Samoan Coconut Rolls (Pani Popo) #BreadBakers

Some recipes stay on the back burner for a long time, until there is an excuse to make them.  Such was the case with these coconut rolls.  I only wish the excuse had presented itself sooner!  Aside from being delicious in their own right, these coconut buns hit me with a massive wave of nostalgia.  They taste so much like the lunch rolls that our amazing school cook used to make for us.  If you never grew up with a lunch lady that was all about feeding everybody with love, I am so sorry.  When I exclaimed to my hubby that these tasted like school lunch rolls, he got a look of horror on his face, having been subjected to "institutional quality" school lunch fare as a student.  Poor boy, he was never fortunate enough to have tasted the likes of Lucille's sticky buns.  Well, aside from my bakes of her recipe, fortunately preserved in a community cookbook.  Our principal used to sneak her fresh baked goods on the days we had them.  The coconut is fairly subtle, hence my nostalgia for our lunch rolls which were not coconut flavored.  It's surprising, considering there is an entire can of coconut milk in and on the buns.  The milk, butter, and sugar yield a roll that is wonderfully soft, tender, and delicious.  If the extra sugar topping is used, they are truly a treat.  Seeing as this was already a fairly sweet dough, I left that topping off.  Baked in a portion of the coconut milk as a sauce, these are a rich and delightful accompaniment to a meal.

Depending on the amount of coconut milk used to sauce the rolls, there may be a touch left after baking that will leave a little bit of a thin pudding layer to the bottom of the rolls.  It soaks in as they cool and some people choose to use a little less milk so that it bakes in completely.  All personal preference.

Coconut, if it wasn't clear, is the theme for our BreadBakers bake this month, hosted by Palatable Pastime,  and you will see yeast bread, quick bread, sweet, and savory options!

Pani Popo (Samoan coconut rolls)
makes 12 rolls or one loaf

1 pkg (2¼ tsp) Active dry yeast
3 tbsp warm water 105F- 115ºF
1 can coconut milk 14-15oz, divided in half
4 tbsp (56.5 grams) butter
1 large egg
¼ cup (17 g) powdered milk
½ cup (100 g) sugar (may be reduced if desired)
½-1 tsp (2.5 - 5 g) salt
3½ - 3¾ cups (450 - 490 g) all-purpose flour
2-3 tbsp (28.12 - 42.18 g) raw sugar (optional) for the top

In a stand mixer combine the warm water and yeast to dissolve. Let it stand until foamy, about 5-10 minutes.

In a microwave safe glass measure, combine 1 cup coconut milk, butter pieces, sugar, and salt.  Heat for about a minute; stir until everything is melted and combined and let cool until just warm. Lightly whisk the egg and powdered milk into the butter mixture.

Add to the yeast mixture and stir until well combined.

Add about 3½ cups of flour and continue mixing.  Add enough additional flour (if needed) to make soft dough.  Knead well either by hand or with a mixer for 8-12 minutes.  The dough may stick to the sides of the bowl slightly but will scrape down easily.  After the first rise it will not be sticky anymore and should be very easy to handle.

Cover dough loosely with a clean cloth and let rise in a warm place for 1 to 2 hours or until doubled.  Since this is a sweet dough, it may take longer to rise.

Once the dough has doubled, deflate and shape.  The dough maybe shaped into a loaf and placed seam side down into a greased loaf pan, or divide the dough into 12 equal pieces. Shape each piece into a ball.

Place in a greased 9x13-inch pan to bake. The rolls may be refrigerated before baking for up to 24 hours.  Remove and let rise at room temperature until quite puffy and nearly doubled.

Preheat oven to 350ºF.  Add some or all of the remaining coconut milk over the rolls in the pan. Gently brush the tops of the loaf or rolls with coconut milk and sprinkle with sugar if using.  Bake until the crust is deep golden brown and the bottom of the loaf sounds hollow when tapped, 20 to 25 minutes for rolls or 35-40 minutes for a loaf.  The loaf and rolls will be around 200-205ºF internal temp when done.

Remove from the baking pan and let cool slightly.  These rolls are delicious warm. 

Be sure to check out all the other coconut creations this month!

#BreadBakers is a group of bread loving bakers who get together once a month to bake bread with a common ingredient or theme. Follow our Pinterest board right here. Links are also updated each month on this home page. We take turns hosting each month and choosing the theme/ingredient. 


  1. These are gorgeous rolls, so light and fluffy looking.

  2. The color on these is amazing! And they look so soft. I'm glad you had this recipe tucked away to share with the group.

  3. Ooooh these look so wonderful! The extra coconut sauce soaking in sounds amazing.

  4. OMG, these are calling me, love coconut in anything!

  5. They look very soft and moist, perfect rolls for a party

  6. Gorgeous buns! These are my favorite and I want to grab the entire batch from the screen! YUMM!


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