Leonard’s Bakery (Honolulu, HI)

For the last stop on our food tour, they took us to Leonard’s Bakery, a modestly-sized bakery located in the Kaimuki neighborhood, not to far from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, with their gleaming sign advertising malasadas and pão doce. The destination wasn’t particularly a surprise, since I’m pretty sure that Leonard’s Bakery was far and away the most-recommended place on Oahu, with literally dozens of people telling me that I had to go to Leonard’s and order a malasada.

But I’m sure quite a few of you are now asking “what’s a malasada?” Well, as I mentioned, Hawaii is quite the culinary melting pot, and that influence includes Portuguese cuisine (a large number of Portuguese workers came to Hawaii from the Azores in the late 19th century to work on the sugar cane plantations). This immigration added several major items to Hawaiian cuisine, including Portuguese sausage (available at most breakfast places in Hawaii, and also widely available as a choice in a standard plate lunch), pão doce (Portuguese sweet rolls, kind of like a sweet dinner roll), and the malasada. The malasada is basically a Portuguese donut: a nominally egg-sized lump of dough is fried up and, in its most basic form, served up rolled in granulated sugar. It’s one of the classics of Hawaiian cuisine (indeed, the wedding we attended had fresh malasadas at the reception), and it’s a dessert widely available across the state. And, as I mentioned above, most anyone’s list for “Best Malasada” has Leonard’s near the top of the list.

Hawaii takes its malasadas quite seriously: You’ll barely find an actual “donut” on the island, since the malasada reigns as king here. And freshness is highly valued, to the point that “fresh malasada” is almost redundant: almost every single place that sells malasadas is selling them to you freshly made, hot out of the oil. And Leonard’s follows this tradition: Malasadas are only available hot out of the oil, rolled in a variety of sugars (plain, cinnamon, or li hing), and optionally filled with one of several cream fillings (custard, chocolate, huapia, or the flavor of the month). As a result, the wait for a fresh malasada can be long, and the lines out the door. But soon enough, you’ll be walking out the door with a box full of fresh malasadas.

And I’ll have to say that there is definitely something behind the hype, for both malasadas in general, and Leondard’s malasadas in particular. Each malasada itself is the perfect expression of a fried pastry from the moment you open the box: that fresh combination of sugar, grease, yeasty dough, and just a hint of coconut makes for the perfect box opening experience. And each malasada follows through with that, being a perfect little pillow of soft dough, with a perfectly crispy exterior and just enough sweetness from the granulated sugar to make everything to come together.

But the filled malasadas take this to the next level: I sampled both the chocolate and the haupia (shown here) versions of the filled malasada, and both showed that Leonard’s is working just as hard on the filling as the malasada itself. The filling in both was warm, rich in flavor, and, most importantly, not too sweet. The chocolate was a deep, rich chocolate note. The haupia was similarly a nice expression in subtlety, with a soft coconut flavor that was more nutty and silky than sweet. This made for perfect fillings that didn’t overwhelm the pleasant malasada surrounding it all.

Leonard’s can be busy (it was looking to be a 20 minute line when we first came on a Friday morning), but, quite frankly, it’s worth the wait. The malasadas are the perfect expression of everything a good fried dough pastry should be. It’s no accident we ended up combing back for more later.

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