As much as I have slight control-freak tendencies, our summer holidays this year came about in a bit of a haphazard manner – we knew we wanted to go on an overseas trip and had a list of places we wanted to visit as soon as possible (Peru! Vietnam! Laos!). But, it turns out that flights to Peru in August are expensive if you try and book them in June and Vietnam and Laos are wet in August. So back to the drawingboard it was. In the end we settled for Bali and as flying through Singapore proved significantly cheaper we decided to turn our little stop-over into a short break in Singapore as well.
Singapore, with its dozens and dozens of shopping malls and high-rise buildings that are starting to replace the beautiful 2 storey houses of the first settlers is a city you either love or hate – I loved it. In our 3 days there I did not once have a bad meal or drink, no matter whether it was breakfast in one of the boutique coffee places that are growing like mushrooms in Singapore these days, lunch at one of the many hawker centres all around town, iced oolong tea, a dinner of plain rice and all my favourite Asian greens in a simple restaurant down the road from our hotel, houchija iced lattes, steamed dumplings at Paradise Dynasty at ION Orchard, roasted pearl milk tea, macarons at TWG, hot chrysanthemum tea, or indeed the local breakfast speciality of toast with kaya, soft-boiled egg and iced kopi.
Most of my holiday planning starts with researching the local cuisine, making a note of typical dishes and their names in the local language, and things I want to make sure I try. For Singapore, my list included toast with kaya.
While a fairly simple breakfast, a few slices of toasted bread slathered in a thick layer of butter and kaya (an eggy coconut ‘jam’ similar in consistency to lemon curd), served with a softboiled egg and some soy sauce and black pepper to season the egg (the idea being to dip your kaya toast into the seasoned egg)), all washed down with plenty of local coffee, it was one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten. And I am not even an egg person – eggs in my kitchen are purely for baking and brunch for me means pancakes rather than omelettes or eggs benedict, and admittedly I was not even that keen on trying this kaya toast purely because of the softboiled egg.
I was also worried the kaya would taste too strongly of coconut but could not have been more wrong – as it's made with eggs it tastes much more like a sweet and eggy custard, with a slight hint of coconut. Dipping the kaya-slathered toast into the softboiled and soy-sauce covered egg gives you the perfect mix between sweet and savoury that is simply divine. Oh and that kopi (Malay for coffee)? Outstanding – I read that as a result of not being able to afford good quality coffee, in the past Singaporeans used to try and improve the flavour of inferior beans by adding sugar and/or butter to the coffee and wok-frying the beans. The result is a coffee with a much stronger roasted flavour and with a definite hint of toasted cereals. It is so delicious in fact we bought some to take home with us and it's what we have been drinking every morning since coming back from Singapore.
One other thing I ate in Singapore and which I loved was a lamington – I first tried these when I spent a summer at a school in Brisbane, Australia, but had not eaten one in well over 10 years – and one bite into these moist and soft cakes covered in jam or chocolate icing before being rolled in coconut, I knew I wanted to make some as soon as I got home. And what better idea for my first lamingtons than to try and capture the flavour of the typical Singaporean breakfast I fell in love with.
Makes 9 small lamingtons
Recipe adapted from Dan Lepard
Note: You might be surprised to see soy sauce listed in the ingredients – the reason that I included this in the recipe is that adding soy sauce to eggs really brings out their flavour, something you might already be familiar with from eating the sweet and savoury Japanese omelette Tamago that is commonly found in sushi restaurants and which, among eggs, mirin and sugar also include soy sauce. If you don’t have soy sauce or find the idea of using it strange, simply use a good pinch of salt, although the flavour will not be the same./em>
80g butter, melted
150g light muscovado sugar
160g plain yoghurt
30ml sunflower oil
1 tsp soy sauce or a large pinch of salt
200g all purpose flour, toasted*
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground coffee
1/2 small jar of kaya
250g desiccated coconut
*Toasting the flour (stirring constantly), in a dry pan until light brown and fragrant adds a subtle toasted cereal note to the lamingtons.
1. Grease a 16cm square tin and pre-heat the oven to 170 degrees Celsius.
2. Pour the butter, sugar, yoghurt, oil and soy sauce into a bowl and beat for one minute until smooth.
3. Add eggs one by one, beating well after each addition.
4. Whisk the flour with the baking powder and ground coffee and fold into the rest of the batter.
5. Pour the batter into the tin, smooth the top and cover the tin with aluminium foil. Place in the oven for ca. 45 minutes (removing the aluminium foil after 30 minutes of baking) or until the cake is golden and a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.
6. Invert the cake onto a drying rack and leave to come to room temperature before cutting into 9 equal-sized squares. Spread a thin layer of kaya all-around each lamington before rolling each square in the desiccated coconut.