Haupia is a widely popular Hawaiian dessert that is smooth, creamy, and gelatin-like in texture. It’s like little refreshing bites of Hawaii.
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-H (still my favorite ice cream to this day), 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. 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 Hawaiian dessert (or snack) that is made from coconut milk and is traditionally served in little cut squares or as a custard/pudding. It can also be used as an ingredient in dessert recipes such as pie, ice cream, hand pies, cake, fruit salad, malasadas…etc. 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 best/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 ol’ 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 1/3 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? Which 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.
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) or layered gelatin desserts. If you use less thickening agent, you can serve it as more of a custard for filled malasadas (pictured below), trifles, a topping for desserts, or even as a pudding layer over cake.
More Delicious Hawaiian Favorites
- Guava Cake
- Hawaiian Wedding Cake
- Hawaiian French Toast
- Pani Popo (Samoan Coconut Rolls)
- Coconut Cream Cake with Coconut Frosting
- Combine cornstarch and water in a small bowl. Stir until cornstarch is dissolved then set aside.
- In a medium-sized sauce pan 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.
- *Note: If serving as a custard or pudding, pour into individual serving ramekins or bowls and chill.