The best Hawaiian desserts look and taste as distinctive as the islands themselves.
While pineapple upside-down cake might seem exotic elsewhere, desserts in Hawaii take things a seductive step further. Blending cultural traditions with tropical flavors, they lead to luscious adventures in an appetizing destination.
When it’s time to satisfy your sweet tooth island-style, check out these decadent Hawaiian desserts that locals swear by, with tips on the best places find them.
Chocolate Haupia Cream Pie
Most every Hawaiian gathering features haupia, a variation on coconut pudding. This dessert does it one better by filling a pie shell with equal layers of dark chocolate custard, creamy haupia and a whipped topping. The undisputed mecca for chocolate haupia cream pie is Ted’s Bakery on Oahu, open since 1987 across from Sunset Beach. Devotees have been known to drive all the way to the North Shore for a slice.
At almost any local potluck or special occasion on Oahu, someone shows up with a box of these melt-in-your-mouth treats. We’re not talking breakfast cereal here — instead, picture puff pastry shells stuffed with creamy chocolate filling and topped with a buttercream frosting called Chantilly. Liliha Bakery, a Honolulu mainstay since 1950, sells thousands of coco puffs each day. Try their newest version that includes green tea frosting.
The traditional Japanese confection called manju consists of dough buns filled with sweet bean paste. Home Maid Bakery on Maui takes this concept to new heights by using a light, flaky pie-like crust. Instead of the standard bean paste, you can order yours filled with apples, coconut, peaches, pineapple, chocolate, peanut butter or purple sweet potato. Die-hards take home boxes to friends and family on the mainland.
Once again we thank the Japanese, who introduced this smooth, creamy concoction to Hawaii. Made with fruit juice, lime soda and condensed milk, this sherbet/ice cream hybrid makes for a refreshing treat in Hawaii's warm climate. Some of the state’s best guri guri — fittingly pronounced goodie-goodie — awaits at Tasaka Guri Guri, located at Maui Mall in Kahului. They specialize in two flavors: strawberry and pineapple.
When Portuguese plantation workers came to Hawaii in the 1870s, they brought malasadas, a sugarcoated fried doughnut without the hole. Today, Oahu’s malasada king is Leonard’s Bakery in Honolulu, while Tex Drive In reigns supreme on Hawaii Island. For a twist, order them coated with cinnamon sugar or li hing (dried plum powder), or try one stuffed with custard, chocolate, fruit or coconut.
Mochi Ice Cream
Another Japanese innovation, these round, soft outer shells of mochi (rice cake) are filled with different flavors of ice cream. One of the best desserts on Oahu is mochi ice cream from Bubbies. It features 20 different varieties including green tea, mango, lychee, pistachio, passion fruit, chocolate, peanut butter, strawberry, raspberry and blueberry. With just one bite, you’ll understand why it’s a favorite Hawaiian dessert.