I have a sweet tooth. Aside from my weakness for donuts, my next fav is probably Hawaiian sweets. There are certain local cakes, pies and puddings that are best eaten when you’re in the Islands, and I always make time to get some whenever I visit. BUT you can also get them on the mainland, if you look hard enough. And like everything Hawaiian, diverse cultural influences have combined to make the most exotic dishes in the world.
A wonderful name for a wonderful cake, and so appropriate. A tri-colored and tri-flavored spongy chiffon cake, this is the one that most kids go for in Hawaii. Each slice is a 3-layered masterpiece, flavored in pink guava, yellow passion fruit and green lime. The guava pretty much takes over the taste, but the colors are so happy, who’s going to complain? The shot above is from my favorite bakery called King’s Hawaiian, so I’m going to give them a shout out. I used to go to this bakery when I was a kid living near King Street where they were located. Sadly, there is no King’s Hawaiian bakery in Hawaii anymore.
No, this isn’t tofu, this is haupia, a traditional pudding made from the arrow root and flavored with coconut milk and sugarcane juice. You’ll often see it made into fillings for pies and layered into cakes. It’s a local luau favorite, but it’s been catching on with the health conscious too, as a vegan alternative, for gluten free diets and for the lactose intolerant. I love puddings, and the lightness of the flavor of haupia seems to really match the texture–somewhere in between creamy and gelatinous, you know what I mean?
Everyone should know by now that I’ve admitted to donuts being my Achilles’ heel. One kind of donut that I really like is an Okinawan type called Andagi. It’s more like a donut hole actually, but bigger and not full of air. These guys are anywhere between the size of golf balls to billiard balls when they come out of the deep fryer, and they’re a very solid cake donut—crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. And contrary to what you might expect, they’re not glazed or sugar coated; they’re just eaten plain. So good! And have them warm for best results!
Now that we’re talking donuts, let’s stay on the subject! The malasada has Portuguese origins, brought to Hawaii by plantation laborers in the 1800s. Being predominately Catholic, the Portuguese immigrants would give up sweets for Lent by using up all their lard and sugar to make large batches of malasadas to share with friends in the plantation camps. Lucky us, this led to the widespread popularity of this deep fried, sugar coated donut in Hawaii. Malasadas come with all kinds of fillings today–custard cream, chocolate, haupia–but for me, the plain ones hot from the fryer are the best!
If you ever want to try a real Hawaiian dessert, you should go for kulolo. This sweet pudding is more like Japanese mochi in texture, so it’s a firm kind of pudding. You can usually find it cut up into fudge like squares and sold in brick shapes. The main ingredient is the taro root, or kalo in Hawaiian, which is the traditional main staple of old Hawaii. In the old days kulolo was made with taro, fresh coconut milk and raw sugar–it was then wrapped in leaves and baked for 8 hours under the earth. Much harder to do these days, but you can still get taro. Over 80% of the state’s production comes from the island of Kauai, where Islanders say the kulolo is the best.
Butter! In the name of the dish! ‘Nuff said. Seriously, if I told you the main ingredients were butter and coconut, wouldn’t that be enough to get you interested? Essentially a baked custard, butter mochi is made with a rice flour (mochiko) base, which gives it a soft, chewy, sticky consistency similar to mochi. There’s always one auntie who makes “da bess” butter mochi at every potluck family gathering. If you want to try making one yourself, Zojirushi has a recipe of theirs right here.
There are so many more Hawaiian style baked goods I could get into, but these are the ones I consider the classics–and I really like how they reflect the cultural diversity of the Islands. The ingredients are local, and each dish comes from the heart of the people of Hawaii.