My favorite thing to do when I'm back home in Oahu is eat. Eat dessert. The sweet options in Hawaii are amazing, ranging from local creations (malasadas, shave ice, haupia pies!) to ones that meld any number of cultures. So it should be no surprise that local pastry chef Michelle Karr-Ueoka was a semi-finalist for 2014 James Beard award as Outstanding Pastry Chef. Michelle co-owns Oahu's newly opened MW Restaurant with her husband Wade Ueoka. He handles the savory, she the sweet. Together, it's a killer combination.
Here are the dishes to try for a real taste of Hawaii.
The Passion Orange "Creamsicle Brûlée" (pictured top) is a good place to start. My advice for eating ? Devour the segmented oranges, crack the top of that brûlées surface, and dig in. It's a tropical play in textures with Ka'u orange custard, tapioca, lilikoi (passionfruit) sorbet, and the best part, glossy cubes of orange kanten jelly.
This is the Kula Strawberry "Cheesecake." Whole strawberries are hulled and filled with li hing mui (preserved plum powder) and ume jelly. The cheesecake is tucked under the fresh berries and strawberry-yuzu sorbet. As for the classic graham cracker crust? You'll find that in the form of kiawe graham cracker crumbs, both whimsical and delicious. Michelle gets her inspiration from "memories of childhood, what is in season, what I am craving to eat, discussions with family and friends. I like to show the beauty of Hawai'i through desserts by featuring our local farms and ethnic cultures."
The Banana Cream Pie features a supple pudding made from Waialua chocolate, which is based on the North Shore of Oahu. The pudding is layered with whipped banana cream and graham crackers. Don't skip the warm "MW Cookies" on the side.
My personal favorite is "Coconut Four Ways," featuring aerated coconut, the lightest chiffon cake, kaffir-lime pudding, and haupia sorbet. Haupia is a classic Hawaiian coconut and milk-based dessert, and Michelle spins that into one of the best sorbets in town.
And there are mini doughnuts! Crisp on the outside and airy, delicate on the inside. There's ten to an order, each piping hot and dusted with just enough sugar. On the side, silky Waialua chocolate fondue for dipping.
The MW Candy Bar is also a must order (Michelle made something similar at Alan Wong's, where she was pastry chef for over a decade, but this version is better). Think macadamia nut-praline crunch layered with chocolate and salted caramel. Rich, but balanced with more of those petite MW cookies, always served warm from the oven.
And to finish, tiny ice cream sandwiches, neatly cut and beribboned. The sandwiches were created by request of Michelle's little nephew who claimed that all the other desserts were too "frou frou" for his liking. These are served by the pair, with flavors changing on a whim. Pictured above is dark chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream with chunks of the MW Candy Bar folded into the batter. Two-bite perfection.
Best way to sum up Michelle's cooking approach? "For me, I like to tell a story through my desserts."