I have been wanting to make homemade kaya, or coconut jam, forever. Growing up, kaya was a staple at our weekend breakfast table. My mom would crack open a blue and yellow can of Yeo’s for me and my brother — it was the ultimate treat. Most weekends we would spread it on golden brown toast and have it alongside soft boiled eggs, but if we were lucky, my mom would make a kaya sandwich and then french toast the whole thing.
My six-year-old self loved canned kaya, but once you’ve had the fresh stuff, you’ll never go back. That being said, if you haven’t had kaya before, by all means, go out and buy a can or jar from your local Asian grocery store and give it a taste to see if you like it. Kaya is a thick, dulce de leche-like coconut jam flavoured with pandan, a super common leaf used for flavouring in Southeast Asian food. It’s kind of hard to describe, but pandan isn’t so much a flavour as it is an aroma. It’s fragrant, with a slightly nutty, vanilla feel. Smelling it brings me back instantly to my childhood. My mom would make a pandan chiffon or butter cake on Sundays and we would spend the rest of the week snacking on it.
In North American, pandan isn’t super common, but you can definitely find fresh leaves in Asian grocery stores. I’ve seen them sold frozen as well, so if you happen across some, pick them up and toss them in your freezer for the next time you want to experiment. Pandan doesn’t just go into sweets, it’s found in a lot of savoury dishes as well. It’s used to flavour chicken, rice, curry and more. You name it and there’s probably a pandan version of it.
Pandan is pretty essential to kaya, especially when the recipe only calls for 4 ingredients, but you can make it without. I haven’t tried, but I have the feeling that it would be just as delicious, just not as authentic. Try stirring in a bit of vanilla if you think your jam needs it, I’m all for experimentation. And actually, after trying out this recipe I came across several more kaya recipes that I want to try, mostly because my kaya didn’t come out as smoothly as I wanted. I’m thinking it’s because of the combination of egg whites and yolks. Egg whites cook more quickly than yolks so I think eliminating the whites would result in a smoother jam. This recipe looks pretty promising.
Nonetheless, my jam was thick, sweet and full of coconutty flavour. Spread on fluffy white toast and I was in kaya toast heaven. Enjoy your kaya the Singaporean way, on hot, buttered thick cut toast alongside some soft boiled eggs with soy sauce and white pepper. Dip and enjoy. Or, if you can’t be bothered to make toast, spoon it out of the jar — I won’t tell.
Kaya (Coconut Jam) and Kaya Toast Recipe adapted from raspberricupcakes.com
makes about 1 cup
- 3 large eggs
- 3 large egg yolks
- 1 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 can coconut milk
- 3 pandan leaves, knotted
- 2 tablespoons of sugar + 1 tablespoon water
- 2 slices thick cut bread
- salted butter
- soft boiled eggs, if desired
- dark soy sauce and white pepper, if desired
Set up a double boiler over medium heat. While you water is heating up, in the double boiler’s bowl, whisk together the eggs and yolks until well combined. Gradually add the sugar while whisking. When homogeneous, pour in the coconut milk. Add the pandan leaves and place the bowl on the double boiler. The water should be at a gentle boil. Use a spatula to stir every 5 minutes or so.
Around the 45 minute mark, the kaya will start to become thick and slightly brown. Remove the pandan leaves and continue to cook, stirring every so often until the kaya is thick and sticky. At this point, if you coat your spatula with the kaya and run your finger through it and you see a distinct, clear path, the kaya is done.
If the kaya hasn’t become deeply golden brown you can help it along by adding some quick caramel. In a non-stick pan, heat up the 2 tablespoons of sugar over high heat. When melted and golden, add the tablespoon of water and stir. Add the caramel to the kaya a bit at a time until it’s golden caramel-y brown.
Strain through a fine mesh strainer, cool completely and store in a dry, clean jar in the fridge.
Make the toast: Your bread choice is important. Get the softest, fluffiest, thickest cut, white bread you can find. I like to use Japanese bread/shokupan when I can. Toast your bread so it has some color, no light, barely toasted pieces of bread please! Spread on a thick layer of salted butter and top with a generous amount of kaya. Top with another slice of buttered toast (yes, butter both slices) and dip into a soft boiled egg seasoned with dark soy and white pepper, if desired.