Big Island Sweet Bread French Toast with Coconut Syrup

Kona Hawaii by Linda Shiue

What would be your last wish on your final morning in Hawaii? Catch the sunrise? A last minute dip into the Pacific? Or perhaps one last exploration of tide pools, looking for crabs, starfish, and sea turtles?

After a glorious week in the sun, while the rest of us were still asleep to the hypnotic sounds of waves, the breeze gently blowing through palm trees, and the lazy whir of the ceiling fan, my husband woke up quietly to sneak out for his one last wish.  He drove 45 minutes (each way) to get a dozen malasadas.  That’s the kind of guy he is.  Malasadas are the yeasty, eggy, sugary donuts that were introduced to the Hawaiian islands by Portuguese immigrants from the Azores generations ago.  Malasadas have since been eagerly incorporated into the cuisine of the Hawaiian islands, and each island has a “best” place to get them.  On the Big Island, that place is Tex Drive In, in Honokaa, near Waimea.

To the casual observer, the malasada looks like a typical raised doughnut, rolled in granulated sugar.    Stace, one of the kama’aina (locals) I talked to,  shed some light on what makes the malasada special.   Having grown up in Honokaa, he knew a little bit of the history behind Tex’s malasadas.  He told me that the first owners, a few malasada generations ago, converted their recipe for pao doce (Portuguese sweet bread) and used it to make their mouthwatering and award-winning malasadas.

malasadas by Linda Shiue

My husband arrived back with the box of malasadas just as the rest of us were waking up, and we quickly devoured them.  That’s how you can eat on vacation– eating without consequences.

Back home, I wanted to make a Sunday brunch to remind us of Hawaii, which we miss too much already, but I don’t do much deep-frying in my kitchen.  Thinking back to Stace, Tex’s malasadas, and the Portuguese immigrants who brought their sweet bread and malasadas to another heavenly island home, I made a not-too-guilty replacement: Portuguese sweet bread French toast with coconut syrup.

*    *    *

Portuguese Hawaiian Sweet Bread French Toast

with Coconut Syrup

Hawaiian Sweetbread French toast by Linda Shiue

Sweet bread makes excellent French toast because of its eggy, light and slightly chewy texture.  I made this version with guava and taro flavored sweet bread we brought back with us from Punalu’u Bake Shop, which by being located 30 minutes South of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park in Na’alehu is known as the “Southernmost Bakery in the U.S.A.”  King’s Hawaiian bread or rolls, readily available in all major grocers on the mainland, make a great substitution.  Hawaiian coconut syrup is more difficult to come by, so I’ve made a recipe you can make from ingredients easily found anywhere.


1 lb loaf of Hawaiian sweet bread (or rolls), such as King’s Hawaiian

5 large eggs

1/4 cup milk

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

zest of a lemon, lime, or tangerine

butter for griddle or pan

garnishes: coconut syrup (recipe follows), powdered sugar


1.  Heat griddle or pan to medium-high and grease with a small amount of butter.

2.  Slice sweet bread into desired size slices.

3.  Whisk together eggs, milk, and seasonings.

4.  Dip slices of sweet bread into egg mixture, then cook on griddle for a minute or so on each size, until nicely golden.

5.  Serve with coconut syrup and a dusting of powdered sugar.

Hawaiian Coconut Syrup


1 can (13 or 14 oz) unsweetened coconut milk

1 cup simple syrup (made of equal amounts of granulated white sugar and water, boiled together)

pinch of salt


1.  Whisk together coconut milk, simple syrup and salt in a saucepan, and bring to a gentle boil over medium heat.  Stir occasionally to prevent scorching.

2.  The syrup is ready when boiled, but you can reduce to desired thickness by continuing to cook over low heat, stirring frequently.

© 2011 Linda Shiue, with Aloha