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Recipe: REAL Samoan Panipopo!

I heard something disturbing this morning. One of my girls told me that she was Googling recipes for Panipopo and came across some that called for store-bought, ready-made dough.. which you would then proceed to roll into dough balls…


NO NO NO!!!!

Oh, and NOOOOO!!!

It’s not THAT difficult to make real Panipopo dough from scratch – the store-bought stuff is too generic and… just not right!

So don’t be lazy. I’ll walk you through it…

By the way,THANK YOU so much Auntie for entrusting me with your top secret recipe, but… um… you might wanna close your eyes now…because I’m sorry.. but if I don’t share, I’m scared a whole generation of people will think it’s okay to make Panipopos with store-bought dough balls… *sigh*…


Right. Let’s start from the beginning.

For those less fortunate out there who don’t know, panipopos are a Samoan dish usually eaten as a dessert or with a hot beverage, preferably Koko Samoa. Its name says it all:

bun (not ‘bread’)
Coconut, specifically mature coconuts that are ready to be ‘milked’ lol… Eh, you know what I mean

So, coconut buns. Hot, steamy buns baked in a pool of sticky, sweet coconut cream sauce that you can use for further bun dipping… mmmm….

I’ve come across a few variations of the recipe. Some of them will call for eggs and milk, which results in a more ‘bread’ like consistency… I’m not a fan of that one because the bread then tends to soak up too much of the coconut cream sauce and get too mushy. But hey, if you like mushy, go for gold…

…and go to Google, cause this version (my Auntie’s recipe) produces a more, “springy” type of bun that’s still moist and spongy… and is way better.

Because I said so.

Okay, you’ll need these ingredients:

    The Bun

  • Standard Flour
  • Salt
  • Butter
  • Sugar
  • Dry Active Yeast
  • (VERY warm) Water
  • The Sauce

  • Coconut milk or cream (pe’epe’e)
  • Sugar
  • Flour (for thickening)
  • The Cook

  • Confidence
  • Good reading skills
  • Faith in me
  • A sense of adventure

Don’t panic that I haven’t put any measurements up there. This recipe is flexible. Just pay attention.

Four cups of flour (and I’m talking about coffee mugs, not the measurement cups) will fill about two-and-a-half to three 15-1/2″ x 10-1/2 apas (pans). With around 24 buns a pan, that’s like 60 buns all up, more than enough for ‘cup teas’ at home.

The rest of the measurements will follow the number of cups of flour you use. If you use 4 cups flour, you’ll need 4 spoons of sugar and 4 spoons of yeast. If you want to feed the neighbours too and go for 8 cups of flour, then use 8 spoons of sugar and 8 spoons of yeast.

You with me so far?


Here’s how we do it. Watch:

The Flour Mixture

First, dump our flour (let’s say its 4 coffee mugs full) into a bowl. Toss in a ‘pinch’ of salt – half a teaspoon is good if the word ‘pinch’ makes you nervous.

See that block of butter there? It’s been sitting at room temperature for a while, so it should be ’softened’ now. Since my hands are always clean, I’m gonna break off some of that butter (maybe start with about 50 grams which is like a quarter cup, but YOU Google the conversion) … and I’m just gonna rub that butter into the flour.

MILI Mili mili mili mili mili mili mili… ma koe MILI Mili mili mili mili mili…

What I want is a consistency that’s crumbly but kinda ‘silky’ at the same time, so I might need to work more butter into the flour, but make sure it doesn’t get too greasy.

When the mixture is just right, I make a well in the middle of the bowl and chuck in my 4 heaping spoons (the kind of spook you use to eat cereal – is that a tablespoon?) of sugar… but don’t get too fussy about the measurement here. With practice, you’ll figure out how sweet you like your buns to be. The sugar is more for yeast development anyway.

The Yeast

Okay, now it’s time to grab another (smaller) bowl for the yeast. Apparently, yeast works better in either a metal or glass / ceramic bowl, so try to avoid plastic. Plastic is never good.

Anyway, since we used four cups of flour, we’re going to put 4 heaping teaspoons of active dry yeast into the second bowl. Get the tap to run REALLY warm, but not too hot, and pour maybe 2 cups of that warm water over the yeast. Use your hands or a spoon to break up the yeast and stir till its fully dissolved – add more warm water if necessary to do that.

This yeast water (which should be milky grey in color and smell like yummy bread now) goes into the flour mixture, in the well you made with the sugar.

Mix-Up Mix-Up

Grab that long wooden spoon your mum reserves for special hidings and ‘fold’ together all the ingredients now, scraping the flour from the sides of the bowl into the middle, then up and over again till everything is combined nicely. Keep that tap running, cause you’ll need to mix in more warm water in order to get the perfect consistency…

When it’s ready, your mixture will look like a really thick, sticky pancake batter. It should be fairly solid, but if you shake the bowl a little, the batter should ‘jiggle’…

Okay, now cover that bowl with a damp dish towel and put it in a warm, dark place to rise for an hour.

The Dough

When you come back to it, the dough should be double its size with lots of little holes in it. Your whole house should be smelling like home baking by now.

It’s time to knead the dough, which means you just dump a lot of fresh flour on a counter-top (I like to spread it out like a thick white blanket) and turn the holy, sticky dough out onto it. Then, working from the edges of the flour ‘blanket’, I fold the new flour into the sticky stuff and flatten and squeeze and knead until you can form the dough into a smooth, round shape that’s got a little bit of flour dust on the outside.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: Do NOT knead the dough for too long. You need to stop working it while it’s still relatively soft when we squeeze it. We want buns, not bagels… or teething rings…

Okay, cover the dough and let rise again for another half hour.

The Buns

When you come back, preheat the oven to about 150 degrees (on a NZ oven ), THEN…

…cut the dough into chunks (about half a fist size), roll into thick ’strings’, and tie each into a knot. (Can you see that in the photos above?) This shape helps the coconut cream sauce to flavour more parts of the bun, but if you have trouble with it, you can also just roll a boring dough ball. Up to you.

Fill each pan with the buns, leaving enough space between them to allow for more dough rising and to let coconut cream sauce in.

After you’ve done all the buns, let them sit for a bit cause we need to do the coconut cream sauce.

The Coconut Cream Sauce

Fresh is always best, right… So if you’ve got a coconut tree somewhere, get somebody to climb it. If not, then the best coconut cream you can buy is in a carton, made by these guys ==> KARA.

Otherwise, you’re going to have to settle for canned coconut cream. Ala’s make a pretty okay canned pe’epe’e.

Okay, pour two cans or a 200ml carton of pe’epe’e into a container, work half a cup of flour and water into a runny paste and dump that in there as well, then top up with more water until we have enough sauce for all the pans. We should be able to fill the pans so that the coconut cream sauce covers at least half the height of the buns.

But before we start pouring though, we need to sweeten the coconut cream sauce. You do this according to your own tastes, but remember… for some reason the cooking process gets rid of some of the sweetness, so just make sure you add enough sugar into the sauce so that it’s couple notches SWEETER than you think it should be.

Bake in the Oven

RIGHT! So the oven is hot now, the buns have risen just a little bit more in their pans, and you’ve got a container (jug? pitcher? large bowl?) full of sweetened, thickened coconut cream sauce. The only thing left to do is pour the sauce into the pans, chuck them in the oven, wait maybe 20 – 30 minutes for the sauce to come to a boil and the tops of the buns to become a golden brown, and take the pan out and mmmm…… But wait, there’s a LITTLE bit more…

While the buns are cooling, you might want to brush sugar water over the tops to prevent them from getting dry.. but I think covering the apa with tin foil (only after they’re out of the oven) or a damp cloth will do the same thing.

Eating Panipopo

Congratulations!! We’ve just made AUTHENTIC Samoan Panipopo. You can burn your mouth on them now, I know you want to… but I like panipopos best after they’ve been sitting… marinating… for maybe an hour after they came out of the oven.

Serve them in a shallow bowl, spooning more sauce over them for extra dipping, and with a hot cuppa something nice to drink on the side.

They’re also GREAT the next day, even if you have to heat them up (for less than a minute) in the microwave.

Ia. Ua uma upu.


xx HGG

p.s. Check out more Samoan Cooking with Buxter over in our Village.

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Known off-line as Lillian 'Lei'a' Arp, HGG is just a geek girl learning how to be Samoan. You can also find her at Cup Tea talking about her other most favorite topic in the world: food!

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55 Comments so far...

  1. avatar Tau says:

    Okay…do you have the recipe for Puligi & the sauce? The old fashioned way of boiling it in the cheesecloth? The oven baked way makes it too dry…I think anyways.

  2. avatar hamogeekgirl says:

    Yes I do!! Well, I will as soon as I coax it out of my mum.. she makes the best puligi.. moist and so yum that we hardly ever eat it with custard sauce…

    Stay tuned! :)

  3. avatar typhoon says:

    holly kuaka thanks for the lesipi, I usually do the palagi thingy and buy the dough but I’ll try your auties lesipi and let you know..looks like a lot of nuting like a good panipopo

  4. avatar higgins says:

    what a lovely bunch of coconuts… lol to be milked.
    Again excellent post! :)
    Have you thought about opening up a pacific island only bakery.
    It would be a hit in Auckland… 50/50 business deal proposition eh! you like it?

  5. avatar Ema Tupuola says:

    THIS RECIPE IS AMAZING!! just tried it out last nite and fell in love!! its really easy and fun to do with the fambams!! thanks again for posting this up!! my whole family thanks you!!

    alofaz from hilo!!

  6. avatar hamogeekgirl says:

    Yay!!! Somebody tried it!! :D

    I’m glad it went well for you Ema… You’re inspiring me to make some this weekend too lol…

    LOL @ Higgins… Umm.. not too sure about opening a bakery. Making panipopos is supposed to be fun… not work!! hehehe..

    But will keep that 50/50 proposition in mind..


  7. avatar john says:

    Wow. Perfect, perfect, perfect! ‘O le panipopo mo’i lea!

    I swear, when you try to tell the people who’ve served the ‘not as mama used to make panipopo’ and they tell you ‘Eh, ‘o le mea mo’i!’–it makes you crazy!

    And, now… I am the Mastah Panipopo–hee, hee, hee. Thanks A LOT for the post, you gave me my panipopo sanity back; I knew my childhood taste-buds wasn’t lying.

  8. avatar john says:


    Fa’afetai tele lava to your Auntie, too, ‘specially for entrusting a wise person like yourself with our ancestoral recipe.

  9. avatar Ema Tupuola says:

    I just had to post up again!! so i made another batch and it went over so well, people actually think i do this on a regular basis!! this recipe has my boyfriend’s family LOVING me right about now!! thank you!! lol!! who knew that panipopo could create such reputation yeah?? lol!! Big faafetai’s to you and especially your auntii!! i hope you post up some more soon!!

  10. avatar hamogeekgirl says:

    LOL @ all the Mastah Panipopos up in here..

    Awww thank you for putting your faith in me and giving this a go…

    Yeah.. someday when I’m not too scared to tell my auntie what i’ve done with her recipe, I’ll send your thanks to her as well… lol

  11. avatar RejoyceT says:

    mmm! yummy !!! manh my mouth is watery after reading that recipe!!! like im so gonna try it!!!

    mmm seki a panipopoz!

  12. seki a le pani popo a si keige lea o tanuvasa… malo lava le a’ao solo! lea matou tapuai atu ia te oe le Sa’o tama’ita’i o le umu kuka papalagi!

  13. avatar Cissy says:

    OMGGGGGGGGG…. My favourite!!!…. Thanks for posting the recipe… I dont suppose you have a video clip of the process – STEP BY STEP???

    I cant wait to try it… ( Alone firstly, then the trial test..LoL ) Then I will ahppily bradcast my success… ( If it is).

    CHEERS HGG!!!…. some1 let me know if more of these island delicassies I miss are posted!!!….

  14. avatar Melania says:

    Talofa HGG – faafetai lava mo le recipe mo le faiga o Pani popo I shall try that this weekend and surprise le aiga atoa for White Sunday…hehehehehe

    Alofa tele atu ma tumau pea le fa’amanuiaga a le Atua ia te Oe, le aiga aemaise le mamalu o le maimoa.

  15. avatar jeff says:

    how about kopai?…. i need help making kopai….

  16. avatar Teine, tama, sivasiva mai says:

    LOL isn’t it funny how when we’re home with our mums/aunties etc we enjoy their cooking/baking but we only really appreciate their culnery masterpieces when we’ve flown the coup and we have to ring them to give us the recipes. So is the case for me, now that I’m in Melbourne with my family that I find myself having to make pai’s, kekes, and any food Samoan! Oh excepty falai elegi/mamao/pisupo LOL

  17. avatar souljah says:

    yo sis thanks for the recipe of to make it today brings back memories of brown sugar (brown girls) who have rythem hot sun and early morning breakfast

  18. avatar Julz says:


    oh HAMO…pleeeease say u know how to make our famous samoan PAI’s…. with like the Custard fillings….an nice fresh tasty cream on top! IF U KNOW how TO MAKE THE BEST!!!PLEEEEAZE LET ME SCABB!!! LOL….

    OR BETTA YET…IF U CAN WRITE IT all IN SAMOA….THEN MA MUM CAN FOLLOW THROUGH WITH IT…….oooh….only coz im just a straight Terrible cook!!!! lmao…..if not…then ENGLISH it is!!! This will be a good way to wipe out the enemy…. Let me COOK! LMFAO

  19. avatar Alex says:

    MMMMMMmmm YUUMMMM!!! Panipopo.. love it!!

  20. avatar meleana says:

    hey there…

    i just made it hehehe and they are big.. lol but hey my family love it hehehe neways yeah thats… my sister said if ya know how to make keke pua’a then for sho we will all be married.. lmao

  21. avatar lorna says:

    hey sistah, thx 4 the recipe. i will try it 2morrow and hit u bak w the results. hope u post more delicious foods frm the isle.

  22. avatar Iosefa says:

    tie in a knotwot a invention..mmmm ..

  23. avatar Iosefa says:

    just beautifull….mmm malo malo.

  24. avatar Iosefa says:

    well made 3 trays ate one with the family, gave the rest to inlaws now I’m their favourite son in-law. wot else shall I make. N E ideas…

  25. avatar Neatz says:

    Hey Hey girl, awzum recipe, az a matter of fact i’m trying it right now lol ill keep ya posted on how it turns out, as me and baking anything with yeast, well lets just say yeast is not my fwend hahaha…cheers for the recipe.. :)

  26. avatar John62 says:

    The worst part is…once everybody knows, they request non-stop! So, warning, load up on the ingredients.

  27. avatar Neatz says:

    Haha that’s so true :L

  28. avatar Emy says:

    Thanks so much for the recipe, I’m off to try it and impress my husband who is only dreaming about pani popos at the moment.

    Do you have a recipe for Keke Pua’a which was what brought me to the net?

    I’m glad I bumped into this and thanks again for sharing your aunty’s recipe since everyone can be soooo secretive about how things are made. A BIG THANK YOU FOR SHARING!!

    I’m with NEATZ on any yeast cooking so I’m sure if this works for me, then ANYONE can do it :)

  29. avatar shezzzzz says:

    Wow, thank you so much for walking me through that recipe for panipopo, it does feels like mum trying to walk me for the first time in life…lol, having said that it is a massive recipe isn’t it? but its life, if you hungry you work for I cant get over the milking of the coconut..bwaaahahahahaha. Good work sis, I shall try it in the near future, in fact I might make some now lol, Cheers.

  30. avatar Diane Nansen says:

    wow yr the shizzz…if only every1 else could explain receipes the way u do…luv yr honesty & humour. My mum use to make bomb ass panipopo’s but since she passed away, i never got the chance to get her recipe..but dang gal i cant wait 2 try yours. Thanks for sharing yr aunty’s recipe, we need more people lyk u around the globe.

    i’ll let u know how i went once i’ve given it ago…lol my sis always thinks shes the bomb wen she bakes..cant wait to b top dog hehehe…beta jst check if the smoke alarm is working ok before i start…lol


  31. avatar hamogeekgirl says:

    LOL.. hey everybody! Thank you for all the great comments. This is like the first recipe I’ve ever memorized, which says a lot about how easy this thing is – I don’t usually remember anything! Hope you all do try it… Please let us know how it goes :)

  32. avatar Ema Mokalei says:

    mmmm! im making the first batch- by these comments uptop its a sure fire recipe! mega cravings got me wanting pani popos or bani lolos lol (fijian) so lets hope in a half hour i wouldnt have burned them but i will have burned my mouth! right, now bookmark this page… thank you soooooooo much- and aunti lol

  33. avatar Juliet Alai says:


  34. avatar backinthedays says:

    Thank you so much for sharing. Authenticity goes a very long way. Pagi popo is best when it is from scratch, especially the pe’epe’e. This is exactly how I remembered my father making these mouth watering delights. He is gone now and I never learned how to make them. My children would periodically come home with some, because they miss their grandfathers, but we all knew it didn’t taste the same. It was too bready, and the sauce was always too watery. So thanks again for sharing, I will make it for Easter, and give each of my 5 children a very delicous Easter surprise in their baskets of goodies this year. They are going to Love it.

  35. avatar Emma says:

    Thank you so much for sharing! You’re a very entertaining chef :)

  36. avatar esther says:

    i followed ur recipe n my pagipopo turns out pretty pastor brother luvs i no how to make them n im too lazy to do

  37. avatar Fale says:

    Thank you – I made 4 pans full last weekend for tona’i with the inlaws and now I wish I hadn’t – yes, as expected, the orders came thick & fast……

  38. avatar MakaSina says:

    Thank you so much for posting this. It makes me nervous that the ingredients are not precisely measured but I know my grandmama never used measuring cups or spoons… so lets hope I have the same touch she did when I follow your recipe!

  39. avatar MakaSina says:

    SUCCESS!! Everyone loved it & I am super stoked to be able to FINALLY make this from scratch for my family to enjoy. I knew the pagi popo others were making didn’t seem right and it is because they used pre-made dough or frozen dinner rolls. Thanks so much for sharing your wisdom with us!

  40. avatar hamogeekgirl says:

    Awwww I LOVE that everybody’s having success with this recipe :D … I think it’s a real testament to the beauty of Samoan food and cooking from the heart, a ea?

  41. avatar Tonino says:

    “You with me so far?
    Here’s how we do it. Watch:”

    Classic! You’re a natural.

    Am gonna give this a go to imbress my palagi friends this weekend…fingers and toe crossed. Don’t worry though. Auntie’s recipe is safe with me. ;)

  42. avatar vae says:

    thank you so much for sharing this recipe especailly the original way,, i have been trying to find this recipe its the same way my mom use to make it and since she passed my and siblings havent even found where she hid it lol..thank thank you …

  43. avatar Katrina says:

    I just made this, but halved the recipe. It made HEAPS. Thanks to you (and your aunty) I now have a desert thats impressive enough to take to family pot-lucks but only costs about $5 to make. My fiancé doesn’t eat panipopo at all usually, but tonight he ate TWO BOWLS. THANKYOU SO MUCH!

  44. avatar Marilyn Barbarich says:

    Hi HGG, it’s been years since I last ate panipopo and for the past few weeks I have been craving them. I lost the recipe so good old Google led me to here. I really enjoyed reading your (Aunt’s) recipe, it even had me laughing in places! I’m looking forward to making it this weekend. Will keep you posted :D

  45. avatar Melanie says:

    Awesome – got my dough rising and mouth watering for them to be baked, U R AWESOME! (even for us palagi eh!)

  46. avatar Wijeshdoma says:

    its magic, i love love his recipe, best and easy to do…thank you:) ohhhh Happy Mothers dae 2012

  47. avatar Hamogeekgirl says:

    Awww I love that people are still trying this recipe even in 2012… and I’m seriously surprised that my aunt hasn’t found this page yet… LOL I’m going to make some this weekend and I promise I will post up some photos this time! :)

  48. avatar sugaluopea says:

    Haa haa!!! I LOVE your write up about the pagi popo. Awesome! Thanks for your recipe, will definately give these a go :)

  49. avatar monga says:

    I remember the “real” versions growing up but our oven broke and we never made it again because we never repaired that thing. I’ve seen the ones in the South Auckland bakeries and scoff at it thinking to myself that they ain’t pagi popo. You can tell its just bread buns drowned in coconut cream.

    Anyway will make it with my daughter these holidays. She will be thrilled! Thank you :)

  50. avatar Jade says:

    1st trial the bun was too big lmao there wasnt enough space for coco cream tasted gud
    2nd trial made yellow buns out of the dough mix was meke lol
    3rd trial in progress makin pani popo and yellow buns in 1 go lol thank u for the recipe.

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