10-Minute Kaya (I)

If you google “kaya hours of stirring”, you’ll find people (like here and here) who really do stand beside their pots of kaya, stirring away for hours on end. I greatly admire their patience, dedication and tenacity but sadly these are virtues I don’t possess. So I make kaya the quick way, in 10 minutes.

What’s the difference between the longie and quickie? More importantly, is the quality compromised if you take 10 minutes instead of two hours? Well, the ingredients are more or less the same except for egg whites. The longie has egg whites; the quickie doesn’t. Egg whites, being 90% water and 10% proteins, make the kaya less rich. That is, to me, not a good thing, especially when “kaya” means rich. But I imagine those in the anti-fats and anti-cholesterol brigade would jump with joy. In fact, they probably make their kaya whites-only, no-sugar, and without coconut milk. Urgh!

Kaya made with whole eggs has to be cooked at a very low temperature. That’s why it’s heated over a water bath, and it has to be stirred continuously. If the temperature is too high, the egg whites would turn lumpy and ruin the kaya.

Meanwhile, the sugar has to caramelize, which starts happening at about 160°C. But it’s sitting in a pool of coconut milk that consists of mainly water. H2O’s maximum temperature is 100°C, right? That’s way too low for browning sugar. So, before any caramelization takes place, most of the H2O has to evaporate. Which is done ever so gently over a water bath so that the princessy egg whites don’t get grumpy and lumpy. Even when the caramelization finally happens, along with the thickening as water evaporates, it’s very slow because of the minimal heat. Now you see why making traditional kaya takes hours of dedicated stirring?

The hard labour may be easily avoided by doing two things: One, omitting the egg whites, thus allowing the kaya to be cooked at a higher temperature without a water bath. Two, replace some of the white sugar with palm sugar, which doesn’t need to be caramelized. It has a lovely caramel fragrance as it is without any fuss. The simple re-engineering slashes the cooking time to 10-15 minutes. Efficiency improves, productivity rises, hallelujah! Making kaya is a royal pain no more.

Imagine smothering your morning toast with kaya that’s full of the fragrance of fresh coconut milk, palm sugar and pandan. But it’s not cloyingly sweet, and you’re in the comfort of your own home instead of fighting the crazy crowds at Ya Kun or Chin Mee Chin. Oh yes, don’t forget the slices of cold butter and half-boiled eggs, and tea or coffee to wash everything down. Now that’s a breakfast worth waking up for!

12 June 2012 Update
Click here for my step-by-step video.


(Recipe for 1 cup)

45 g sugar
45 g palm sugar
200 ml undiluted fresh coconut milk
4 young, light green pandan leaves

wash and cut 5 cm long

4 yolks

make sure there’s no egg white at all

To make kaya, cook sugar, palm sugar, coconut milk and pandan leaves over medium heat, stirring constantly, till just starting to simmer gently. Turn off heat.

Stir egg yolks and, at the same time, slowly add half of coconut milk mixture. Next, pour all of egg mixture into remaining coconut milk in one go. Over medium heat, cook combined mixture till slightly thickened, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to low. Continue stirring till mixture is thick enough to coat sides of pot thickly. Taste and add more sugar if necessary. Discard pandan leaves. Transfer to a bowl or bottle. Leave till completely cool. Cover and refrigerate. May be stored up to 1 week. Bring to room temperature before serving if you want a softer, squidgy consistency.

To make kaya toast the traditional way, grill thickly sliced old-fashioned white bread over charcoal till surface is burnt. Scrape off burnt layer. Cut each slice horizontally in the middle into 2 thinner slices. Spread with kaya, generously, and top with slices of cold butter. Butter should be at least 2 mm thick or you’re a wimp. Cut sandwich into 2 or 3 pieces. Serve immediately whilst hot and crisp. Best when dipped in half-boiled eggs seasoned with dark soya sauce and ground white pepper. Coffee or tea, made with water boiled over charcoal – gas or electricity is for wimps – is a must. Slice of butter in the coffee isn’t but it’s an excellent option. To cool drink quickly, pour into a saucer and then drink from the saucer. Yes, drink from the saucer like a cat.

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