Pani Popo Samoan Coconut Buns

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Yield: 12 buns

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In the depths of winter in New England, thoughts turn to any sign of summer and the return of warm weather. When King Arthur baker MaryJane Robbins came across this traditional Samoan recipe for baking rolls in a rich coconut sauce, she said, "I could just smell the tropical breezes and feel the beach sand under my feet."

These soft, tender buns make a wonderful afternoon snack, or a unique dessert. If you're feeling adventurous, you can serve them for breakfast with a tropical fruit salad and cold Mimosas. Hammocks and flip-flops are optional in winter, but a must-have come summertime!

Pani Popo Samoan Coconut Buns

star rating (22) rate this recipe »
Hands-on time:
Baking time:
Total time:
Yield: 12 buns
Published: 04/27/2011


Sweet Yeast Dough

Coconut Sauce

Tips from our bakers

  • Want really big, buxom buns? Bake in a 9" x 9" square pan to make 9 larger buns.
  • If you don't have coconut milk powder, you can substitute 1 1/4 cups canned coconut milk for the water/coconut milk powder. Cook as directed. Coconut milk generally comes in a scant 14-ounce can, so you may not need the whole can. If your can is smaller, add enough water to equal 1 1/4 cups liquid.


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1) Mix and knead the dough ingredients together by hand, mixer, or bread machine set on the dough cycle until you've made a smooth dough. If you're kneading in a stand mixer, it should take 5 to 7 minutes at second speed, and the dough should barely clean the sides of the bowl, perhaps sticking a bit at the bottom. In a bread machine (or by hand), it should form a soft, smooth ball.

2) Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl. Cover the bowl, and allow the dough to rise, at room temperature, until it's nearly doubled in bulk, about 1 hour. Rising may take longer, especially if you've kneaded by hand. Give it enough time to become quite puffy.

3) While the dough is rising, grease a 9" x 13" pan.

4) Gently deflate the dough, and transfer it to a lightly greased work surface. Divide it into 12 pieces.

5) Shape each piece into a rough ball by pulling the dough into a very small knot at the bottom, then rolling it under the palm of your hand into a smooth ball.

6) Place the rolls in the pan, spacing them evenly; they won't touch one another. Cover lightly with plastic wrap and set aside to rise, about 45 to 60 minutes. About halfway though the rise, preheat the oven to 350°F.

7) During the last 20 minutes of rising, prepare the coconut sauce. Combine all of the sauce ingredients in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until thickened slightly, about 5 to 7 minutes.

8) Pour the warm, thick sauce over the risen buns and bake in the preheated oven for 18 to 25 minutes, until the buns are golden brown on top and the internal temperature registers 190°F on an instant-read thermometer.

9) Serve the warm buns from the pan, scooping up the thick sauce with a spoon. The coconut milk will form a thin, chewy, intensely coconut skin on top of the buns. It's nearly as addicting as the crisp skin on a holiday turkey.

Yield: 12 buns


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  • star rating 07/11/2014
  • Vivian from San Diego
  • I'd give it a 10 if I could. My Samoan friends LOVE them and ask me to make them frequently. I made 15 pans full for a birthday party and there were no leftovers. Awesome and authentic recipe! I use canned coconut milk instead of powder, but other than that, follow the recipe exactly.
  • star rating 08/25/2013
  • inrat from KAF Community
  • Anyone who loves tender fluffy yeast rolls and coconut flavor needs to try this recipe! I am so happy that I did and can not wait to make them again for other coconut lovers in my family. I stuck to the recipe and I was very happy with the results. My coconut topping glazed the top of the rolls very well but did not go to the bottom as the recipe said. I think the amount of coconut topping was in good proportion to the rolls. I did add 1/2 tsp. of the KAF coconut flavoring. I served these for supper with grilled salmon, corn on the cob, bean salad. Gave the meal a nice tropical feel! Thanks so much!
  • star rating 08/22/2013
  • Gambles from KAF Community
  • These aren't quite what I expected - even after I read the whole blog. They also got expensive very quickly since it used about 1/2 the bag of coconut powder. I did use gold Saf yeast due to the sugar content. It was a VERY sticky dough and needed a lot of extra flour, but that is pretty normal in Miami. The coconut barely covered the buns, and they baked up with brown and blonde blotches so I had trouble figuring out when they were done. Since the timing is different from recipe to blog, I started at the shortest time. They were up to 191 degrees at 21 minutes, but they were completely blonde and raw dough stuck to the thermometer which still doesn't make sense to me! I ended up leaving them in 31 minutes which is well beyond both timing recommendations, but they were finally cooked through and were still very moist. I guess I just expected something sweeter. For me, the dough is a keeper, but I'm not sure about the sauce. I might try it a little sweeter or just move on since there are so many great recipes to try. Others here that tried them liked them more than I did......Definitely read the blog before you make these so you understand the "jelly like" sauce.
  • star rating 08/14/2012
  • Deborah850 from KAF Community
  • Just made this today. It was so simple to make. Didn't have the coconut powder just used canned coconut milk and it came out so good and delicious.
  • star rating 07/11/2012
  • from
  • I've made this recipe with and without the coconut sauce and my family loves it both ways. It's become my go-to dinner roll recipe and it always earns rave reviews for both looks and taste.
  • star rating 07/01/2012
  • retro80sdoc from KAF Community
  • Fantastic recipe with melt in your mouth flavor! Presentation was beautiful and looked more impressive than the effort to make the buns.
  • star rating 05/21/2012
  • darlenewilbanks from KAF Community
  • I've been to both American and Western Samoa's and this recipe tastes exactly what I have eaten there. Very delicious.
  • star rating 03/19/2012
  • Tejas from dZPRpayF
  • Hi Andrew, In Cambridge I would use Infusions4Chefs as your probably use them for your dry sortes but they don't stock full range OR the SOSA UK importers Home Chocolate Factory (02084501523) by Post normally next day delivery if ordered in the morning, If you order above a345 you get a 20% trade discount. Check they have what you want in stock when you order & use infusions as a back up We are trying to do a deal with Ritters to start & stock SOSA also Wellocks if you are using for dry or Vegetables?
  • star rating 09/15/2011
  • bkrisner from KAF Community
  • I just made these buns this morning and they are very tasty and simple to make. I did think the bun would be more like a sticky bun texture but they were more like a regular fluffy dinner roll. They browned on top very nicely and are so pretty that they should have a picture in a food magazine!! My problem is I had no sauce to scoop up! I'm wondering if it would hurt the recipe if I doubled the sauce amount and poured all of it on the buns before baking. I may give this a shot next time. I've already eaten two this morning and I may have a couple more after my lunch of KAF sourdough pizza crust leftover from last night! Love you KAF!!
  • star rating 09/04/2011
  • terrycotto from KAF Community
  • Wonderful, just ideal for Morning coffee and pani popo busn so easy to make, terrycotto
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