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Pani Popo: A Samoan Sweet Bread

by Paula

Pani Popo is a mouthwatering sweet bread that’s covered with dollops of creamy coconut sauce. Evoking vague visions of tropical beaches and swaying palm trees (hello, coconut sauce!), this bread comes from the South Pacific island nation of Samoa.

Pani Popo was one of the very first bread recipes that I tried back in 2016. I was new to baking yeast breads at that time, and this Samoan sweet bread seemed the perfect introduction to bread making. I can’t recall how exactly I stumbled across this bread but it was a blessed moment when I did.

What is Pani Popo?

“Pani” equates to buns and “Popo” neatly translates to coconuts in the Samoan language. Et voilà ! Coconut buns! Am I mixing my languages here?

To be perfectly truthful, its name has always struck me as a little bit funny and reminded me of the Dragon Ball character, Mr. Popo. I’m pretty sure Mr. Popo would love to have some of these.

So it’s by no means a long stretch to assume that somehow coconuts are involved in this recipe. Well, I can confirm that coconuts are indeed involved and in such a starring role too!

You see, what separates the Pani Popo from the rest of the sweet bread buns is the addition of the sugary coconut sauce to the buns just before (and possibly even after) baking.

The sauce is a thickened mixture of coconut milk (or cream) and sugar. It’s poured over the dough balls after the second rising. It’s basically drenched in the sauce and then baked for 20 minutes or so. It smells as good as it tastes.

The coconut sauce is poured over the buns before baking.

Once the bread is taken out of the oven, what else is there to do but pour another helping of coconut sauce over the freshly baked buns? I made an extra helping of the sauce just for this purpose.

Give me some!

I used my trusty base recipe for breads (the one I use for my super soft pandesal recipe) but with a few changes. First, I cut the amount of milk by a fourth – I didn’t want a sticky dough this time. But don’t worry, it doesn’t affect the taste at all. Second, I substituted coconut milk for some of the milk. Hey, Pani Popo literally means coconut buns and it would be remiss of me not to. It’s not overpowering the bread by the way, but it adds a little more dimension to the taste.

As I mentioned earlier, I made an extra batch of sauce to pour over the Pani Popo. This is entirely optional; you can use half of the sauce before baking and reserve the other half for serving. Oh, and if you’re using coconut cream instead of coconut milk, you’d might want to use a a little bit less cornstarch.

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Pani Popo: A Samoan Sweet Bread

  • Author: Paula
  • Prep Time: 2 hours
  • Cook Time: 25 minutes
  • Total Time: 2 hours 25 minutes
  • Yield: 12 rolls 1x


Pani Popo is a mouthwatering sweet bread that’s covered with dollops of creamy coconut sauce. These Samoan coconut buns are perfect with a cup of coffee.



For the Dough:

  • 120 ml (1/2 cup) milk
  • 60 ml (1/4 cup) coconut milk
  • 2 eggs, large, lightly beaten
  • 480 grams (4 cups) all purpose flour
  • 55 grams (1/4 cup) sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 57 grams (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened

For the Coconut Sauce:

  • 300 ml (1 1/4 cups) coconut milk
  • 110 grams sugar
  • 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • pinch of salt


  1. Combine milk and eggs in a bowl.
  2. Mix in flour, sugar, milk powder, salt, and yeast in a separate bowl. Knead until the dough is beginning to come together. Add the butter in batches while continuing to knead the dough. 
  3. Knead until dough is soft and elastic (until windowpane stage). Form into a ball and transfer to an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let it rest for 1-2 hours or until the dough has doubled in size.
  4. Transfer the dough onto a well floured surface. Punch down the dough to slightly deflate it.
  5. Prepare a 9×13 baking pan by lightly oiling the surface. 
  6. Divide the dough into 12 equal portions. Shape each portion into a ball and transfer to the baking pan. 
  7. Cover the shaped dough and rest for 30-45 minutes or until the dough has puffed a bit. Preheat the oven to 350F/180C.
  8. While the rolls are resting, prepare the filling. Combine the ingredients for the filling in a small saucepan.
  9. Over medium heat and stirring constantly, cook the filling until slightly thickened, about 5-7 minutes. The filling is ready once the sauce begins to coat the spatula. Take care not to burn the sauce. Remove from the heat and set aside. 
  10. Once the rolls have risen for the second time, pour the sauce over the rolls. 
  11. Bake for 18-25 minutes. 


  • You can reserve half of the sauce to use as topping for the baked bread. 
  • If you don’t like coconut milk in the dough, use normal milk instead. 
  • If you are using active dry yeast instead of instant yeast, heat up the milk until lukewarm and dissolve a tablespoon of sugar in it. Add the dry yeast and let it bloom for about 10minutes. Add to the dry ingredients. 
  • Add more milk by the tablespoon if the dough seems to dry. 
  • You can put a bit of foil on top of the bread while it bakes if it gets brown too fast. 
  • Category: Bread
  • Method: Baking
  • Cuisine: Samoan

Keywords: Pani Popo


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