The aroma of fried dough is irresistible. Add a sugary coating and a luscious, creamy filling, and you’ve got the wildly addictive malasada, a house specialty at ‘aina, San Francisco’s modern Hawaiian eatery, owned by chef and Hawaiian native Jordan Keao.
“Everyone loves fried dough,” Keao says. “A malasada is a Portuguese doughnut.”
Portuguese immigrants working on Hawaii’s sugar cane and pineapple plantations brought their baking traditions — such as these custard-filled puffs — with them. Keao brought his own take to California.
“Traditionally, there are a lot of different malasada fillings,” he says. “We did guava, because that was the one flavor I was missing the most from home. Instead of using cream, we use coconut cream.”
The dough is based on a natural yeast starter Keao began last June and cultivated by adding dough from the previous day’s batch to give it its signature aged character. The chef calls it Pele to honor the Hawaiian goddess of fire.
“The starter makes our malasadas light and tangy, with a chewy texture, ” he says. “We make 144 pieces a day, but we don’t fry them until we get the order in.”
Emerging from the hot oil, the fresh, sizzling malasadas are tossed in a coconut sugar mixture to add a little crunch, then pumped full with a silky, pink guava custard. Once they’re garnished with a chocolate-mint chiffonade — to add a floral note, Keao says — they’re served three to an order.