Thursday, April 12, 2012
Mum: So, what do we do with it??
PY: Err... it still taste good, can we just keep it?
Mum: ... but Dad will not like it. Plus it looks like turd...
PY: ... ... ...
Mum: So, what do we do with it?!!
PY: ... I ... don't know!
Mum: We have to get rid of all evidences.
PY: ... ... Okay.
Mum promptly scooped said turd into a plastic bag and binned the offending 'evidence' while I quickly washed up the used dishes, whisk and pot. By the time Dad came home from work, the utensils have been stashed away and the waste bin empty. It was as if nothing happened after dinner.
The above scene happened more than once.
This, ladies and gentlemen, was how my mother and I began the journey of kaya making more than 20 years ago, while I was still in school. My late father loved the stuff. In between his slices of bread or toast, he could do without butter or margarine, but at least half an inch of kaya had better be there. And it better be sweet. As always, Dad liked to make his own thing if he could. He started the whole homemade kaya business but failed on the first attempt. After that, Mum and I got interested.
And we were quickly schooled by this finicky, labor intensive, mother of all egg custard hell. It took a few tries before one night, we finally got the product we were looking for. Golden orange, smooth and shiny kaya after about four hours of taking turns to baby sit the pot by the stove, managing a wooden spoon with one hand and a woven bamboo fan with the other. We proudly bragged to Dad about it. Of course all the previous failed attempts remained top secret and Dad had no idea. He finished the entire container in less than a week and then started his try again, after obtaining 'tips' from us. From then on, Dad made his own kaya. Sometimes it was green, sometimes dark yellow, other times almost brown. He rarely got the golden orange Mum and I scored that one time. Sometimes it looked slightly curdled, other times really thick and smooth. I vaguely remembered a few batches which became watery after just one week, Dad must have taken a shortcut making those.
Needless to say, Mum and I never made kaya since that one time success. We left Dad to it. I don't really fancy the stuff and we both find it too sweet. But last weekend I made a batch, using this recipe which I posted seven years ago, back when I was blogging personally. Vijay and I recently enjoyed kopitiam breakfasts at home, complete with soft boiled eggs, Punjabi bread toasts, hot Milo for me and coffee for him. I've been making the toasts with just butter, missing the essential sweet coconut egg jam between them. A sudden nostalgic moment hit me, remembering the 'adventures' my mother and I went through.
So I stirred custard for 2 1/2 hours on a rainy Saturday afternoon. I didn't prepare well for it. I used supermarket eggs, with pale orange yolks. While my parents had a proper double boiler for the job, I used a makeshift one which was not good for this particular custard. The bottom pot was too small; hence the water was too hot even with the lowest heat I could manage. The top bowl was too big, with too many exposed areas not covered by steam from the bain-marie. My custard crystalized along the sides of the bowl. I could only cook the jam for so long before the first sign of curdling appeared after 2 hours. Then I panicked and quickly poured the whole thing into my blender. It ran for about 5 minutes before breaking down, complete with smoke coming out of the motor unit. The KitchenAid came to the final rescue, otherwise you will not hear of this and the above scene with my mother would've repeated itself, only this time with Vijay and my messed up head.
After reading this, you will either be so taken in by the challenge to try this yourself or think that I'm completely mad to go through so much pain for two small jars of something which I'm not mad about so much anyway. Sure, the kaya was too sweet and not golden orange. Yes, I broke my blender in the process and almost went mental before saving the jam. But there is no regret. Every step of the way, I was reminded of Dad and his persistence in making his own kaya every couple of weeks. He passed away four years ago last week. This one is for you, Dad.
"Do or do not. There is no try."
The traditional base recipe is pretty standard, variation in the quantity of eggs and sugar can be done according to individual taste
Makes 2 cups (2 small jars as pictured)
Note: To get the best final result - a smooth custard, always keep your beating and stirring in one direction only. Ensure the bain-marie is well setup and not too hot or the custard will split. If this happens, continue to cook till the mixture thickens, then cool it down and blend it till smooth. The success rates of homemade attempts are higher with freshly squeezed coconut milk.
- 500 millilitres unadulterated coconut milk (roughly from 2 coconuts)
- 500 grams castor sugar (I would reduce this to 400 grams)
- 8 eggs yolks (from large eggs, or use 10 standard yolks)
- 3-5 pieces fresh screw pine/pandan leaves, knotted
Bring the water in a double boiler/bain-marie to boil. Meanwhile, filter the coconut milk to remove impurities or shredded coconut bits. In the mixing bowl, whisk all the eggs slightly to break up the yolks. Add sugar by batches and whisk to dissolve. After the sugar has dissolved completely, add the coconut milk and whisk with all the strength you can muster till the mixture is smooth and well–combined.
Once water comes to a boil, reduce heat till the water bubbles continuously, but is no longer boiling. Place the top pot on firmly and pour in the mixture. Include the knotted pandan leaves.
Now comes the interesting part. For at least the next 2 hours, come hell or high water, you will have to continue stirring. Make sure to stir all the way to the bottom and sides of your pot. Keep stirring and don’t stop till the custard slowly thickens and finally sets into the consistency of what you will actually spread onto your toast. Depending on the freshness of the eggs (which affects the color of the yolks), the age of the pandan leaves and the caramelization of the sugar (how long you cook it); the color of the custard will slowly turn golden orange/brown or dark green.
After this point, the time required to cook the kaya depends on how long you wish to store it. For maximum storage period of up to 4 weeks, cover the top pot and continue to cook the kaya over very low heat (water no longer need to bubble) for another hour or so. This is the best approach. Leave to cool before storing in an airtight plastic or glass container. Refrigerate accordingly.
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