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“Biting into a cloud” is how many describe the lightly crisp browned shell and fluffy, custard-like middle of Leonard’s malasadas. Hawaii has become known for the best malasadas in North America, but the hole-less doughnuts aren’t originally from Hawaii. Malasadas were brought to the islands in the late 1800s by Portuguese immigrants who worked on the sugarcane plantations, and today malasadas are sold in bakeries all over Hawaii. But for the best malasadas, everyone knows you must brave the long lines that always go out the door at Leonard’s Bakery in Honolulu. And that’s okay because it’s always worth the wait.
Leonard’s has been making malasadas since 1952 using a well-protected secret recipe that many have unsuccessfully tried to duplicate. The chain will ship malasadas from Hawaii to your house on the mainland for a pretty hefty fee (nearly $100), but even after following strict reheating instructions, eating a two-day-old malasada is not the same heavenly experience as consuming a fresh one. A fluffy, fresh malasada turns into a tough and chewy malasada in just a few hours. That’s the nature of fried dough. It quickly became clear that if I were ever to properly clone these, I would have to experience them fresh, from the source. So, I hopped on a plane to Hawaii.
I visited two Leonard’s locations in Honolulu: the original brick-and-mortar bakery and a Leonard’s Bakery food truck parked in a shopping mall lot. I watched them make malasadas in big vats of oil, lowering dozens of doughnuts at once into the oil with a metal screen pressing down on them so that they were fully submerged in the hot fat. I observed the process, noted the temperature, watched the malasadas come out of the oil and get sugared, and timed everything.
Back home I made malasadas for weeks, using intel gathered in Hawaii. Dozens and dozens of versions later, after altering variables such as proofing methods, mixing methods, flour types, fat types, sweetness, saltiness, and many others, I landed on this one. I believe it was number 92 out of 93 attempts.
Before we start, let me offer a few tips about equipment you’ll need. It’s best to have a stand mixer. The dough starts loose but it eventually gets too tough for a handheld granny mixer. I’m sure it’s possible to mix and knead the dough by hand when it gets too tough for the little mixer, but a big mixer is much better.
Also, a deep fryer is helpful. You can fry these in a pot of oil with a thermometer if you want, but it’s so much easier to regulate temperature with a deep fryer. And you must devise a way to keep the malasadas submerged so that you won’t have to flip them, and they won’t get a white line around the middle where the dough isn’t in the oil. Deep fryers typically have a basket that you can use to put on top of the malasadas to hold them down. Rather than placing the dough in the basket when frying, carefully lower the dough into the fryer without the basket and use the basket on top of the dough to hold it under the oil. If you are frying on your stovetop, you can use a spider or strainer to hold the dough under the oil.