Pani Popo Samoan Coconut Buns

Recipe by MaryJane Robbins

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!

25 mins
18 to 25 mins
3 hrs 10 mins
12 buns
Pani Popo Samoan Coconut Buns


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  1. Weigh your flour; or measure it by gently spooning it into a cup, then sweeping off any excess. 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.

Tips from our Bakers

  • Want really big, buxom buns? Bake in a 9" x 9" square pan to make 9 larger buns.
  • Would you prefer to use coconut milk powder in lieu of canned coconut milk? Substitute 1 cup (113g) coconut milk powder and 1 1/4 cups (283g) water for the coconut milk, proceeding with the recipe as directed.