THE PINEAPPLE BUNS/PO LO BAO

pineapple-bun26

“THEY HAUNTED ME LIKE THE SWEETEST NIGHTMARE”

I want to begin today by saying, “I’m sorry, Kelly.  I sidetracked.”

A few weeks ago, a reader sent me an earnest suggestion saying that ever since she lost contact with one of her beloved things to eat, the curry beef buns from Chinese bakeries, that she has missed it dearly, and that it may fit eloquently into this humble blog of mine because from what it seems (and she’s right), that I’d love me some curry, too.  Oh yes, Kelly.  Oh you have no idea, curry and me are like this.  We tight.  However… even though we spent a substantial amount of keyboarding discussing those mysterious curry beef buns, two other relatively mundane words that she brought up amidst the conversion haunted me like the sweetest nightmare and chased away everything else.

Wait, did you say… pineapple buns?

pineapple-bun01pineapple-bun03pineapple-bun04

You have to understand it’s not that we just mentioned pineapple buns (“po-lo-bao” in Cantonese where “po-lo” means pineapple, and “bao” means buns), which to us Asians are like muffins to the Americans or croissants to the French, pastries given to us like birth-rights.  But it’s what was said about them – that there are no eloquent recipes out there, or in English at least, to satisfy her – that was shocking to me.  First, let me validate my dramatic claim for pineapple bun’s significance by saying… I solemnly believe that every Cantonese and Taiwanese toddlers born with a healthy dose of curiosity and thirst for knowledge, took their first step into science and reasonings at a pre-recorded age by wondering…

“Why are pineapple buns called pineapple buns?”

pineapple-bun051 pineapple-bun07 pineapple-bun08 pineapple-bun09

Out of everything that this bun resembles to, pineapple probably lists at No. 5 at best, so why?  Why not rock buns?  Or nipple buns (remember… this is a toddler asking question, to whom, nipples are very appetizing)?  It was the question that started the machine, our first attempt to make sense of this confusing world we were born into infested with the walking-grownups, our introduction to propriety!  By taking something that, let’s be honest, really looks more turtle-ish than anything else, and call it “pineapple” instead, grownups introduced the concept called “properness”.  All those thing we believed to be much funner, rocks… turtles… or nipples, are not suited to sell buns.  But pineapple is.  First chapter to common sense.  Lesson Number One.

So you see, fundamental knowledge we take as granted as adults were taught by these buns.  How can I not know how to make something as paramount as the pineapple buns.

pineapple-bun10

So I’m sorry.  I sidetracked from the original mission, and plunged into the search for a perfect recipe of my childhood mentor…  After interviewing a dozen recipes, approaching them with great cautions and skepticism, plus a few added personal touches of my own… a batch of something as beautiful as the sun paraded out of my oven, and I stopped feeling sorry.

Here, if you don’t know what a proper pineapple bun should taste like, just imagine a pillow of mildly sweet and heavenly soft brioche hatted with a golden dome of crumbly and streusel-like crust that embodies everything that’s buttery and sugary sweet.  The double layers of coconut cream egg-wash (yes, coconut cream egg wash) paint these buns a beautiful sheen of crackling shells, like a golden turtle wearing a… I mean, a pineapple, with a beautiful golden jacket and cotton-y flesh (uh-hem…).  The last few grains of sea salts sprinkled on top will dance like pop-up fireworks in your mouth.

Hey, even though I promised beef curry buns (which I swear is still on the back-burner), but let me tell you, these po-lo-bao have got nothing to apologize for.

pineapple-bun39pineapple-bun35pineapple-bun38

Makes:  10 buns

Typical pineapple bun-recipes call for milk power in the “pineapple crust”, which I have replaced with custard powder.  Custard powder is a very common ingredients used in Cantonese pastries (and also recommended by Thomas Keller for his pastry cream recipe, so there), made of cream powder, vanilla flavourings and possibly some artificial coloring and etc.  To be honest, very much of those famous Cantonese pastries (egg tarts, baked tapioca pudding, salted egg yolk lava buns and etc) just won’t taste the same without it.  I’d highly recommend getting a box of it.  Then some recipes like to score the crust in a “check-pattern” so they bake up that way, but I prefer the crust to crack freely into a more organic pattern.

The use of coconut cream (not coconut milk) through out the recipe is a nice touch to adding a little something.  It doesn’t shout, “Oh it’s coconut!“, but it adds another layer of aroma and undertone to the flavour profile which I like.

Ingredients: adapted from many recipes combined

  • The “pineapple” crust:
    • 60 grams of unsalted butter, soften
    • 1 large egg yolk
    • 1 tbsp (15 grams) of coconut cream
    • 3/4 cup + 1 tbsp (110 grams) of cake flour
    • 1/2 cup + 2 tbsp (90 grams) of powdered sugar
    • 2 tbsp (15 grams) of custard powder
    • 1/4 tsp (1 gram) of baking soda
    • 1/4 tsp (1 gram) of baking powder
  • The dough:
    • Roux:
      • 1/3 cup (75 grams) of water
      • 1 1/2 tbsp (14 grams) of flour
      • 1/8 tsp of salt
    • 2 1/2 cup (310 grams) of bread flour
    • 1 1/2 tsp of instant dry yeast
    • 2 tbsp (25 grams) of granulated sugar
    • 1/3 cup (80 grams) of heavy cream
    • 1/3 cup (100 grams) of sweetened condensed milk
    • 2 tbsp (30 grams) of coconut cream
    • 1 large egg white
    • 2 1/2 tbsp (37 grams) of unsalted butter, soften
    • Sea salt for sprinkling
  • Coconut egg wash:
    • 1 large egg + 1 tbsp of coconut cream + 1 tsp of water

To make the pineapple crust:  In a stand-mixer or handheld-mixer, cream the unsalted butter until pale and creamy, approx 3 min.  Add the large egg yolk and coconut cream, and whip until thick and velvety, another couple of min.  Add the cake flour, powdered sugar, custard powder, baking soda and baking powder, and mix until everything comes together into a dough.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour.

To make the dough:  Whisk together all the ingredients under “Roux” inside a microwave-proof bowl.  Then microwave on high at a 15-seconds-interval, removing and whisking the ingredients until smooth in between each, until the mixture has thickened and leaves ribbons behind the whisk.  This will take about 1 min in total.  Set aside to cool until it’s warm to the touch, but not hot.

In a stand-mixer with dough-hook attachment, first mix together bread flour, instant dry yeast and sugar until even, then add the roux, heavy cream, sweetened condensed milk, coconut cream and the large egg white.  Turn the speed to medium, and knead the dough until it’s silky and elastic, approx 5 min (the dough may seem slightly dry at first but should come together at the end, if not, add 1 tsp more coconut cream).  Then add the softened unsalted butter in 3 additions.  Only add the next addition when the previous one has been evenly kneaded into the dough.  Once all the butter’s incorporated, increase to medium-high speed and knead the dough for at least 7 to 8 min.  The dough should be soft and moist, but pulls away cleanly from the bowl when the machine’s running, and makes slapping sound against the side.

Cover the bowl with plastic-wrap, and let it proof at a warm place until well doubled, approx 1:40 ~ 2 hours.

To bake the pineapple buns:  Scrape the proofed dough onto a working surface (no need to flour), punch the air out and divide into 10 equal portions.  At this point you may be suspicious with the teeny-tiny portions but man, does this dough expand later…  Shape each portion into a smooth ball by stretching the surface of the dough and tucking it underneath itself.  Place the doughs on top of parchment-lined baking sheets, with at least 4″/10 cm space in between.  Cover loosely with plastic-wrap and proof again for 30 ~ 40 min until they expand for another 70% (not fully doubled).

Meanwhile, whisk together the coconut egg-wash and set aside.  Preheat the oven on 400ºF/200ºC.

When the doughs are almost done with their second proofing, divide the chilled pineapple-crust into 10 equal portions, then roll into small balls.  Put 1 ball in between 2 pieces of parchment and press it down into a flat disk with your hand, then roll it out into a larger circle.  It’s important that the circle doesn’t cover the entire surface of the dough.  It’s meant to sit on top like a helmet if you will, and it will droop down further during baking.  Now, brush the dough with the coconut egg-wash, then peel the pineapple-crust away from the parchment and gently place it on top of the dough.  Gently use your fingers to push the sides of the pineapple-crust inward to make it “dome-shaped”, contouring its shape to wrap around the dough.  Repeat with the rest.

Brush the coconut egg-wash on top of the pineapple-crust, then wait 5 min and apply another layer of egg-wash.  Sprinkle a few grains of sea salt on top.  Bake in the oven for 16 ~ 18 min, or until golden browned and puffed.  If you are doing this in 2 batches, keep the second batch refrigerated while waiting.

The buns are best when they are still warm out of the oven, with the crust crumbly and crispy.  Some even like to serve it with a shameless slab of cold butter tucked inside, but I personally think they already had me at hello.

pineapple-bun40

53 Comments

  • At least your childhood logic only was devoted to the look of the buns. I used to call them “yellow fart buns” as a child because of the strong smell of the ammonia that came from the crust.

    Custard powder is definitely something that every Chinese house hold has. It might not be natural but when has Asian cooking ever cared about what other think?
    I am definitely drooling over sweet bread right now

  • YES YES YES YES! Mandy, you need to stop with this whole post-all-Cynthia’s-favorite-recipes thing, because I feel like a broken record. Loooove this. (Also, “curry and me are like this. We tight.” I died.) Have you ever had the char siu baked buns with the pineapple bun tops? May be the most delicious thing I’ve ever put in my mouth… Only tied with pineapple buns with egg custard filling.

    Oh boy, I’m salivating now. I’ve been meaning to try this but haven’t hunted for custard powder … I think this is a sign that it’s time.

  • Ohhhhhhhhh, thank you, thank you, thank you Mandy! They look deliciously perfect. Oh my gosh, I’m so grateful for your recipe and unbelievable pictures that will make me very happy (words cannot express my feelings). I had no idea there was coconut in them – no wonder I like them so much. The pictures made me cry and my mouth drool. You’re amazing! Kelly

  • These look delicious! I always wondered how the crust was made for some buns – now I know! Thanks for enlightening :)

    I also always thought pineapple buns contained pineapple (ah, silly me) so I avoided them… Now, to make these (and maybe try putting almond paste inside and attempt a croissant/po lo bao fusion???)

  • i used to eat these every day when i was visiting Taiwan, and this pate-a-choux method with the pineapple crust makes so much sense!

    I love pudding powder. the best thing about it that it’s so pumped full of chemicals and whatnot – you could actually whip up a batch of pudding using murky water and it would still turn out delicious (not that i have ever done so).

    there’s only one thing left now. you know what it is. or maybe you don’t.
    Taiwanese friend chicken epiphany – mandy style?

  • These look awesome. (And with that crispy helmet topping they kind of remind me of Japanese melon-pan, which basically has just as little to do with actual melons as these have to do with actual pineapples, although they are sometimes made with a few drops of “melon extract”…) Now you’ve invoked my toddler-like curiosity in wondering why they’re called pineapple buns, too! … I guess the color? Anyway, they look Delicious.

  • OMG. I always wondered the same thing!! WHY, PINEAPPLE?? I love, love, love pineapple buns. They’re always on my tray when I got to Chinese bakeries.

  • You did not just make one of my favorite things ever. Oh no. When I traveled Hong Kong, I ate one of these every single day for breakfast from Seven Eleven, since there were a million of them everywhere.

    Also, your photos = blowing my mind. Are you using a lightbox – I’m obsessed with that dark background and amazing forefront!

  • I love the way ideas can come to you sometimes…just a casual drop in a conversation about something totally different can be life-changing. These really, truly are life changing. The best part is that I have 1/3 cup of sweetened condensed milk in my fridge waiting for a use. THESE ARE IT!

  • I thought they are called pineapple buns because the checkered topping looks a bit like pineapples, no? My favorite memory of pineapple buns is from whenever we went on a school field trip in Taiwan, my mom would pack for me a pineapple bun and fried egg sandwich for lunch. I always loved this combination of the sweet and savory. The cold butter in these buns is a very Hong Kong thing.

    You should do a post on the roux 湯種 method. I think it was the Japanese that started it, and it is so genius – it makes the bread contain much more water and remain soft much longer. And it gives more of that “Q” texture that we Asians like so much.

  • holy smokes, i have been looking for a recipe for these!!! i found a recipe years ago that called for all sorts of weird ingredients so i ran the other way, but your recipe looks so approachable. have you had the pork buns at tim ho wan in hk that have this sugary streusel topping?? i have dreams upon dreams about those….

    • MOLLY I’m rudely comment hijacking but THOSE ARE MY FAV BUNS EVER and I’m planning to try them this weekend with this recipe!!!!!!! AAAhhhhh Tim Ho Wan I miss you :'(

  • I LOVE PO LO BAO! its my all time fav! I love eating them warm or add a piece of cold butter in between (droolz)

    Your blog is so much fun to read and your photos are amazing! May I ask what camera and lens do you use? And what advice would you give to someone who wants to learn how to take better food pictures? (are there books or website you can recommend?) Thanks !

    • Katie, I use a Canon 650D with 50 mm ef 1:1.8 lens. Both is quite affordable for SLR cameras. Besides lighting and composition, I think it helps to get familiar with photo editing programs like photoshop. You can greatly improve the white-balance and contrast of the photo after they’re taken!

  • Wow. Mmmmm…. Omg. I just made these today. They’re so good I had to stop myself from eating more of them. They are so close to restaurant made, but now I can eat them Hot out of the oven! Thank you so much for your amazing recipes!!

  • I totally thought there would be pineapple in these, but I’m actually glad there isn’t. These are so much like the melonpan buns from Japan, and which I saw made by cooking with dog. I’m loving the golden hue of these and will try these out soon.

  • I’m so glad I stumbled upon your Po Lo bun recipe. I tried it on the weekend and it was a great success. Thank you!

    I’m new to baking so this may sound like a stupid question. At any point in the recipe, can I leave the dough or prepared buns in the refrigerator overnight and then bake in the morning? It tastes heavenly straight out of the oven and I want my friends at work to experience the taste of a Po Lo bun at it’s best!

    • I have not tried this before, but how I would do is to skip the second proofing. Yeast dough will continue to expand in cold temperature, but just slower. After the dough has proofed for the first time, you shape the dough into balls and place the crust-lid on top. Place them in a tray that’s relatively deep and cover with plastic wrap. Place in the fridge overnight and the dough should rise slightly (that’s why the tray needs to be a bit deep). Brush with coconut egg wash the next morning and bake in a preheated oven.

      I hope this works… Fingers crossed.

      • Hi Mandy,

        It worked a treat. I devoured a delightfully hot bun straight from the oven for breakfast. Thanks!

  • Ohhhh shoots! My husband served his mission in Hong Kong and misses the po lo bao. I’m going to make an attempt at your recipe and surprise him. Thanks!

  • Ive been crushing on your site for awhile now but have yet to make any of your recipes-but now, I feel that’s all about to change…

  • I made this tonight and the pineapple crust turn out perfectly! But the dough not, it’s too dense and not soft inside. How to make the dough part so it’s soft and light like at the bakery! Thanks!

    • My, it sounds like your dough wasn’t properly proofed (not enough air bubbles formed during the fermentation). It may due to cold room temperature, not enough time, or that the yeast wasn’t alive. Make sure the dough at least doubled the first time, then expands at least 80% again the second time before baking. Hope you have better luck next time :)

  • Hi Mandy,

    Thank you for posting the best pineapple bun/melon pan recipe. I’ve searched all over the web and experimented with other recipes, and nothing even comes close to this one. I’ve made the buns at least four times now and they’re wonderful each time.

    Would you mind if I create a YouTube video demonstrating your recipe? Of course, I would attribute the recipe to your blog, which I adore.

    Thanks!
    -Jen =)

  • Hey Mandy,

    Thanks for posting this recipe! :)
    I just wanted to ask if I can omit the coconut cream? As it’s hard to find it where I live, can’t seem to find it anywhere! And what can I use to substitute the coconut cream instead?

    -Lucy

  • hi mandy,

    The pineapple buns looks so delicious, can’t wait to give it a try. may i know how long the crust stay crispy after bake?

    thanks,
    veronica :)

  • Hi there! These look absolutely amazing! I’m really looking forward to making these! Quick question though, I only have active dry yeast and not instant yeast. I was looking through the recipe, and it doesnt seem like theres any type of liquid I can dissolve it in. I’m thinking the roux would be too thick?? and the other creams would be too fat. Could you help me out? Thank you!

    • Shirley, I think if you warm up the heavy cream slightly (warm to the touch but not hot) and leave the active dry yeast in there for 15 min, it should do the trick. If not, switch heavy cream to whole milk maybe.

      • Thanks so much for the quick reply! Made them this morning and just finished and they’re amazing!! the house smells so good! :D

  • Hello!! Your pineapple buns look so good!! Looks like those you can find in Hong Kong. Just wanted to ask if omitting the coconut cream in the recipe will change the outcome of the buns?

  • I’ve never been into making baking and pastries. Don’t get me wrong I’m a huge foodie! I cook (too much) in the opinions of certain people, but what do you want food is my thing! Anyhow, I looked at this recipe as a challenge, and it was worth it. I made it for my boyfriend, he’s Taiwanese, and I wanted to offer him something that would come closer to what he was used to eat back there. Huge success! He loves it! I never did bread before and I was so happy to see that my bread was moist and had bubbles like ”real” pastries. I’m still surprised :P Your steps were very clear and made the recipe easier to complete!

    Mandy, you’re definitely one of the best thing that happened on Internet since its beginning :P Thank you for your talent, your writing style and recipes that you share with us.

    • Jessyca, no, thank you!! Your kind words really made my day. I’m reading this as the last email-checking before sleep, and now I can go to sleep with a big smile on my face. Thanks!

  • Hi,

    I’m so fond of these Chinese breads and buns!

    During my younger years, I would go to Brussels and buy these from that ‘small Chinese bakery’ in Brussels, in front of Sun Wah grocery shop!

    I remember eating one of these …

    As I have found your recipe awhile ago here at Pinterest, I immediately added it to my favourites!

    It’s only now that I have found out about the recipe!

    Thank You Very Muchor sharing this!

    It means a lot to me …

  • Excellent recipe. Tastes and looks like the bakery one. I used traditional yeast instead though with a slightly different method. Made 3 batches in 2 days to give away to the Asians in town. The closest Chinese bakery is about 8 hours..

  • This is the most beautiful photos with details making the Pineapple Buns, May I blog it in my post since I am promoting HK snacks, one of the hot selling is this, acknowledgments will be quoted.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *