Samoan Coconut Rolls (Pani Popo)

Samoan Coconut Rolls

Eric just called to tell me about the Lego store he is in. “They have Gandalf, Karen! A life-size knight, on a rearing horse! Jasmine and Aladdin, on the magic carpet!”

Samoan Coconut Rolls

When I scoff, I can actually feel him rolling his eyes at me, like I’m some heathen who just doesn’t understand art or something. Apparently I need to up the giddiness level in my voice when Legos are brought up, or I’m walking the line.

Samoan Coconut Rolls

Last time he was in LA for a business trip, he called to tell me that his hotel was literally across the street from LegoLand, which is of course at the top of his bucket list. He checked the hours, and they happened to be closed the two days he was there. I said good, I don’t want you to have to be thrown out for being that creeper guy at a kids amusement park.

Samoan Coconut Rolls

Have you guys had Hawaiian Bread? You know, the kind they sell in round loafs or rolls, in the bright orange bags? My mom used to buy the round loafs as a special treat growing up, and we had a tradition of just tearing out hunks of the bread instead of slicing it. I still do that when I buy it.

But…I don’t know if I’ll be buying it again anytime soon. These Samoan Coconut Rolls are not the same; but they are both very sweet, soft breads, and these Samoan Rolls reminded me of Hawaiian bread. Except they are way better, because they are soaked in coconut milk. And you get to eat them warm.

Samoan Coconut Rolls

They are amazing. AMAZING. I have never had a softer, moister, more pillowy roll in my entire life. You pour half a can of coconut milk over the risen rolls, so they are literally baked in the stuff, making it pretty much impossible to dry them out. Plus there is coconut milk in the bread itself. Eric told me he was afraid they would be overly coconut-y, but was pleasantly surprised. The coconut ends up being mild, but it still gives it a very deep flavor that you don’t find in regular sweet rolls.

Samoan Coconut Rolls

I gave some of these to our neighbors and immediately regretted it. I wanted to eat all of them, the entire dozen, by myself. The few that were left were stored in a tupperware on the counter, right next to a box of really awesome cookies. I always went for the rolls first. They are like candy.

Samoan Coconut Rolls

These rolls would be absolutely perfect for Thanksgiving, especially since you can form the dough into rolls 24 hours in advance. One less thing to do on the big day. (Which is in just one week people! Check out my latest posts for some great sides and desserts, and stay tuned for more to come.)

P.S. Do you guys know how much I love getting comments? They make me so happy. I never know you’re here if you don’t say hi. Go ahead, make my day! I always respond.

Samoan Coconut Rolls

Yield: Makes 12 large rolls


  • 1 package (1 tablespoon) active dry yeast
  • 3 tablespoons warm water (105F- 115 F)
  • 1 can coconut milk (14-15 oz), divided (don't use light)
  • 4 tablespoons salted butter (half stick)
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg
  • ¼ cup powdered milk, non-fat or other
  • 3½ cups to 3¾ cups all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled
  • optional: light sprinkling of coarse salt OR raw sugar


  1. In a stand mixer or large bowl add the tablespoon of yeast, then pour the warm water over it and stir to combine. You want the water nice and warm, not hot. Stir it up and set the bowl aside.
  2. Shake up your can of coconut milk. In a large (4 cup) measuring cup, pour in one cup of the coconut milk. Add half a stick of salted butter. Put it in the microwave, and heat until the butter is about halfway melted, just a minute or two. Take it out, add ½ cup sugar and ½ teaspoon salt, and stir it until the butter melts all the way. If necessary, let the milk cool off for a bit. You are about to add an egg and you don't want to cook it.
  3. Crack in the egg and whisk rapidly so that it doesn't curdle. Add the powdered milk and whisk until combined.
  4. By now your yeast should be nice and frothy. Add the milk/butter mixture to the yeast mixture.
  5. At this point I held the dough hook in my hand and stirred everything together manually. Then attach it to your mixer and turn it on medium low until everything is combined. (If you aren't using a mixer, you can do this all with a strong wooden spoon and some elbow grease.)
  6. Add 3 ½ cups of flour that have been spooned and leveled. Continue mixing dough.
  7. Add in enough additional flour (if needed) to make soft dough: it should be pretty sticky, but not wet. Check out my photos below. It will not pull away completely from the sides of the bowl.
  8. Set a timer for 8 minutes, and let the mixer knead the dough on low. Or, turn dough on lightly floured surface and knead for 8 minutes.
  9. Place dough in a greased bowl, turning once to coat the dough. Cover loosely with a clean cloth or with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm, draft-free place for one and a half or two hours. Mine did not double in size, but it did rise. Try to get close to two hours.
  10. Punch the dough down.
  11. Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces. Shape into balls.
  12. Place in greased 12 -inch round pan. You can use a cast iron skillet, or a 9x13 pan would also work. (At this point, you can refrigerate, covered, for up to 24 hours. Let sit at room temperature for one hour before baking.)
  13. If you aren't refrigerating, let the rolls rise for another 45 minutes to an hour in a warm place.
  14. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Brush the top of the rolls generously with coconut milk, then pour the rest of the milk evenly into the pan. Yes, all of it. Sprinkle with sugar or salt.
  15. Bake until the crust is deep golden brown, about 20 to 25 minutes.
  16. Let cool slightly and serve.


You can top these rolls with either raw sugar or coarse salt. I prefer the salt, because I think it cuts the sweetness of the rolls really well. Sprinkle it on after you brush with coconut milk, right before baking. One other thing: I like to turn my oven to "warm" (170 degrees) for about 45 seconds or a minute, then turn it off and place the dough inside to rise. Just make sure you take it out before preheating the oven!

Source: adapted from Immaculate Bites

Samoan Coconut RollsUse full-fat coconut milk. Oh yeah, bring it on.

Samoan Coconut Rolls


You want the dough to be soft, but not to the point that it sticks to your fingers like crazy.

Samoan Coconut Rolls

A little stick is okay. This is the dough that stuck to my hand after I lifted it in the previous picture.

Samoan Coconut RollsYou want to pour allll that coconut milk on. It seems like a lot. Just do it.

Samoan Coconut RollsCan you see that coconut milk boiling?! Yum.







  1. amber says

    I’ve had many of these over the last 11 1/2 years and I have to agree, they are pretty great! Love them with some hot chocolate!

  2. Laura says

    This sounds really delicious, I think I’ll make them for Thanksgiving. Would they be too sweet, you think? Also, I’ve made whipped coconut cream many times, it’s great. Also, melt chocolate chips (like a whole bag; I used enjoy life) and the coc milk together. Cool it in the fridge and then beat it. It’s like chocolate frosting, it’s SOOO good.

    • says

      I don’t think they will be too sweet, but then again I am all about decadence. If you add salt on top instead of sugar, I think they will be perfect. Let me know how you like them!!
      And okay, I am putting my coconut in the fridge RIGHT NOW. Do you just eat it, like a mousse? Or do you frost cake with it?

  3. Emily says

    Mmm… These look delicious! I think I might cheat and make these with frozen dough. I’m just not very good with baked goods that have to rise twice… I think my kitchen is too drafty (or I’m just not good at following directions).

    • says

      Hey Emily!! YES, I meant to mention that in the recipe, you can totally sub Rhodes Rolls for the homemade dough. I’ve never tried it, but I’ve seen other reliable sources blog about it. Check this one out from Chef in Training. The recipe is a little different but I’m sure it tastes similar. Come back and tell us what you do and how it works out! Thanks for commenting Emily!
      PS If you ever do decided to try out yeast, try the trick of turning on your oven for a minute, turning it off, and letting them rise inside. Works like a charm!

    • says

      Thanks again for the recipe Immaculate!! It is perfect. You a genius. I’m glad I could inspire you to make these this weekend, any weekend that includes these babies is bound to be a good one. Oh and PS, I just saw your African Pepper Soup. PINNED! Yum.

    • says

      Thanks for your comment! I actually wouldn’t leave out the powdered milk. It makes the outer edges crusty. If you want to sub regular milk, you will have to do a little research on how much (because it will mess with the liquid levels in the bread.) Dry milk is often the “secret ingredient” to famous bread recipes.

  4. Eric says

    Ok – just for the record – go do a google image search for “downtown disney lego store pictures” and prepare to be blown away. These things are 10-20 feet tall. I’m serious!

  5. Diane M. says

    Hi Karen,
    I made these rolls today and let me tell you, they are Great! I used my bread machine and only did the dough cycle (I placed the ingredients into the pan as suggested by my machines manufacturers) I did not add the water. I also added the 3-3/4 cups of flour and it was just a little bit sticky when I took it out of the pan but, sprinkled the counter with just a teeny, tiny bit of flour and all was well. I also used the lite coconut milk. They are sooooooo good! Thanks for sharing!

    • says

      Diane! Thank you so much for the bread machine instructions! You are fabulous. I’m so glad these turned out well for you. And thank you for letting us know that light coconut milk works fine. That’s great! Thanks again!

  6. Angie says

    Karen – took these rolls to a holiday party yesterday and they were a huge hit. I was freaked out by pouring all of the milk over the top but they turned out so awesome. There were two left over and generally I leave my leftovers with the host so I am not tempted to eat them but I took these home. AWESOME. This one will become a staple for me.

    • says

      I’m so glad you loved them Angie! I know, I was nervous about pouring all the coconut milk on too, but it totally works. I need to make these again, like right now. Thanks for commenting Angie :)

  7. Pam says

    I had excess milk at the bottom, is that normal? It seemed like they were not done although they were cooked through, it was just like a layer of pudding. The tops were beautifully golden, very soft and delicious.

    • says

      Hi Pam! They are meant to be reeeally moist on the bottom. When I make them, there is definitely a pudding-like layer but it usually sticks to the rolls. If you don’t like that, just add a little less coconut milk next time. I’m glad you liked them! Thanks for coming back to comment Pam!

  8. Han says

    Hi Karen,

    I just made the bread. Thanks for the lovely recipe. That was really really great. :-)

    I just added a bit more to the ingredient: 1 teaspoon of vitamin C powder + 1 tablespoon of vital wheat gluten. The rolls were soft, fluffy, moist until the next 3 days. (I tried to eat not too much in one time though :-). And the dough rose around 3 times the size after 2-hour-proofing as well. Maybe you wanna give them a try next time. :-)


  9. Angela says

    I’ve made these a number of times, usually while out of town for holidays, and they’re always a hit. Even worth the challenge of having to bake in someone’s kitchen. Something reminded me of them, and I pulled it out to add to my online recipes for meal planning, so I’ll remember them more often (may be a bad idea, ha).
    I’m no whiz with yeast, but these have come out great each time.


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