Hainanese Kaya

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Preparation info

  • Makes about

    425 ml

    • Difficulty


Appears in

Chinese Heritage Cooking

Chinese Heritage Cooking

By Christopher Tan and Amy Van

Published 2018

  • About

A staple in any coffee shop, to be served on toast or steamed bread with thin slabs of butter. Tinted a lustrous brown with caramelised sugar and rendered smooth by constant stirring, this kaya is sweeter and softer than the more egg-rich Nyonya kaya from which it probably descends; Hainanese cooks may have learnt, and subsequently adapted, the recipe from Peranakan households in which they worked. The hint of salt is important for balancing out the kaya’s sweetness.


  • Eggs 5
  • Egg yolks from 3 eggs
  • Coconut cream or thick coconut milk 140 ml (4⅔ fl oz)


  • Castor sugar 210 g ( oz)
  • Water 150 ml (5 fl oz)
  • Salt tsp
  • Pandan leaves 4, washed and cut into small pieces


  1. Prepare syrup. In a heavy-based pan, combine 60 g ( oz) of the sugar with 2 Tbsp of the water. Cook over medium heat, swirling the pan instead of stirring, until sugar melts and forms an amber caramel. Do not let it get too dark. Add remaining water to the pan–it will bubble up. When the bubbling has died down, add remaining sugar, salt and pandan leaves. Cover and simmer gently until sugar has fully dissolved. Strain mixture into a bowl, pressing on the pandan leaves to extract all the syrup.
  2. Combine eggs, egg yolks and coconut cream or milk in a mixing bowl. Stir with a whisk until smooth.
  3. Add warm syrup to egg mixture and stir until well blended. Strain mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a clean, wide, heavy-based pot.
  4. Set pot over very low heat and stir constantly with a spatula, spoon or whisk, scraping the pan’s sides and bottom. Kaya will slowly thicken to the consistency of creamy custard over 30–45 minutes. The more consistently you stir, the smoother the kaya will be.
  5. If kaya develops lumps or a very grainy texture, let it cool to warm, then whizz it in a blender until it smoothens out.
  6. Transfer kaya to a very clean airtight jar or container and let cool completely. Once cool, cover and store refrigerated. If it has been cooked properly and is only touched with clean, dry utensils, the kaya will keep for at least 3 weeks.