In a nutshell: You may never see doughnuts the same way again after trying the Portuguese version at this malasada destination in the Kaimuki neighborhood of Honolulu.
Maybe you just happened upon it. Driving along Kapahulu Avenue, a burst of colors (red, blue, and gold, to be exact) catches your eye. You focus in on the tall sign and see the name “Leonard’s” emblazoned in blue upon it; the sign points towards a building rimmed cheerily with red- and white-striped awning. Your interest piqued, you steer towards the curb down the block and stroll back to take a closer look.
Maybe it’s a destination spot for you. You’ve Google-Mapped the directions weeks in advance and can see the sign from a mile away. Approaching the tiny parking lot out front, you veer off the main road and pray you can nab one of the coveted spots.
No matter how you came across Leonard’s, you’ll be glad you did.
The bakery is renowned for their malasadas. These doughnuts of Portuguese origin were likely integrated with Hawaiian cuisine when the Portuguese immigrated to Hawaii to work on the islands’ plantations during the 1800s. Leonard’s started producing them back in 1962 as part of the Portugese tradition for Shrove Tuesday; nowadays, they’re churning out piping-hot malasadas by the boxful. Leonard’s description of their most popular product is rather tantalizing:
A malasada is a Portugese doughnut without a hole. We fry generously-sized balls of dough until it’s golden brown on the outside and light & fluffy on the inside. Once they are out of the fryer, they are immediately coated with sugar giving you a sweet toasted flavor, both crunchy and chewy. Because our malasadas our [sic] made to order and always served hot and fresh, you won’t find them in the bakery cases like other bakeries. You can always count on Leonard’s Malasadas® being a hot tasty sugary bite of happiness.
You might have a brief panic attack when you see bakery display cases sans malasadas. Don’t fret: Leonard’s will whip up a fresh batch for all customers that comes in so they can enjoy the doughnuts at their peak. The items that do inhabit the display cases include assorted pastries, cookies, cakes, pies, and wraps. Place your full order at the counter, pay at the register, and wait a few moments for the staff to prepare your order.
The staff is efficient in packaging your order and you’ll be out the door within minutes. They tape the flaps of the bakery box shut to prevent any jostling during transportation, but it also prevents your fingers from clutching a hot malasada in seconds. Our fingers stumbled over each other as we scrambled to open the box that much faster to gaze upon the beauties inside.
The aroma, a mix of sweet sugar and just-fried batter, that wafted upwards upon lifting the lid enraptured us. We went for a box of all malasada puffs this time, meaning that each ball of dough was pumped full of luscious custard in a range of flavors. All were coated in a light layer of sugar for extra churro-like oomph.
Leonard’s dough is the foundation for one of the most pillowy doughnuts you’ll sink your teeth into. The crispness of the thin, fresh-out-of-the-fryer crust gives way to an ethereally-light web of feathery dough. The classic custard, thick and creamy, paired with the airy dough creates a malasada that puts any custard-filled American doughnut to shame.
The dobash (chocolate) malasada was hands-down our favorite puff on the bunch. Same wonderfully eggy dough, even better surprise inside. The rich, dark custard had such strong cocoa notes it was like tasting pure chocolate on our tongues (always a good thing). One bite to crack the doughnut’s surface and custard oozed out like the interior of a lava cake.
Hints of the popular island nut linger in the macadamia nut filling, the “Flavor of the Month” during our visit; the flavor was not quite as pronounced as I expected. Malasadas in general are messy beasts, so don’t be surprised if towards the end, you find yourself licking your fingers clean of remnants of custard and sugar.
If you can’t make it out to the bakery, swing by one of their Malasadamobiles on the road; locations are posted on their website. No matter where you go, be sure to get your hands on a malasada at least once while in Honolulu.
933 Kapahulu Avenue