What would be your last wish on your final morning in Hawaii? Catch the sunrise? A last-minute dip into the Pacific? Or perhaps one last exploration of tide pools, looking for crabs, starfish and sea turtles?
After a glorious week in the sun, while the rest of us were still asleep to the hypnotic sounds of waves, the breeze gently blowing through palm trees, and the lazy whir of the ceiling fan, my husband woke up quietly to sneak out for his one last wish. He drove 45 minutes (each way) to get a dozen malasadas. That’s the kind of guy he is.
Malasadas are the yeasty, eggy, sugary doughnuts that were introduced to the Hawaiian islands by Portuguese immigrants from the Azores generations ago. Eagerly incorporated into the cuisine of the Hawaiian islands, each island has a “best” place to get them. On the Big Island, that place is Tex Drive In, in Honokaa, near Waimea.
To the casual observer, the malasada looks like a typical raised doughnut, rolled in granulated sugar. Stace, one of the kama’aina (locals) I talked to, shed some light on what makes Tex’s malasada special: the first owners converted their recipe for pao doce (Portuguese sweet bread) and used it to make their mouth-watering and award-winning malasadas.
My husband arrived back with the box of malasadas just as the rest of us were waking up, and we quickly devoured them. That’s how you can eat on vacation — without consequences.
Back home, I wanted to make a Sunday brunch to remind us of Hawaii, which we miss too much already, but I don’t do much deep-frying in my kitchen. Thinking back to Stace, Tex’s malasadas, and the Portuguese immigrants who brought their sweet bread and malasadas to another heavenly island home, I made a not-too-guilty replacement: Portuguese sweet bread French toast with coconut syrup.
Portuguese-Hawaiian sweet bread French toast with coconut syrup
Sweet bread makes excellent French toast because of its eggy, light and slightly chewy texture. I made this version with guava- and taro-flavored sweet bread we brought back with us from Punalu’u Bake Shop, which by being located 30 minutes South of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park in Na’alehu is known as the “Southernmost Bakery in the U.S.A.” King’s Hawaiian bread or rolls, readily available in all major grocers on the mainland, make a great substitution. Hawaiian coconut syrup is more difficult to come by, so I’ve made a recipe you can make from ingredients easily found anywhere.
For coconut syrup
- 1 can (13- or 14-ounce) unsweetened coconut milk
- 1 cup simple syrup (made of equal amounts of granulated white sugar and water, boiled together)
- pinch of salt
For French toast
- 1 pound loaf of Hawaiian sweet bread (or rolls), such as King’s Hawaiian
- 5 large eggs
- ¼ cup milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- zest of a lemon, lime or tangerine
- butter, as needed for griddle or pan
For coconut syrup
- Whisk together coconut milk, simple syrup and salt in a saucepan, and bring to a gentle boil over medium heat. Stir occasionally to prevent scorching.
- The syrup is ready when boiled, but you can reduce to desired thickness by continuing to cook over low heat, stirring frequently.
For French toast
- Slice sweet bread into desired size slices.
- Whisk together eggs, milk and seasonings.
- Heat griddle or pan to medium-high and grease with a small amount of butter.
- Dip slices of sweet bread into egg mixture, then cook on griddle for a minute or so on each side, until nicely golden.
- Serve with coconut syrup and a dusting of powdered sugar.