A Malasada Experiment

November 13th, 2012

malasada lilikoi

One of the things about social media is that at any given time someone in your social circle is doing something fun. I've noticed that no matter what time of year it is, there always seems to be someone in my Facebook feed going to Hawaii. Maybe it's self-selection; after all, I live on the West Coast where the islands are a reasonably accessible spot for vacations and quick getaways, so I guess it makes sense that many of my locally-based friends would take advantage of that. It also means that nearly every other week I get to see photos of lush beaches and gorgeous sunsets on my computer and think to myself, "that'd be nice it I were there."

It's been quite a few years since my last trip to Hawaii, and I'm rapidly approaching the no-fly time on my pregnancy (yikes! how did the time pass so fast!) so a return trip will probably have to wait a while. However, I got to have a little taste of the islands this weekend courtesy of some experimentation in the kitchen.

Although I've been to Hawaii several times, somehow I never learned about the existence of malasadas until afterwards. Not until a friend asked me if I'd ever made them did I learn of their existence. Malasadas are a Portuguese version of a yeasted doughnut, a deep fried dough puff dusted with sugar and cinnamon. The Portuguese brought malasadas to Hawaii, where they became a beloved part of Hawaiian cuisine. The most famous maker of malasadas is Leonard's, an establishment that I again somehow missed on all my visits to the islands.

So when my friend came to me and asked if I could make some malasadas to satisfy his post-Hawaii cravings, I had to reply that I'd never had one and didn't know if I could. I offered to make some donuts, but I guess there are subtle differences between the two and never shall one be mistaken for the other. Hey, I can't eat dim sum in the US for weeks when I come back from a trip to Hong Kong, so I understand perfectly.

malasada pile

I thought I'd have to wait until I made a return to Hawaii to really figure out these malasadas, but then I was unexpectedly given a box of malasada mix from Hawaii. No point in letting it go to waste; I decided to do a comparison between box malasadas and some recipes I found on the web, and see how they turned out.

During the course of my research, it seems like malasadas are made very similarly to regular yeasted donuts, but more enriched with sugar and eggs, so it has a more robust, almost bready interior. I came across the description, "fluffy, yet chewy" often, so hopefully this sounds accurate! The most important thing about malasadas, though, is that they have to be eaten fresh and hot. My friend was quite adamant that he could not bring back any malasadas for me from Hawaii since they would be all soggy and unappetizing by the time he made it home.

Based on both the mix we made and the from-scratch version, malasadas are indeed an addictively delicious form of donut, and you do have to pretty much eat them fresh. The two versions also came out quite similar to each other: the ones from mix were denser, while the from-scratch ones were lighter and airier, like regular donuts, but the amount of time they took to rise and fry were about the same. So going only by comparison with a mix, I'd say these malasadas a good imitation of the real thing.

A couple of observations: the batter is quite soft (although not liquidy), but give it enough time to rise and all will be well. Even if it seems too sticky to form into proper balls, as long as you let it rise they will fry up fine. Also, resist the urge to make them too big; since there are no holes in malasadas you don't want the centers to be uncooked while the outside is already brown and crisp. About the size of a golf ball seems to work well. Finally, and sadly, they don't seem to last as well as regular donuts. It really is true: the day after, all the leftover malasadas had turned dense and soggy. The only solution is to invite a bunch of friends over when you are making this recipe and binge on hot malasadas out of the fryer (I tried my best, but this baby seems to be taking up an awful lot of space these days - I can't seem to fit much in my stomach any more!)

Finally, malasadas are often served filled with a variety of fillings, from custard and chocolate, to lovely tropical flavors like guava and mango. I coincidentally happened to have a jar of lilikoi (passionfruit) jam from my sister (one of the many people populating my Facebook with photos of Hawaii) and it made the malasadas into the perfect breakfast bun.

So as temperatures drop and winter nears, if you have friends tormenting you with photos of their amazing tropical getaway, these malasadas might bring you a little closer to paradise.

malasada split


  • 2 teaspoons (1 package) active dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup water, 100 degrees F
  • 1/2 cup (100 g) + 1/2 cup (100 g ) sugar
  • 2/3 cup (204 g) evaporated milk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 5 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup (113 g) unsalted butter, melted
  • 4 cups (548 g) bread flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • vegetable oil for frying
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Combine yeast, water, and 1 tablespoon of sugar in a small bowl. Let sit for about 5-8 minutes until yeast is active and looks a little bubbly.
  • Pour yeast into bowl of a stand mixer. Add in the 1/2 cup sugar, evaporated milk, vanilla, eggs, and butter, and beat to combine.
  • Add in the bread flour and salt and knead with a dough hook on low speed until a cohesive mixture forms. It will be very soft still but should hold together.
  • Turn out dough into an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let sit in a warm place to rise until it doubles in size, about an hour.
  • Punch down dough. Line a baking sheet with a Silpat. Pinch off small pieces of dough and form into golf ball-sized balls. It may be very sticky and soft so it's ok if you can't form them perfectly. Let them rise again for about 30 minutes.
  • Heat at least 2 inches of oil in a heavy bottomed pot to 350 F. Fry a few donuts at a time until cooked through and golden brown (about 1 1/2 minutes per side), flipping them over halfway through the cooking time. Remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and place on paper towel-covered wire rack to drain and cool slightly.
  • Combine remaining 1/2 cup sugar and cinnamon in a bowl. Roll malasadas in cinnamon sugar. If you like, you can fill the malasadas with jam, pastry cream, Nutella, or anything else before you serve them. They are best warm and fresh.

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