MAKAWAO St. Joseph Catholic Church's heavily guarded malassada recipe has gained critical acclaim by some as "the best malassadas west of Portugal," but this year may be the last Fat Tuesday for a while for customers to enjoy the same doughy treats volunteers at the church have been making for 40 years.
As part of an ongoing campaign to build a new multipurpose gym with a new kitchen, the existing kitchen area, which volunteers have used to make malassadas since 1974, is expected to be torn down by the end of this year.
"Once we break down the building, we probably gonna have to wait until the new building is built," said volunteer Jackie Souza, who has been organizing Malassada Day on Fat Tuesday for the last 20 years. She said that the church considered carrying on the tradition out of another church's kitchen, but "it's just not the same."
The Maui News / CHRIS SUGIDONO photo
St. Joseph Catholic Church’s malassada recipe originator Mabel Lopes (left) smiles for a picture next to volunteer coordinator Jackie Souza (right), who has been organizing Fat Tuesday malassada sales for the last 20 years.
The Maui News / EILEEN CHAO photo
"This maybe the last time we do it for a while," Souza said.
Souza is one of only a handful of people who know the church's malassada recipe by heart. While it used to be posted inside the church's kitchen, it has long been taken down to preserve its secrecy.
"We always say, we can give you the recipe, but you know where the graveyard is?" she said jokingly Monday morning as a handful of volunteers prepared for an overnight malassada-making marathon.
Eight volunteers were in the kitchen to measure and sort the ingredients - which were not disclosed except for "flour" - though Souza said usually at least 30 volunteers show up to help with the actual cooking, which began around 1 a.m. today. She said that the first batch should be fried by 3 a.m., and people are welcome to pick up their pre-ordered boxes at 6 a.m. Walk-ins will not be turned away, she said.
Volunteers will make more than 600 dozen malassadas this morning, using nearly 400 pounds of flour. They will be frying all through the morning and expect to finish the last batch by 11 a.m.
About 450 presale boxes already have been sold, and volunteers said at least 150 customers usually stop by on Fat Tuesday to purchase their box of a dozen malassadas.
Exactly what makes the sugary morsels so popular and different from other malassada recipes is "the flavor in the dough," according to recipe originator Mabel Lopes.
The 82-year-old Haiku resident perfected the recipe in the early 1970s when she was working in the kitchen at the old Maunaolu College, which was located between Paia and Makawao.
"I can say a Japanese lady taught me how to make malassadas, she was my boss at the college," Lopes said.
It took Lopes three years to perfect the recipe and to tweak the measurements to accommodate larger batches, but the recipe has not changed in nearly 40 years.
"Once you start fooling around with the recipe, it's not going to come out (right)," Lopes said.
She did disclose what she thinks is the most important ingredient in the recipe - tender loving care.
"It's the hands that's doing it, that's the main thing. They love what they're doing and you can tell," Lopes said of the volunteers.
The first year the church hosted the malassada fundraiser in 1974, Lopes mixed the dough by hand, which she said was only possible because the sale was "small scale." The following year, she mixed all the dough at the college, piled it into her truck and drove it to the church in the early morning. Shortly after, the church purchased an electric mixer.
Today, malassadas, which were originally brought to the islands by Portuguese workers in the late 1800s, are a treasured treat in Hawaii, according to Souza. They are egg-sized balls of yeast dough that are deep-fried in oil and coated with granulated sugar.
While malassadas are enjoyed year-round, there is a tradition of eating them on Fat Tuesday, the day before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, because practicing Catholics needed to use up all the lard, sugar and "bad stuff" in the house before the 40-day fast.
"Malassadas means 'bad dough,' all the bad stuff goes into the dough because you cannot have it (again) until after Lent," Lopes said.
Most volunteers are retired seniors, though many bring their children to help out even as young as 2 years old.
"It's very enjoyable, you get to associate with all your friends, and you look forward to coming," said Gandy Molina, the church's oldest volunteer who started making malassadas at St. Joseph in the 1970s. "It's really family."
All proceeds from the sale will go toward the cost to build the church's new multipurpose gym. So far, the church has raised about $2 million and needs another $4 million to complete the project, according to the church's business administrator Donna Pico.
Last year, the church was able to raise $4,000 from malassada sales on Fat Tuesday.
"It's not so much about the money as it is about taking care of everyone," Souza said. "We're here to help the church make money, but we're also here to feed the soul."
Fresh malassadas will be available beginning 6 a.m. until sold out at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Makawao at 1294 Makawao Ave. A box of a dozen malassadas costs $8.
* Eileen Chao can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.