Haupia is a Hawaiian sweet made from coconut milk, arrowroot or cornstarch, and sugar. As with many popular recipes, home cooks have created a wealth of haupia variations. Most people describe this dessert as a type of pudding. This is not absolutely accurate as most recipes do not include eggs or milk from cows, goats, or other domestic, milk-producing farm animals.
To make this treat, coconut milk and water or another liquid are combined with sugar. The mixture must be stirred fairly often to keep it from forming lumps. It’s important to use a low heat and not allow the mixture to come to a boil. The liquid will gradually thicken and must be cooked until the grainy consistency caused by coconut milk fat has smoothed.
While many cooks save time by purchasing coconut milk in cans or jars, traditional cooks consider this cheating. They insist upon making their own coconut milk by simmering shredded coconut with water until foam appears on the surface. The liquid is strained away from the pulp and allowed to cool.
Another shortcut some cooks take is to substitute the cornstarch or arrowroot thickener with boxed gelatin. Even the most traditional version has a consistency that is both pudding- and gelatin-like, so such substitutions are considered acceptable by younger cooks. However, more traditional cooks strongly object, claiming a pudding made in this manner cannot be called haupia.
Adventuresome cooks use haupia as an ingredient in baked goods, such as cakes and pies. Layering it between sheets of cake, or using it as icing on a cake, adds a rich, flavorful dimension. Another popular interpretation uses haupia as the filling for a refrigerated shortbread crust pie. The crust, which is made using a great deal of butter and sugar, in addition to flour, can also contain crushed nuts. Coconut-flavored or plain whipped cream is added when the pie is served.
Simple haupia is considered as both a staple and a comfort food in many Hawaiian households. While extravagant variations can produce impressive deserts for special occasions, it is most often prepared simply and poured into a pan to refrigerate until it jells. Children and adults alike cut a rectangular piece to enjoy as a snack or after a meal.
Foodies often compare haupia to blancmange. Blancmange does share the gelatin consistency, but there are some differences. Blancmange, a popular dessert found throughout Europe, contains milk whereas haupia does not.