Why It Works

  • Straining the custard earlier than and after cooking produces the smoothest kaya attainable.
  • Utilizing coconut cream offers the kaya a wealthy nuttiness that mimics the buttery mouthfeel of contemporary coconut milk.

Toast slathered with butter and jam is a fast, scrumptious breakfast for a lot of around the globe. In Malaysia, the place I stay, in addition to in Singapore, Indonesia, and Thailand, one of the crucial fashionable jams is a bit more tropical: a coconut-based unfold identified domestically as kaya, a wealthy condiment produced from cooking eggs, sugar, and coconut cream till caramelized. To make a sturdy breakfast known as kaya toast, individuals unfold the jam onto white bread, prime it with beneficiant pats of butter, and sandwich it with one other slice of bread.

Critical Eats / Michelle Yip


In lots of Southeast Asian cities and cities with a major Chinese language inhabitants, breakfast sometimes takes place in unassuming shoplots dubbed ”kopitiam,” a portmanteau of the phrase ”kop’i” (Bahasa Indonesian for ”espresso”) and ”tiam” (Hokkien Chinese language, a dialect spoken in southern China and in Southeast Asia, for ”store”). For the reason that mid-Seventeenth century, there have been a number of waves of Chinese language migration into Southeast Asia. The Hainanese had been one of many final ethnic Chinese language teams—after the Hokkiens, Hakkas, Teochews, Cantonese, amongst many others—to make their approach over. By the point the Hainanese arrived within the area within the Nineteen Twenties, the opposite Chinese language communities had already established themselves as enterprise retailers or employees in mining and building. The Hainanese turned to the service trade, filling the roles of cooks for British colonists and opening coffee shops at buying and selling posts, such because the legendary Yut Kee Restaurant in Kuala Lumpur. Opened in 1928, the restaurant is thought for his or her Hainanese-western menu, and is very well-known for his or her rooster chop, roti babi (mince pork-stuffed bread) and kaya toast. 

“Kaya toast has at all times been on the menu, proper from the start when my grandfather opened Yut Kee in 1928,” says Mervyn Lee, who runs the restaurant as we speak. Historically, cooks grilled slices of white bread over charcoal, which continues to be the way it’s executed as we speak. Right now, diners with a candy tooth proceed to thrill in kaya toast with chilly slabs of butter, whereas those that desire a savory breakfast get pleasure from their toast with soft-boiled eggs seasoned with soy sauce and white pepper. Some people even get pleasure from a mix of each, dipping their kaya sandwich into the runny eggs.

Critical Eats/ Michelle Yip


Requested concerning the chilled slabs of butter which are so important to kaya toast and why the dairy’s temperature is so essential, Mervyn says that it’s merely extra sensible. “Butter at room temperature would soften, plus spreading butter on the bread would add to the meeting course of,” he tells me. “It was simpler to simply have slices of butter chilly within the fridge, able to go when orders got here in.” The fats of the dairy additionally helps to stability the sweetness of the kaya.

Critical Eats / Kaya Toast


All About Kaya

Kaya has many origin tales. Some, like Nyonya cookbook creator Sharon Wee, suspect that kaya  descended from sericaia, a candy egg custard Portuguese colonizers introduced over within the sixteenth century.  Others, nevertheless, speculate that it’s the opposite approach round: that it was Malaysian serikaya—which was already being served in royal Malay households when the Portuguese arrived—that impressed sericaia.

Critical Eats / Michelle Yip


No matter how kaya happened, the National Library of Singapore credit Hainanese cooks and kopitiam with popularizing the condiment. Moreover kaya toast, the unfold is fashionable as a filling or topping for a lot of desserts like kaya puffs (flaky pastry full of kaya), pulut tekan (a Nyonya kuih made with cooked glutinous rice), and even drizzled on waffles or as an ice cream taste. It additionally makes for a considerate, scrumptious home made reward.

Although the phrase ”kaya” is usually translated to ”coconut jam,” it’s nearer to a curd or custard, each in its texture and the way it’s made. To make kaya, you whisk eggs, sugar, and coconut milk and/or cream collectively, then cook dinner it low and sluggish over a double-boiler to realize a clean, spreadable consistency. As with every sort of custard, it’s necessary to cook dinner the combination over very low warmth so the egg proteins coagulate simply sufficient and create a velvety, thick combination as a substitute of changing into candy scrambled eggs.

Critical Eats / Michelle Yip


Pandan leaves are a well-liked addition to kaya and are ceaselessly used within the fashionable Nyonya model of the jam, which is sweetened with palm sugar as a substitute of normal sugar. The leaves lend a pleasantly grassy, floral scent that enhances the coconut’s richness, however purists usually say the leaf’s verdant aroma detracts from the actual star of kaya: the coconut itself.

Creating the Good Kaya

I got down to see how a lot I may play with the ratios of eggs to sugar to coconut to realize a kaya with a runny however secure texture, wasn’t tooth-achingly candy, and would spotlight the coconut’s taste as a lot as attainable. Many recipes name for proportions which are nearer to equal elements of eggs, sugar, and coconut, and that’s what I began with. I knew, nevertheless, that I needed to give attention to the coconut taste as a substitute of the egg. I opted for entire eggs as a substitute of simply yolks; whereas kaya is historically made with simply yolks, I needed to offer the unfold extra construction, and the extra protein from the egg whites helps the custard additional set.

Critical Eats / Michelle Yip


The feel of those preliminary batches had been satisfyingly clean, however nonetheless a lot too eggy and candy. With that in thoughts, I regularly decreased the quantity of eggs till it was half the load of the coconut cream, which  lent the kaya a free however supple texture and allowed the coconut’s taste to shine via. Utilizing barely much less sugar meant that the jam wasn’t cloying—simply candy sufficient to lend deep butterscotch notes to enhance the coconut’s richness. A few of kaya’s deep taste and shade comes from a caramel that’s integrated in direction of the tip, and I discovered that caramelizing simply 20% of the sugar was the candy spot for me. Some kaya makers, although, go for caramelizing larger percentages of the sugar for a darker and smokier kaya.

This recipe is impressed by the beloved kaya toasts made throughout Southeast Asia. A neighborhood white bread known as “roti benggali,” a tall loaf with a fluffy inside, is often used to make the sandwich. However for those who can’t discover roti benggali, common sandwich bread—suppose Surprise Bread and the like—works simply high quality. As for the butter, I like to recommend utilizing salted butter or sprinkling a pinch of flaky salt over the kaya earlier than closing your sandwich. This helps counter the sweetness of the kaya and provides a contact of complexity to the flavour.

Critical Eats / Michelle Yip


When you may get your self a wonderfully good jar of kaya from the closest Southeast Asian grocery store, it’s very doable and satisfying to make at house. In lower than an hour, you could possibly have a complete batch of kaya made, able to see you thru a number of weeks—or a number of days, in case your family is like mine—of breakfasts and snacks. You’ll run out of kaya earlier than you realize it, which is simply high quality, as a result of now you possibly can simply make one other batch.



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