Shiny rows of rolls in a glass baking pan. Sitting on top of sweet coconut milk. Gray napkin underneath.

Panipopo hails from American Samoa. It’s a treat that’s so much more than the sum of its parts. Fluffy rolls are baked atop and soaked in sweet, velvety coconut cream.

This recipe is adapted from a wonderful family recipe posted on “Why Samoan panipopo is food for the soul.”


  • 4 – 7 ¼ cups flour, divided 
  • 1 tsp salt 
  • 1 ¾ oz butter 
  • 1 cup plus 3 Tbsp sugar, divided 
  • 3 tsp active dry yeast 
  • 5 – 6 cups warm water, divided 
  • 1 can coconut cream (1 ¾ cups) 


In a large bowl, combine salt and 4 cups flour. Rub in the butter until the flour feels “silky” and clumps a little. Make a well in the middle, add sugar. 

To a small non-plastic bowl, add yeast and, very slowly, 1 cup of very warm water. Stir until yeast is dissolved, using fingers if you’d like to help the process along. Pour yeast-water into the well in the flour mixture – you should see yeast begin to bubble up as it contacts sugar. 

Using a wooden spoon, fold flour into the liquid and mix everything together thoroughly. Add more warm water, 2-3 cups, until it becomes a thick batter that still jiggles a bit when you shake the bowl. 

Cover bowl lightly with a clean towel or parchment paper. Leave in a warm, dry spot to rise for 2 hours. By then, the dough should have doubled in size with lots of holes in it. Spread 2 cups flour on a clean work surface and put the dough on top of it. Fold flour into dough and knead until it’s much less sticky and absorbed almost all the flour, about 5 minutes. 

When dough is easier to hold but still a little sticky, and a lot more solid than batter, put back in bowl and cover again for a second rise—about an hour. By that time, dough should have doubled in size and have more holes, but less than last time. 

Add ½ cup flour to your clean work surface and knead dough until it’s less sticky. Cut dough into palm-sized pieces and roll into spheres on the work surface. 

Preheat oven to 400°. Place buns in neat rows in a 9” x 13” baking pan, they’ll keep rising while you prepare the coconut cream sauce. 

Pour coconut cream into a bowl. To the empty can, add 2 Tbsp flour and some warm water to stir into the flour until you have a thick liquid. Add more warm water until the can is full, pour the water-flour mixture into the coconut cream. Stirring continuously, add in 1 more cup of warm water and then 1 cup sugar. 

Set aside 1 cup of coconut cream sauce and pour the rest into the pan with the buns. Put pan into oven, with a sheet pan one rack down to catch any drips, and bake 20 minutes. Check buns at this point, the sauce should have cooked down a bit. Add the reserved cup of coconut cream sauce and bake 20-25 minutes more. 

Buns should now be golden on top with coconut cream sauce bubbling around the bottom. Remove pan from oven, covering with foil so buns don’t dry out as they cool. Serve warm.