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