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Haupia is a widely popular Hawaiian dessert that is smooth, creamy, and gelatin-like in texture. It’s like little refreshing bites of Hawaii.
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When I lived in Hawaii, haupia was everywhere and I didn’t mind one bit. In fact, I couldn’t get enough of it. I loved the Haupia Pie at Ted’s Bakery, haupia ice cream at the Seasider at BYU Hawaii, haupia-filled malasada’s at Leonard’s, haupia hand pies from McDonalds (please McDonalds, bring this to the mainland!), and even just plain haupia squares from Foodland or the Polynesian Cultural Center on Oahu. Haupia just might be the EASIEST Hawaiian dessert you can make, which is awesome because you can always have a little taste of Hawaii in a jiffy no matter where you are!
What Is Haupia?
Haupia (pronounced how-pee-ah) is a traditional Hawaiian dessert or snack that is made from coconut milk and is traditionally served in little cut squares or as a custard/pudding, often at luaus. It can also be used as an ingredient in dessert recipes such as pie, ice cream, hand pies, cake, fruit salad, and malasadas. You can add it to just about anything you want to give a little coconut layer to and you won’t be sorry.
What’s In Haupia?
Haupia has only 4 main ingredients: Coconut milk, sugar, thickener, and water. That’s it. Sometimes people like to add a splash of vanilla or almond flavoring as well but it isn’t necessary. Here’s a breakdown of the ingredients:
- Coconut Milk (full-fat ONLY) or Coconut Cream – There is some debate on whether using coconut milk, coconut cream, or cream of coconut is most traditional. Honestly you can use any of these. Coconut cream is a little more difficult to come by, but you can find it at most Asian markets. Coconut cream is thicker, so you may need to add a little more water to get the consistency you want. Cream of coconut is the sweetened version of coconut cream, so if you use cream of coconut, no additional sugar needs to be added.
- Sugar – just plain granulated sugar. Haupia typically isn’t overly sweet, in fact, most haupia I have had isn’t very sweet at all. If this is your first time having haupia and are more accustomed to very sweet desserts, you may want to add up to ⅓ cup sugar.
- Thickener – such as cornstarch, agar agar, or arrowroot (see detailed breakdown below). Use the amount listed for a more firm haupia, or about half if you want to make it more of a pudding or custard.
Cornstarch, Arrowroot, or Agar Agar
This is the great debate when it comes to haupia. Is it better to use agar agar (a popular Japanese vegetable-based thickening powder), arrowroot, or cornstarch? Which is more authentic? What tastes better? Which sets up best? I will break it all down for you here:
- Cornstarch – The easiest to come by here in the states and by far the cheapest option. It still sets up well. This is the most widely used thickener today because of the ease and affordability.
- Arrowroot – The most traditional option. Has a very smooth texture and sets up great. Arrowroot can be difficult to find and a bit pricey, but it’s worth a try if you want it to be really authentic. If you use it in this recipe, you can swap it straight across at a 1:1 ratio with the cornstarch.
- Agar Agar – Great, smooth texture and sets up nicely. It’s a great natural substitute for cornstarch and commonly used in haupia. It has no corn, soy, gluten, carbohydrates, starch, sugar, or preservatives and it is high in fiber. If using agar agar in this recipe, you will want to use much less than you would if you were using cornstarch or arrowroot. About 1-2 teaspoons rather than 5 tablespoons.
As far as taste goes, all of these options are neutral in flavor. It will be hard to taste a difference between any of them. For texture, they are similar and unless you try them side-by-side you won’t notice a big difference. Agar agar and arrowroot tend to have a smoother more “gelatin-y” texture but it’s not too drastic of a difference.
How To Make Haupia
- Combine water and cornstarch (or arrowroot) and set aside
- Bring coconut milk and sugar to a simmer, whisking constantly
- Whisk in cornstarch mixture and continue whisking until thickened (about 10-15 minutes)
- Pour into a baking dish or square container and refrigerate until fully set (about 6 hours).
- Cut into squares and serve
Note: If using agar agar you will want to bring the water and agar agar to a simmer in a sauce pan FIRST to cook the agar agar, and THEN add the coconut milk and sugar.
Keto variation: If you use the agar agar method and use monkfruit powder in lieu of the sugar this becomes a delicious keto dessert!
How To Eat Haupia
There is no right or wrong way to eat huapia. You can eat the squares on a plate with a fork or you can just pick it up and eat it like a piece of candy. Chopsticks might be tricky, but I have seen it done. If serving as a custard or pudding, a spoon might be most helpful.
Haupia is best served fresh, however it can be stored in the fridge for a few days if needed. To store haupia and maintain its freshness, refrigerate it in an airtight container or tightly wrapped with plastic wrap. Avoid temperature fluctuations and direct sunlight. Enjoy within a few days to enjoy its best quality. For longer storage, haupia can be frozen. This may affect the texture so we typically try to avoid freezing if possible. To freeze, store in an airtight container or wrapped tightly with multiple layers of plastic wrap for up to a month. Thaw frozen haupia in the refrigerator overnight before enjoying.
Frequently Asked Questions about Haupia
Haupia has a coconut flavor, with a little sweetness. It has a smooth, creamy, and gelatin-like texture.
According to Ted’s bakery, the pia plant was introduced to the Hawaiian islands by Polynesians as they crossed the Pacific. It became popular during WWII. Haupia was used to give a sweet topping to wedding cakes and is still popular today at luaus, weddings, birthdays, and other celebrations.
Haupia is made of 4 simple ingredients: Coconut milk, sugar, water, and a thickener – either cornstarch or arrowroot.
READ NEXT:The Best Hawaiian Desserts
Dessert Recipes Using Haupia
For those of you not familiar with haupia, the consistency is somewhere between pudding and gelatin. Treat it like a creamy, coconutty gelatin. It is going to set up similarly, so you can pour it while it’s still in a pudding form and it will set like gelatin as it cools. This is great for making haupia pie (pictured below). The haupia is layered on top of the chocolate in the chocolate pie filling in the pie crust.
If you use less thickening agent, you can serve it as more of a custard with a pudding consistency for filled malasadas (pictured below), trifles, a topping for desserts, or even as a pudding layer over cake.
More Hawaiian Recipes
Looking for more Hawaiian recipes to serve with your creamy Hawaiian coconut pudding? Give some of these authentic recipes a try!
How to Make Haupia
Haupia (Hawaiian Coconut Pudding)
- Combine cornstarch and water in a small bowl. Stir until cornstarch is dissolved then set aside.
- In a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat, combine coconut milk and sugar. Whisk constantly until mixture begins to simmer.
- While continuing to whisk, SLOWLY pour in the water/cornstarch mixture until it thickens. Reduce heat to low and continue to whisk until you have a thick, pudding-like consistency. This is important, it needs to be thickened while it is heating or it won't set up.
- Pour into a greased 8"x8" baking dish or square containers. I actually like to use my smaller glass Tupperware containers becasue the sides are more straight, making for more consistent squares.
- Allow to cool to room temperature, about 10-15 minutes, then cover and refrigerate for 2+ hours.
- When ready to serve, cut into 2" squares and serve cold. If serving as a custard or pudding, pour into individual serving ramekins or bowls and chill.
- Use full-fat coconut milk only.
- Arrowroot can be used in place of cornstarch.
- More or less sugar can be used to taste.
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