Hainanese Kaya

Learning how to cook the old school way actually provides a foundation for modern cooks to improve. It makes you appreciate the time and effort that is put into the kitchen to create flavour. As part of my video series Old School Recipes from Malaysian Aunties, Hainanese kaya or coconut jam is a classic Malaysian favourite that I have to include. I got this old school kaya recipe from auntie Lim Yoke Lan, which was passed down to her from her late Hainanese mother.

It is a well-known fact that the Hainanese are generally amazing cooks. In those days, recipes do not have precise measurements. Cooking skills were accumulated through practice and experience, and a lot of Malaysian cooking requires time and labour. Mdm Lim’s mother used the very typical agak-agak method (approximation) for her recipes and measured everything with just her eyes. But her kaya is rich and smooth, just like the kaya on toast served at the Hainanese coffee shops. 


  • 10 duck eggs
  • 700g sugar
  • 700g coconut milk
  • 3-4 pcs pandan leaves
  • 1-2 tbsp ginger juice
  • Caramel: 50g sugar + 3 tbsp water

This recipe has been fine-tuned by Mdm Lim over the years to provide consistent measurements and results. Some of the tips and key advice in making kaya is summarised here:

Duck Eggs

You can use duck eggs or chicken eggs to make kaya. Traditionally, duck eggs were used and you can definitely tell the difference from the texture of the jam. Duck eggs yield a finer product. The yolk is creamier and the whites are thick and viscous. It makes the kaya creamier and very smooth compared to chicken eggs that have a more watery consistency. The downside to duck eggs is that it has a pretty strong smell, so we counter it by adding ginger juice.


The main skill involved in making kaya is stirring. You have to keep stirring to keep the mixture from getting lumpy. The first stage of cooking the egg and sugar mixture requires constant stirring for about an hour. You have to stir until the mixture thickens. After you add in the coconut milk, stir for another 20-30 mins to ensure there are no lumps and the mixture is thick. After that, you don’t need to worry about any lumps forming. You only need to check on it and stir it up every hour. 


The kaya is cooked in water bath and then double boiled. The heat needs to be gentle. How can you tell if the temperature is right? The water should be gently bubbling, with small bubbles. It should not be boiling vigorously. High heat can cause the eggs in the kaya to overcook and turn lumpy.


Whether you are making a half the recipe (with 5 eggs) or the full recipe with 10 eggs, the amount of time (and effort) required is still the same. My advise is to just go for the full recipe. The end product gives you about 2-3 large jam jars and that can get eaten up really quickly.

To get a dark brown colour on the kaya, Mdm Lim’s mother used to double boil it for 6-7 hours. This allows the sugars to caramelise resulting in a darker and thicker mixture. Over the years, Mdm Lim has created her own shortcut for this. She adds caramel to the kaya after about 3 hours of double boiling. This shortens the cooking time and your kaya can be ready with just 3-4 hours of double boiling. 


Agar-agar is actually a type of seaweed. You can buy it in powder form or in seaweed strips. I usually use powdered agar for convenience and we use a lot of agar-agar in Southeast Asia for desserts.

However, I have recently discovered that you can use agar-agar strips in salads, just like seaweed. This is something new to me because agar has always been used for making desserts. Apparently in Southern China and Taiwan, agar strips in salad is quite a common appetizer. After all, it is a type of seaweed.

So here it is, tried and tested, my agar seaweed salad.

Agar Seaweed Salad


  • agar-agar strips, soaked in water
  • carrots
  • cucumber
  • jicama
  • coriander


  • garlic, chopped
  • fresh chillies or chilli powder
  • sesame seeds
  • 2-3 tbsp hot oil
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp oyster sauce
  • 1 tbsp black vinegar
  • salt and sugar, to taste

The agar strips gives a crunchy and refreshing texture to salads. It is almost like glass noodles, but crunchy. And since it is neutral in taste, the agar-agar does not alter the salad taste in any way.


1) Cut agar-agar into 2-3 inch strips and soak in water for about an hour or so. Let it absorb water to plump up.

2) Put some chopped garlic, chilies, and sesame seed in a bowl. Heat 2-3 tbsp of hot cooking oil and pour it directly into this mixture. Add some soy sauce, oyster sauce, vinegar and a little salt and sugar to taste. Let the dressing cool.

3) Cut some jicama, carrots, cucumber and coriander into strips. Mix the soaked agar-agar strips together and add the salad dressing.

My Agar Easter Eggs

Agar-agar pudding is so easy to make and super refreshing for the tropical weather. Compared with gelatine, agar-agar can set at warm temperatures of 35-45 degrees Celcius, making it perfect for tropical weather. Plus, it only takes a few minutes to solidify, unlike gelatine which requires chilling at low temperatures over a longer period of time. So this year I decided to use the agar-agar pudding recipe to make agar Easter eggs. Please refer to my video on Agar Easter Eggs for further instructions.

I use the blue pea flower moss pudding recipe to make blue marbled eggs. Moss pudding is a popular agar-agar pudding recipe in Indonesia. This recipe uses eggs in the agar mixture. When boiled, the egg separates from the mixture to form lumps of protein, creating a marbled effect against the blue liquid.

Blue Marble Eggs (makes about 12-15 egg shells):

  • 3.5 tsp agar agar powder
  • 100g sugar 125ml coconut milk
  • 550ml water
  • 100ml blue pea flower water (about 20 flowers)
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract


  • the more blue pea flower you use, the darker the blue colour
  • keep stirring the mixture when you start to boil it. This is to prevent the eggs from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Stop stirring after 2-3 minutes, when you start to see the egg proteins form. Leave it to boil on its own. Too much stirring can cause the egg solids to turn into really small pieces, losing the marble layers.

The other Easter egg agar-agar recipe I created is golden osmanthus eggs using osmanthus flowers. It’s basically making an agar-agar and osmanthus tea mixture and getting it to set. The trick is getting the flowers spread out over the egg instead of all clumping at the bottom. I do this by letting the agar mixture set in 2 layers. Since the osmanthus flowers sink to the bottom, letting the first layer set before pouring the next layer gives you another flower layer somewhere in the middle. It takes about 15 minutes for the agar to set. So experiment by pouring in different amounts of flowers and layers to get the effect you want.

Golden Osmanthus Eggs (makes about 6 egg shells):

  • 350ml water
  • 1 tsp agar agar powder
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp dried osmanthus flowers


  • while waiting for the agar in your mould to set, make sure your remaining agar mixture is kept warm. Put it over a hot water bath or keep it somewhere warm. If it cools down too rapidly, it will set
  • you can set the agar in 3 layers if you want to spread out the flowers even more


Have you ever seen a sesame plant? I never had any idea how sesame seeds come about until I went to the village of Wuyuan in Jiangxi province, China. Wuyuan is hailed as the most beautiful village in China and I have gone to witness first hand the pretty landscapes that were much talked about.

As I walked along the ancient town, I noticed there were stalks of paddy or wheat looking grains being dried under the sun. I asked one of the village ladies what those were and she told me that those are black sesame plants. The sesame seeds are inside the pods. So they dry them under the sun, then remove the black sesame seeds from the pods.

My mother and I were pretty amazed by this random discovery. We have always heard this myth about black sesame being dyed black from white sesame seeds. Witnessing this first hand made us sigh in relief. It is safe to eat black sesame! It is not made with artificial black colouring! Black sesame plants actually exists.

I love black sesame desserts. So I can now rest assured as I make my dessert that they are natural and healthy. Below is my black sesame pudding recipe that you can whip up in just 5 minutes.

Whey Pancakes

Whey, the by-product of cheese, is the liquid that remains after the cheese curds are removed. This slightly acidic liquid is actually very suitable for making pancakes. It’s acidic nature reacts with the baking soda to release lots of carbon dioxide bubbles, making the pancakes airy and fluffy. 

I made some paneer cheese recently and was left with some whey. So I decided to make some plain pancakes and…some durian pancakes. Yes, I also had extra durians in the fridge, so why not?

I used the whey pancake recipe from King Arthur Baking Company, with a little bit of modification. 


  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tbs sugar
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 cups whey
  • 2 large eggs
  • 50g butter (melted)
  • Optional: durian flesh (100-200g)

I could see bubbles forming in the batter as I let it sit for a few minutes after mixing. And indeed, the plain pancakes came out perfectly light. After making 2-3 plain pancakes, I added some durian flesh into the remaining batter. The durian made the batter thicker and creamier. The resulting pancakes were even thicker and fluffier than the plain ones. The image featured above this post is my stack of durian pancakes. They look so pretty!


Flip the plain pancake after bubbles emerge all over the surface, but for the durian pancakes, you should start flipping when it begins to bubble because the sugar in durian causes the pancake to burn faster

Durian Kuih in Handcrafted Pandan Cups

Durian. A thorny issue for many. Some love it for it’s rich and complex flavours, described as sweet, creamy, bittersweet, intense or buttery. Others stay far away from the disgusting, pungent, nauseating fruit that wrecks havoc in hotels, airplanes and confined spaces. When Western friends who have never tried the fruit ask me how durian tastes, I describe it like this: smells like onions but tastes like custard, imagine eating onion custard.

I like custard. So when I saw some Hoen Kwe flour in the cupboard, I decided to use the extra durians to make this custardy durian dessert. Hoen Kwe flour is a type of mung bean flour mixture mostly made in Indonesia. It is cooked and left to set into a pudding-like texture and best served cold. It is usually sold in small little packs of 100 grams. And it comes with instructions on the pack itself. I am adding durian into the mix for this durian delight, only for durian lovers. It actually tastes stronger than pure durian itself. 

Learn how to fold pandan cups in this video too


  • 1 pack Hoen Kwe flour
  • 3 cups coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup durian flesh
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt

This recipe can fill up approximately 30 pandan cups. If you did not make enough pandan wrappers, just pour the remaining mixture into a tray. Let it set, chill in the fridge and then cut into pieces for serving.


  • If you are using thick coconut milk or coconut cream from a pack, dilute it with water to make up to 3 cups. You want the mixture to be milky, not too creamy. Then cook the mixture to a thick, goopy consistency.
  • Make sure the dessert is properly chilled before serving. It needs to be cold for that refreshing taste.

Traditional Mung Bean Cake

Recently I found some wooden cake moulds while digging through the kitchen cupboards. These are blocks hand-carved from solid wood that my grandma used to make traditional rice cakes (炒米饼) with. I have not seen my grandma use them before but I do remember watching my mother hammer the wooden mould on the table as she shaped her mooncakes during mid-autumn festival.

As a tribute to my grandma’s kitchen antiques, I decided to make some mung bean cakes (绿豆糕) with these moulds. This is an old-fashioned cake, made traditionally by compressing mashed mung beans into a mould. These snacks are very easy to make and only requires 3 basic ingredients – mung beans, butter, sugar.


  • 300g mung beans
  • 100g butter
  • 100g sugar
  • pinch of salt (not necessary if you use salted butter)

Just to be clear, the mung beans used here are actually the green mung beans with the shell removed. If you can’t find mung beans in the supermarket, you can get the green beans too. Just soak them overnight and rub them together with your hands to remove the outer shell. You can leave some green shells behind to give it some green colour. Just need to blend them in a food processor to properly mash them up.


  • properly compact them into the mould so your shape would stay in place when you knock it out
  • chill them in refrigerator to let the cakes firm up
  • keep in fridge to stay fresh
  • you can use a food processor to blend it into a finer paste but I like the sandy texture of mashing with a fork

Nostalgic mung bean cakes are ready for tea time.