We’re living in the age of toast. And by toast, I mean Instagram-friendly slices of bread smeared with colorful toppings. They run the gamut of flavors, both real and fantastical: avocado, mermaid, unicorn, Dorito—I could go on. There is one toast, however, that doesn’t comply with this definition. Kaya butter toast (also known simply as kaya toast) looks more like a sandwich than its open-faced peers, and you won’t find it dusted with pastel sprinkles or topped with superfoods cut into stars. It’s a classic Malaysian and Singaporean breakfast of slices of toasted white bread sandwiched with coconut egg jam, also called kaya jam.
“Kaya butter toast is a very common breakfast in the coffeeshops of Malaysia,” says Kyo Pang, owner of Kopitiam in New York City and an expert on Malaysian coffee culture. Naming her eatery for the Malay-Hokkien term for coffee shop, Pang opened Kopitiam as a tribute to the local places she frequented as a child, many of which she noticed closing after the owners retired. Pang’s desire to preserve Malaysian coffee culture led to her developing her own expertise in making dishes like kaya toast.
Kaya jam, more similar to in texture to lemon curd than preserves or jelly, is a time-consuming process. “That’s why a lot of people aren’t doing it,” says Pang, explaining that the way she makes kaya can take 2-3 hours from prep to finish. “Even if you go to a market you won’t find a lot of kaya jams available.”
However, according to Pang, a batch of homemade kaya jam will stay fresh for about a month in the fridge, so all that work is definitely worth it. Here’s how to make kaya jam:
Separate 4 eggs, and place the yolks in a large bowl. Pour in ¼ cup full-fat coconut milk and whisk to combine.
Set up a double boiler, or position a large glass or stainless steel bowl over a pan of simmering water. Add ¼ cup chopped palm sugar (light brown sugar works in a pinch), ½ cup more full-fat coconut milk, and ½ teaspoon kosher salt into the top of the double boiler. Whisk the mixture together, then throw in 3 pandan leaves. You may be able to find pandan leaves at a local Asian grocery store, but they’re also available for purchase online. You can also try 1 teaspoon pandan paste. If you’ve tried your hardest and still can’t find pandan leaves or paste, it can be omitted. The kaya jam will simply taste a bit different than the real deal.
After the mixture begins to boil (this could take 6-8 minutes, but mostly depends on the strength of your stove), pour a good splash of the hot coconut milk into the egg yolk mixture, whisking all the while to avoid scrambling the eggs. After tempering the egg mixture, pour the whole bowl into the hot coconut-sugar mixture.
Continue whisking the mixture over the double boiler until the kaya jam thickens to the consistency of a loose pudding or lemon curd, which can take from 10-20 minutes depending on your stove and bowl. You can add 1 tablespoon cornstarch or arrowroot starch to speed this process along, but I haven’t found it necessary.
Pass the mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a jar or bowl with a lid. Cover, and refrigerate the kaya jam until cold, about 4 hours.
To make kaya toast, cut two slices of white bread (any type will work, but a fluffy milk bread like pain de mie or Hokkaido milk loaf are best)—Pang recommends buying bread unsliced and cutting it yourself to 1 ½ inches thick. Pang says that when it's toasted at this thickness, “it’s crispy on the outside, but when you eat it it’s fluffy and a little chewy.”
Toast the bread in a pan, toaster, or toaster oven until golden brown. Smear 1 slice of toast with a hefty smear of kaya jam, and place the other piece of toast on top. Slice the toast in half.
Kaya toast can be eaten as is, but is typically served with a side of soft-boiled eggs with soy sauce and a cup of coffee.