I’ve spent a lot of time this past year daydreaming of Hawai‘i, which makes me like a good portion of the U.S. — as the New York Times recently reported, tourists have already begun flocking to the islands. It’s a trend Sheldon Simeon, chef at Maui’s Tin Roof, has noticed. And while the third-generation local welcomes the visitors, he admits that the past few weeks have been a bit overwhelming. “I think our community hasn’t been ready for the amount of tourists to come back to the state,” he says. “I think it’s our duty to continue to educate them, and for them to be respectful of what we have.” His new cookbook, Cook Real Hawaiʻi, is in part meant to do just that.
Interspersed among recipes for foods that feel quintessentially of Hawai‘i — like chicken Hekka, which Simeon describes as “something Japanese-rooted and Japanese-based, but it’s not found in Japan; it’s only found in Hawai‘i” — Simeon and coauthor Garret Snyder delve into Hawai‘i’s colonial history and the people and forces that have given rise to its unique, vibrant food culture. “The outside perception of Hawai‘i is very resort-ish, amusement park-ish — it might be only the hula skirts and the mai tais and that stuff, but if you dig deeper, it’s a lot richer,” Simeon says. “My hope is that [Cook Real Hawai‘i readers] have a different perception of what Hawai‘i is.”
Simeon also hopes that the people who buy his book actually cook from it. “Nothing is worse than a cookbook you can’t cook out of,” he says. And so the recipes are approachable, while showing off the diverse influences of Hawaiian cuisine. Take, for example, the recipe for chocolate birthday cake butter mochi. It’s a Tin Roof twist on Filipino bibingka, and, according to Simeon, “so easy to make” — in addition to being to supremely fun to eat, complete with rainbow sprinkles and (optional) Pop Rocks. “It’s one of those things where people place an order and they look down and say, ‘I need one of those,’” he says.
A visit to Tin Roof is still well out of reach for most of us, but making these is a very close next best thing.
Chocolate Birthday Cake Butter Mochi
Butter mochi is the best. The perfect mixture of chewy, squishy, dense, and sticky, these coconut and rice flour cake bars (a cousin of Filipino bibingka) are one of the most beloved island desserts out there.
Plain old butter mochi is great, but the kind we do at Tin Roof — developed after many hours of “research” — is on another level. Stoner food to the max. We start with chocolate butter mochi, which has the texture of soft-baked brownies, then spread it with a dead simple frosting made from creamy peanut butter, raw sugar, and Pop Rocks. And finally we shower the top with rainbow sprinkles because it’s like throwing yourself a mini birthday party. What more could you want?
For the butter mochi:
12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) salted butter, cut into chunks, plus more for greasing
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
2 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk
1 (13.5-ounce) can full-fat coconut milk
3 cups mochiko (sweet rice flour)
1 tablespoon baking powder
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
For the frosting and topping:
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1 cup demerara or turbinado sugar
¼ cup Pop Rocks candy (optional)
Step 1: For the butter mochi: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking pan.
Step 2: In a microwave-safe medium bowl, melt the butter and chocolate chips by microwaving in 30-second increments, stirring and repeating as needed, until just melted.
Step 3: Add the granulated sugar to the melted chocolate and stir until combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla, evaporated milk, and coconut milk.
Step 4: In a large bowl, stir together the mochiko, baking powder, and cocoa powder until evenly distributed. Fold the chocolate mixture into the dry ingredients, stirring until thoroughly mixed. When the batter is totally smooth, pour it into the prepared pan.
Step 5: Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Let cool slightly.
Step 6: Meanwhile, for the frosting: In a bowl, with an electric mixer, vigorously whip together the peanut butter and demerara sugar until it has the texture of frosting.
Step 7: When the butter mochi is still slightly warm, spread the frosting evenly over the top. Sprinkle with Pop Rocks (if using) and shower sprinkles over the top. Let cool to room temperature, then cut into 2-inch-ish squares and serve.
Reprinted with permission from Cook Real Hawai‘i by Sheldon Simeon and Garrett Snyder, copyright © 2021. Published by ClarksonPotter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House.
Photography copyright: Kevin J. Miyazaki © 2021.