Kaya is a popular spread in Southeast Asia made with coconut milk, pandan leaves, sugar, and eggs. It’s usually translated to jam, but it’s more of a custard or curd. It is very sweet and eggy with pandan and coconut fragrances. In Malaysian and Singapore, it is commonly served in coffee shops as small sandwiches of toast with butter and kaya, called kaya toast. It’s a very tasty snack, hehe. The recipe is at the bottom of the post. It is also a topping for the Nyonya specialty dessert “pulut tai tai” made from glutinous rice naturally dyed blue with a special kind of flower (butterfly pea flower). But I will say that I do prefer fruit jams now that I have tried kaya, sorry!
Kaya is very complicated to make. Actually it uses only 4 ingredients and the process might not seem hard. But it is! And time consuming! So I probably won’t make it often.
Anyways there are different method of making kaya. First the traditional method made over a double boiler. Second the method made directly over heat. Third, the version I made today with method based from Serious Eats, where everything except eggs are cooked first, then cooled and eggs added last. This means less time reducing over heat. But I must wait an hour or so in the middle to cool the syrup so the eggs don’t scramble like crazy. I will put all the methods in detail below.
My recipe is mostly adapted from Rasa Malaysia, i am a food blog, Serious Eats, and Nyonya Cooking (video). I have also read kaya recipes of a dozen other blogs but these blogs are from which I adapted my recipe.
300 ml coconut milk to 400 ml (1 can) coconut milk (I used a whole can in my method. But recipes all over the internet widely varied. You can also use “coconut cream”. But not the same as “cream of coconut”. The first is Thai and unsweetened. The second is American, sweetened, and thickened. For brand, use Aroy-D or Chaokoh or Mae Ploy. The first one is preservative-free. You can use can or carton. A small carton has 250 ml only though, and the big one has a whole liter so you need another use for it. Do not use the coconut milk that is sold like almond milk for drinking, obviously. Do not use lite coconut milk, which is just diluted coconut milk with a thickener. Also, you may use organic can from Whole Foods (not lite!) but it costs several times more than the Thai brands above, which are only about $1.)
200 grams sugar total (This is already very sweet. Some recipes called for more, like 250 grams. Others like the Serious Eats one used less. So I would say use between 150 to 250 grams.) (If using all white sugar, it will be yellow jam. Or you can caramelize the sugar like the Serious Eats or Rasa Malaysia recipes to make it brown. Otherwise, use some gula melaka, AKA dark brown palm sugar, or the coconut sugar from the health food store, or jaggery or brown sugar. I used 1/2 coconut sugar and 1/2 white sugar to get a dark brown color. You can also use 1/4 coconut/palm/brown sugar for somewhat lighter brown color.)
4 to 8 pandan leaves, each tied into a knot (Find them frozen at the Asian store. Different recipes used different amounts again.)
4 or 5 eggs (I think this is traditional. I used 4 whole eggs. This causes small scrambled eggs to appear. I will explain how to make the jam smooth. Used in Nyonya Cooking’s recipe and most other recipes I have seen.), or just yolks (makes it smoother, like the Serious Eats recipe), or half of them yolks and other half eggs (used in some recipes like i am a food blog’s recipe)
Preparation of Pandan: Some people infuse pandan leaves in the jam. I did this in the Serious Eats method. The annoying part is a lot of syrup or jam will stick to the leaves that must be removed. The other way is to blend the leaves until smooth with the coconut milk or some of the coconut milk, then strain finely and use only the liquid. My blender (Blendtec) is HUGE so this would be irritating to do. This also tints the jam green (maybe not if the brown/palm/coconut sugar is used though.) which is very beautiful in my opinion. Use either option before starting the recipes.
Preparation of Caramel, if using: This takes time and is very difficult for the beginner so I recommend using brown/palm/coconut sugar instead. Melt all or part of the sugar with an equal amount of water in a pot over low heat, then cook until brown. Don’t burn it so not too brown! Don’t stir either. It might also crystallize (really annoying) Then take off heat and VERY carefully pour in coconut milk. The sugar is at a VERY high temperature. Stir constantly to dissolve. The sugar may crystallize but it will dissolve. Now continue the recipe.
BTW: Kaya is thick = coats the back of spatula/spoon.
1. Traditional way: You need a stainless steel bowl that fits over a pot. In this pot, put water but do not let the bottom of the bowl touch the water. Bring to a boil. Meanwhile, beat eggs in the bowl, then put rest of the ingredients in the bowl and mix well together. Put on top of the pot and stir constantly with a spatula or chopsticks while cooking over medium heat for about 1.5 hours until the kaya is cooked. It should be thick and smooth. This is how Malaysian grandmothers made it. However, it takes too long and too much stirring. Also there is a high chance for eggs to scramble anyways so the other two methods are more practical. Anyways, if they scramble, see the step 2. So I recommend one of the other two methods.
1. Over direct heat version: Beat eggs, then Mix everything well in a pot. Then put over medium heat and stir constantly with chopsticks or a spatula. When it starts to thicken, bring to medium-low, then low. Stir for total 30 minutes or so until it is thick. Now see step 2.
1. Serious Eats-inspired method: less cooking of the eggs = less time stirring. But more time waiting in the middle. Actually next time if I make kaya I will do the second method instead. First put everything in the pot except eggs. Stir well and bring to a boil, stirring about every 30 seconds or so. Simmer over medium heat to reduce for a while, like 10 minutes. Then turn off the heat and cool down to room temperature or a little warmer (you should be able to touch it). Meanwhile beat eggs, then when cool combine everything well. Stir constantly over medium heat until a little thick, then lower the heat and cook until thick enough.
2. If the mixture is lumpy because of scrambled eggs, you can blend until smooth (ugh, must clean blender), or put through fine mesh strainer like I did (ugh, takes forever)… But some people like it lumpy so you don’t have to. When ready, transfer to a jar. When it is room temp (after pushing through the strainer for like half an hour it was already room temp by then) you can cover and refrigerate. When cool it is thicker because of the sugar. Now you can make kaya toast!
Kaya Toast Recipe (Serves 1)
Toast 2 slices of bread. Preferably use Asian style bread which is cut thicker than American, but I didn’t have. BTW, it’s super easy to make bread at home, just mix stuff together, wait some time, and bake. But I don’t have a loaf pan so I buy bread from the store, LOL… I will probably buy one in the future and put a recipe for Asian style bread. After toasting, Cut off the crusts. Actually it’s optional but traditional and better presentation. I dip crusts in kaya to eat, hehe. Try to do quickly so it’s still a little warm by serving time. Then cut each slice into 2 or 3 rectangles, I did 3. Take a cold block of butter from the fridge and shave off 2 or 3 thin slices. Put one slice on half of the toast pieces (the other half will go on top later). Then spread kaya to taste on top of the butter or on the other toast pieces. Put toast pieces together as a sandwich. Enjoy! Serve with hot coffee, or tea, as a breakfast or snack. 🙂