whisk by hand until sugar dissolves, about 2 minutes. Add coconut milk and pandan juice, and stir to mix well. Strain the egg-coconut milk mixture into a small pot, that can sit inside a bigger pot.
- Set up a double boiler or bain marie. Place the small pot inside the bigger pot. Carefully pour water into the bigger pot, until the water comes up the sides of the small pot (do not allow the water to overflow into the small pot).
- Bring the water in the bigger pot to a gentle boil or simmer over medium fire, stirring the mixture continuously. As the mixture cooks, it will thicken and become sticky. Keep stirring until kaya is at the desired consistency. Pour out the kaya, and set aside to cool completely.
- If a smooth, lump-free texture is desired, pour the cooked kaya into a food processor or blender, and pulse the mixture for a few seconds, or until desired smoothness. Set aside to cool completely. Once cool, store in an air-tight container and refrigerate.