A malasada (or malassada, from Portuguese “mal-assada” = “under-cooked”) (similar to filhós) is a Portuguese confection, made of egg-sized balls of yeast dough that are deep-fried in oil and coated with granulated sugar. They were first made by inhabitants of the Madeira islands. Traditional malasadas contain neither holes nor fillings, but some varieties of malasadas are filled with flavoured cream or other fillings. Malasadas are eaten especially on Mardi Gras – the day before Ash Wednesday.
In Madeira, malasadas are eaten mainly on Terça-feira Gorda (“Fat Tuesday” in English; Mardi Gras in French) which is also the last day of the Carnival of Madeira. The reason for making malasadas was to use up all the lard and sugar in the house, in preparation for Lent (much in the same way the tradition of Pancake Day in the United Kingdom originated on Shrove Tuesday), malasadas are sold alongside the Carnival of Madeira today. This tradition was taken to Hawaii, where Shrove Tuesday is known as Malasada Day, which dates back to the days of the sugar plantations of the 19th century, the resident Catholic Portuguese (mostly from Madeira and the Azores) workers used up butter and sugar prior to Lent by making large batches of malasadas.
Malasada in the United States
In 1878, Portuguese labourers from Madeira and the Azores came to Hawaii to work in the plantations. These immigrants brought their traditional foods with them, including a fried dough pastry called the “malasada.” Today there are numerous bakeries in the Hawaiian islands specialising in malasadas.
On the East Coast, in Rhode Island and Southeastern Massachusetts, there is also a high population of Portuguese-Americans, especially from Madeira and Azores. Festivals in towns such as New Bedford and Fall River will often serve Portuguese cuisine, including Malasadas.
Mardi Gras (“Fat Tuesday”), the day before Lent, is Malasada day in Hawaii. Being predominantly Catholic, Portuguese immigrants would need to use up all their butter and sugar prior to Lent. They did so by making large batches of malasadas, which they would subsequently share with friends from all the other ethnic groups in the plantation camps. This led to the popularity of the malasada in Hawaii.
In the United States, malasadas are cooked in many Portuguese or Portuguese descendant homes on Fat Tuesday. It is a tradition where the older children take the warm doughnuts and roll them in the sugar while the eldest woman — mother or grandmother — cooks them. Many people prefer to eat them hot. They can be reheated in the microwave, but then they will have absorbed the sugar, providing a slightly different flavour and texture. However, it can also be frozen without the sugar.
- 2 teaspoons dry active yeast
- ¼ cup warm water
- ¾ tablespoon sugar plus ⅓ cup sugar
- ⅔ cup milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 4 eggs, well beaten
- ½ cup unsalted butter, melted
- 4 cups plain flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg
- vegetable oil, for frying
- cinnamon sugar, for coating (about ¼ cup sugar mixed with cinnamon to taste)
- In a medium bowl, combine the yeast with ¼ cup lukewarm water and ¾ tablespoon of sugar. Mix until the yeast dissolves then set aside for 5 minutes. Stir in the milk, vanilla, eggs, and butter and reserve.
- In a large bowl, mix the flour with 1⅓ cup sugar, salt, and nutmeg. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients. Pour the yeast and milk mixture into the well. Mix the wet ingredients into the dry, forming a soft, smooth dough. Cover the dough with a clean towel and set aside to rise in a warm place until dough doubles in size, about 1 hour.
- Punch the dough down, then with oiled fingers, pinch off pieces about the size of an egg and shape into balls. Place the dough balls on greased baking sheets. Cover the malasadas with a clean towel and set aside to rise in a warm place for about 15 minutes.
- In a heavy, high-sided pot, heat about 5 cm of oil over medium-high until the oil reaches 190°C. Working in small batches, fry the malasadas until they are uniformly golden brown, 7 to 10 minutes per batch. Drain the malasadas on a plate lined with paper towels just until they are cool enough to handle then roll them in cinnamon sugar and serve.
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