Soft Cooked Eggs With Kaya Jam and Toast: Singapore's Signature Breakfast is Right Up My Alley

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Soft eggs and toast spread with a sweet and savory coconut jam are right up my alley. [Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

A couple of months ago, my wife Adri and I spent a week lazing around in the too-hot-to-do-anything sun of Singapore with our good friend and Serious-Eats-writer-cum-baking-instructor Yvonne and her husband Hallam. Their home was a rare pocket of order and—most importantly—air-conditioning, in an otherwise hot and hectic trip through Southeast Asia.

One morning they took us out for one of Singapore's staple breakfasts: kaya toast served with soft boiled eggs and strong coffee sweetened with sugar and evaporated milk. It was simple and delicious.

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The toast, made of thin-sliced, soft white bread, is cooked over an open flame without any sort of fat, so it comes out a bit dry and crunchy, which is fine since they use it to sandwich a massive amount of softened butter and kaya jam, a mildly sweet jam made with coconut, palm sugar, and eggs (check out Yvonne's recipe right here). Even so, it helps to dip it into the super-soft boiled eggs that you break into a small dish on the side.

For years, one of my favorite late-night snacks has been a soft-cooked egg which I break into a bowl, drizzle with soy sauce and pepper, stir up, and slurp down as silently as possible in the dim light of the kitchen, trying not to wake Adri. I always thought I was a little weird in loving it so much, so I felt vindicated that morning when I realized that I had an entire country full of soft-egg-and-soy-sauce-eating brethren on the other side of the planet.

Perhaps I've belonged in Singapore all along.

At home, I would use Japanese shoyu and either black pepper or red chilies (or occasionally a dash of Frank's hot sauce and a sprinkle of furikake). In Singapore, it's a combination of dark soy and light soy, along with white pepper, all left at the table for you to add at your own discretion. You can dip your toast in the eggs, or do as the old men sitting at the table next to us were doing: stir 'em up with a fork, then knock them back like a shot.

There's not really all that much to the recipe beyond the kaya jam, but the trick is getting the eggs exactly right—there should be no slimy transparent white left, but they should still be so soft that they can be stirred into a slurry with a spoon. A traditional soft-boiled egg technique, where your goal is a liquid yolk and barely-set white won't do here: the whites get too hard. Instead, you need to cook at a lower temperature for a longer period of time.

With a sous-vide-style precision cooker, it's easy. Cook those eggs at 140°F (60°C) for 45 minutes and you'll have soft eggs and kaya jam that can stand shoulder to shoulder with any version in Singapore.

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Without one, it takes a bit more finesse. The trick is to add the eggs to water that has been brought to a boil, but is slowly cooling, allowing the eggs to cook gently. The only really important factor is the ratio of water to eggs, along with the eggs' starting temperature. For 8 eggs straight from the fridge (enough to serve four people), 2 1/2 quarts of boiling water is just about right, though confounding variables like the temperature of your kitchen or the shape and size of your pan can alter cooking time. It's a good idea to cook at least one extra egg so you can open it and double check its doneness before serving the rest.

Plus, it means you get to enjoy it the way I do: silently slurped in the kitchen, enjoying the moment just for yourself.