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What is Kaya?


 

         1. Hainanese Kaya        2. Nonya Kaya(Home)      3. Nonya Kaya(Store)        4. Hybrid Kaya

Kaya is a custard made with coconut milk that is popular in Singapore and Malaysia. Like regular jam, it is most often used as a bread spread (its technically not a jam since it is not made from fruit) at breakfast and afternoon tea. Because of its sweet taste, Kaya is also used as an ingredient is various local desserts in Southeast Asia from Thailand to Indonesian. If you are from outside the region, think of it as something like creme brulee in a bottle. 

The recipe for making kaya varies from household to household but typically involves cooking a mixture of 10 eggs, 500g of sugar and 500 ml of coconut milk over a double boiler, stirring frequently. Its pretty much the same as making a sabayon or custard, except you stand there cooking and stirring for a very, very long time.

There are two main types of Kaya. The more original variety is Hainanese Kaya (bottle No.1), Hainan being a large island of China. Many Hainanese ventured into Southeast Asia during the hey day of the British Empire. A lot of them worked as cooks (and tailors) in commonwealth cities and aboard British merchant ships where they encounted a thing called jam on toast. Over time, they invented their own ‘jam’, which became Kaya. That’s the reason you won’t find Kaya (or Hainanese Chicken Rice or Hainanese Pork Chop to name a few more examples) anywhere in Hainan today, they were invented by overseas Hainanese. The term Kaya was probably coined by the Malays, who refer to it as Seri Kaya. Hainanese Kaya is made with brown sugar which results in its distinct orangy colour. Some modern commercial formulations use honey instead.

There is another version of Kaya that is green; this is called Nonya Kaya (bottle No.2). How did this originate? Its another complicated story, also related to the Chinese migrants. When early Chinese migrants inter-married with the locals in Malaysia, they formed a sub-community called the Nonya. The Nonya add pandan leaves to a lot of their cuisine and when they learnt to make Kaya, they also added pandan to that. Their varierty of Kaya uses white sugar, but compensates for the loss of the caramelized taste by adding the juice from pandan leaves. This gives Nonya Kaya its unique flavour and fragrance. Commercially, food dye is added to Nonya Kaya (bottle No.3) to give it a darker green colour. Nowadays you can also get a hybrid Kaya (bottle No.4) that is made with both brown sugar and pandan leaves.

Besides spreading it on toast, how else can Kaya be used? Being very sweet, Kaya goes very well with salted butter and you can use it in place of syrup or icing sugar on pancakes, waffles and french toast. Kaya also works well as a filling in a Danish type pastry (for example you could replace the sesame paste of my Sesame Swirl Puffs with Kaya). Finally you can experiment with Kaya in those savoury dishes that require a touch of sweetness, such as in pan fried foie gras.

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Posted by on March 26, 2013 in Desserts, Ingredients, Oriental

 

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Tarte Tartin


(serves 6)
Tarte tartin (as far as I am able to discern, its pronounced ‘tartan’ like in scottish kilts ) is a perrenial favourite for home dining parties. This is a way of making an open fruit tart where miraculously the fruit doesn’t get dried out in the baking process. It stays moist and juicy from the market, to the kitchen, to the dining table.

Ingredients

  1. Pears (3)
  2. Puff Pastry Sheet (1)
  3. Sugar (3/4 cup)
  4. Cinnamon

Preparation

  1. You can make your tarts in individual portions or in one large pyrex but the first step is always to assemble ovenware of the right surface area to match the puff pastry sheet.
  2. Put 3/4 cup of plain sugar in a pan and under slow heat, stir until the sugar caramelizes. At first, the sugar will yellow a bit and start clumping together, and after about fifteen minutes, you’ll get a deep golden brown molasses. I wouldn’t use a non-stick pan as the sugar gets really hot.
  3. At the point where most of the sugar has turned into molasses (the remainder will caramelize by itself), drizzle it with a large spoon to layer the bottom of your baking container(s). You have to work fast as a bitter taste will set in if you continue to heat the molasses too long but if you turn off the fire, the molasses will quickly thicken to the point where you won’t be able to work it. The molasses will harden immediately as it touches your cold bakeware so don’t harbour any thoughts about adjusting it later. Control the distribution as the caramel leaves the spoon.
  4. Allow the caramel to cool. Take out the puff pastry pack for defrosting and preheat the oven to 180oC (350oF). 
  5. Peel your pears and cut each into symmerical halves. Decore and then proceed to cut the pear into 1/5 inch slices. The slices will seem thick, but they will flatten out when the fruit is cooked. Arrange these over the caramel with about 50% ovelap, like fallen dominoes. Dust with cinamon powder.
  6. Cut your puff pastry such that it is slightly oversized compared to your baking container(s) as there is a bit of shrinkage after baking. Position the puff pastry over the pear and poke a hole in the pastry with a toothpick every 3 square inches so steam can escape.
  7. Bake for 20 minutes or until the pastry has risen and begins to brown. The caramel will also be bubbling  at this time, this is normal. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for a few minutes.
  8. Next you need to flip your tartes onto the serving dish(es).  First, using a butter knife, make sure the edges are not sticking to the container. Then cover the container(s) with a plate(s) and flip both together. 
  9. If you wish, you can serve you tarte flambe style. Place the finished tarte on the dinning table first. Then heat 1/4 cup of rum in a metal ladel and when the rum is hot tilt the ladle such that a drop spills over the open flame (use a lighter for electric stoves). The entire ladle of rum should come alight. Quickly pour the flaming mixture over the tarte where it will continue to burn for a bit. Voila, you got flambe.

Notes

  • The TT was invented by the Tartin sisters of France when one of them dropped an unbaked pie. They decided to bake the broken pie anyway. It had no crust left so it had to be baked upside down but it turned out better than the other whole pies. And the TT was born…
  • The puff pastry sheet in this recipe is square with each side measuring 9.5 inch (24cm). Remember to adjust accordingly if the sheets you buy are of a different size.
  • You can use apples or bananas instead of pears without any change to the recipe. For bananas, if you want you can cut them a bit thicker and skip the overlap since banana pieces are smaller.
  • There will be some caramel left in the pan at the end and you might wonder how you are going to clean it. Don’t worry, its basically still sugar and melts in plain water after cooling.
 
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Posted by on April 3, 2010 in Desserts, French, Recipe

 

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Sesame Swirl Puffs


(serves 8, or 4 in double helpings)
A delightful combination of sesame seeds and puff pastry in yet another east-meets-west combo. These puffs go well as a stand-alone dessert or can be served with ice cream or whipped cream. They have been described as being both crispy and crunchy at the same time, and if you taste some you will understand why.

  Ingredients

  1. Sesame Paste (100 g)
  2. Black Sesame Seeds (1/2 cup)
  3. White Sesame Seeds (2T)
  4. Pecan Nuts (40g)
  5. Brown Sugar (1/2 cup)
  6. Butter (120g)
  7. Rum (2T)
  8. Puff Pastry Sheet (1)
 

Preparation

  1. Take out the puff pastry pack for defrosting and preheat the oven to 180oC (350oF).
  2. In a bowl, mix half a block (120g) of soft butter with the brown sugar by hand. There is no need for the sugar to melt or anything, just mix it well. You can microwave the butter for 15 seconds to soften it if it is straight from the fridge.
  3. Put 1t of the sugar-butter mixture and 2 pecans into each of 8 muffin cups. As the puffs are baked upside down, the sugar from this will melt and become the glazing after baking.
  4. You should still have more than half of the sugar-butter mixture at this stage. Mix into it 2T of rum and 2T of black sesame paste, and all the BLACK sesame seeds. This becomes the sesame filling. Sesame paste is extremely dry, so if you decide to skip the rum, you’ll need to replace it with another liquid.
  5. Detach the puff pastry sheet from its stack while it is still semi-hard and return the rest to the freezer. Put the sheet on a surface lightly dusted with flour. Using a butter knife, spread the sesame filling evenly onto the puff pastry sheet. Arrange horizontally on top of the sesame filling 4 rows of pecan nuts. You have to work fast as puff pastry becomes unworkable once it warms too much.
  6. Roll up the puff pastry sheet as you would a log cake or sushi. There is no need to seal the edges with egg or anything as the muffin cups will keep the puffs rolled tight. With a sharp non-serrated knife, cut and discard quarter inch from the two edges before further cutting into 8 equal pieces. Don’t worry too much if the pieces are not round after cutting; as the pastry puffs the rolls will regain their roundness. Arrange the rolls into the muffin tray with the cut surfaces facing up. If you’ve taken too long and the pastry is too soft, the alternative is to cut the pastry sheet into 8 strips with a pizza slicer and roll them individually.
  7. Bake for about 20 – 22 minutes. When the rolls are fully ‘puffed’ and golden brown, remove from the oven and flip them over onto a wire tray for cooling. Immediately sprinkle the WHITE sesame over the glazing while it is still slightly wet. This is a purely aesthetic refinement and you may choose to saturate the entire surface with the seeds or just sprinkle lightly for a starry night effect.

sesame 2

This picture shows four muffin cups before the rolls are put in as per “3” and another four muffin cups with the puffs already positioned as as per “6”. Don’t fret if your roll loses its shape a bit in the cutting process. When baked, the puff pasty will initially flatten into the muffin cups and then become round-shaped as they expand against the sides.

sesame 3

This picture shows the puff pastry sheet being rolled up. I find it is most convenient (or least messy) to use a wooden cutting board with some flour sprinkled on it. It will be easier to start the roll if you place one row of pecans at the ‘inside’ end and avoid putting pecans too near to the ‘outside’ end.

 

Notes

  • Kudos to Ina Garten (in her Sticky Buns) for figuring out that muffin cups are the best way to control the shape of puff rolls.
  • Some people (like my brother) swear by 220oC (425oF) for 15 minutes for puff pastry but I’ve found a lower temperature is better for this recipe, probably because its not a pastry outside/filling inside type recipe.
  • This recipe assumes that the sesame paste (it is normally sold together with other bread spreads) is not sweetened, which is likely to be the case if the paste is Japanese (Tahini also comes to mind). I recommend that you taste the paste first and if you find it sweet, reduce your sugar from 1/2 cup o 1/3 cup.
  • You can experiment with any number of substitutions, and if you can think of it, it usually will turn out all right. Some alternatives include peanut butter, cinnamon powder, raisins and crushed walnuts.
  • In my neck of the woods, puff pastry sheets come in a 9.5 inch (24cm) square shape. Remember to adjust accordingly if the sheets you buy are of a different size.
 
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Posted by on September 26, 2009 in Desserts, Japanese, Recipe

 

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