Panipopo (Samoan Sweet Coconut Buns)

pani popo (2 of 3)

Panipopo is a type of Samoan bread soaked in sweet coconut sauce. Popo means coconut in Samoan, and pani means buns. In the pan, it looks like a regular dinner roll, but remove the pieces to reveal the layer of coconut sauce. The panipopo are served upside down, sauce side up, with extra sauce from the pan drizzled over the top. Store the leftovers in the refrigerator. The buns continue to soak up the sauce the longer they are stored.

pani popo (3 of 3)

The Samoan Islands lie in the South Pacific, halfway between New Zealand and Hawaii. There are nine islands, with the first four inhabited: Savai’i, Upolu, Manono, Apolima, Fanuatapu, Namu’a, Nuulua, and Nuusafee. It is a fairly new country. The Europeans first found Samoa in the 1700s and it was fought over during the 1800s by the British, Germans, and Americans. In 1899, the United States took over American (Eastern) Samoa and Germany seized control of Western Samoa.  New Zealand took control from Germany in 1914 until independence in 1962. In 1997, the name was officially changed to Samoa.

More information about the history of Samoa.

Information about the food culture of Samoa.

pani popo (1 of 3)

Panipopo (Samoan Sweet Coconut Buns)

Prep Time: 2 hours

Cook Time: 30 minutes

12 buns

Panipopo (Samoan Sweet Coconut Buns)


2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast

1 cup warm water (105-115 degrees Fahrenheit)

2 1/2-3 cups all purpose or bread flour

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 egg, lightly beaten

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Coconut Sauce:

3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons coconut milk

3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons water

1/2 cup sugar

In a small bowl, sprinkle yeast over warm water and stir together. let sit until frothy, about 10 minutes.

In a large bowl or the bowl of a large food processor fitted with a dough blade, combine 2 1/2 cups flour, sugar, and salt. Mix in frothy yeast, water, egg, and vegetable oil. Add remaining 1/2 cup flour, as needed, to form a soft and slightly sticky dough. Knead on a lightly floured surface until smooth and elastic. Place in lightly greased large bowl, turning to coat. Cover and let rise in warm place until doubled in size, about 1-1 1/2 hours.

Place dough on lightly floured surface. The buns can be shaped two ways. The easiest way is to divide the dough into 12 equal pieces and roll each piece into a ball. The dough can also be rolled into a long rectangle, then rolled up end to end. Cut the dough into 12 equal pieces. place the pieces into an ungreased rectangle, square, or circle baking pan with deep sides. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 30 minutes.

While the buns are rising, preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a small bowl, whisk together coconut milk, water, and sugar.

Pour the coconut sauce over the buns and bake in preheated oven until tops are golden brown and coconut sauce is bubbling, about 30 minutes.

Let cool in pan at least 30 minutes before serving.

Adapted from Samoa Food

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Comments: 7

  1. Maureen Roberts 16 April, 2014 at 12:43 pm Reply

    I made this buns following your recipe and my Samoan son in law says they are the best Samoan Panipopo he has ever had especially made by a Palengi . He said that were much better than those of a Samoan woman who sells them here. So high praise indeed . My grandson is also loves thems. I live in Western Australia and like to cook traditional Samoan food for my son inlaw and grandson as away of keeping their traditons alive.

    Thank you

    • Tara 16 April, 2014 at 4:56 pm Reply

      Thank you so much for your kind words. They made my day :) I am so glad your family enjoyed them. Panipopo is the only Samoan food I have tried so far, but I absolutely love it. Looking forward to trying more recipes from Samoa.

  2. Maureen Roberts 19 April, 2014 at 8:18 pm Reply

    Try this one

    Masi Popo Coconut Biscuits ( Cookies)

    120gm butter (4½ oz)
    2/3 cup white sugar
    2 eggs
    200ml full coconut milk – not lite! (7 fl oz)
    1 tsp vanilla essence or extract
    4 cups flour
    3 tsp baking powder
    pinch of salt


    Heat the over up to about 180˚C (350˚F)
    Cream the butter and sugar together well.
    Add the eggs one at a time mixing well.
    Here comes the magic, add the coconut milk and vanilla, again mixing well.
    Now mix in the dry ingredients (flour and baking powder).
    The dough may still be a little sticky, so a little more flour may be needed.
    Cover your kneading surface with a generous amount of flour so the dough doesn’t stick to in and knead until it’s a nice and even consistency.
    I pinch of about a third of the dough and roll out onto lightly floured baking paper (so I don’t have to try to pick up each biscuit/cookie slice from the kneading surface individually)
    Roll out the dough until it’s about ¼” (6mm) thick, and cut into 3″ (75mm) squares. I find dipping the knife in flour every so often helps to keep it from sticking to the dough.
    Then just pick up your baking paper at the edges and place it onto your over tray and cook for about 25 minutes, or till just golden brown (a little browner than they appear in the photo above) The squares when cooled should be quite hard, not soft like biscuits, and have a nice “snap” when broken.

    • Tara 18 April, 2015 at 4:15 pm Reply

      I will definitely have to try this!

  3. Jaymi 16 April, 2015 at 12:41 pm Reply

    I’ve had this recipe saved since you posted this and I finally made it recently for a pot luck. There were none left at the end of the day and they are VERY good! Not overly coconut-y and just sweet enough to hit your sweet spot. I keep coconut milk handy so it was nice that one would *probably* have these ingredients on hand and not require a run to the store.

    • Tara 18 April, 2015 at 4:16 pm Reply

      So glad you enjoyed them!

  4. […] had her Panipopo recipe bookmarked to make. What’s a panipopo? Well, it’s a Samoan Coconut Bun. I was so […]

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