Michael Meredith’s Pani Popo

NZ Chef, Merideths Restaurant

Mum’s food is like soul food for me, and pani popo are all memories. They’re sweet yeasted buns baked with a creamy coconut sauce and you can find them in all the homes and markets in Samoa. As kids we’d hover around the tray once they came out of the oven, but we knew not to eat our pani popo too soon – they’re best once they’ve cooled and the sauce has all soaked in.

– Michael Meredith

Image of Pani Popo

Pani Popo

Vegetarian

Ingredients

For the buns:

  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup caster sugar
  • 11g fresh yeast or 4g instant dry yeast
  • 4 cups high grade flour, divided, plus extra for dusting
  • 2 small eggs, lightly whisked
  • 5 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp water
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup raisins

For the coconut sauce:

  • 1 x 425g can of coconut cream
  • 425ml water
  • 250g coconut sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean

Let’s Cook

Prepare the buns:

Gently heat milk in a saucepan or microwave until lukewarm. Stir in sugar, yeast, and a quarter cup of the flour. Leave in a warm place until the yeast bubbles and the flour has formed a raft on top; around 20-30 minutes for fresh yeast or 5-10 minutes for dry yeast.

Pour yeast mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer or a large mixing bowl. Stir in eggs, oil, water, and salt, then mix in remaining flour. Knead for 8-10 minutes with a dough hook, or 15 minutes by hand, until dough comes together but remains slightly wet and sticky. Avoid adding extra flour; although a drier dough is easier to knead, the stickier dough gives a much nicer texture once the buns are baked. Once dough is ready knead in raisins until evenly distributed. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, move to a warm place, and let the dough rise until doubled in size; around 40 minutes.

Line a 32cm x 32cm x 8cm deep baking tin with baking paper. Once dough has risen, gently knock it back down with your hands. Divide dough into 16 equal portions and gently roll each into a ball. The dough will still be quite sticky so dust your hands and the counter top with a little flour as needed. Arrange the balls in a single layer in the tin, evenly spaced and just lightly touching each other. Cover the tin with plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm place a second time until doubled in size with only a few small gaps remaining; again around 40 minutes.

Prepare the coconut sauce

With 15 minutes left until the dough has finished rising, preheat the oven to 190°C. Stir coconut cream, water, and sugar together in a medium saucepan. Slice the vanilla bean open lengthwise and use the blunt side of a knife to scrape out the seeds. Add the seeds and the scraped pod to the pan. Bring to the boil on the stovetop, stirring occasionally, then turn off the heat and let sit for 10 minutes to infuse the flavour from the vanilla pod. Remove and discard the pod. Keep the sauce warm until using.

Finish and bake the buns

Once the dough has risen remove and discard the plastic wrap. Pierce each bun a few times with a skewer, then pour on the warm coconut sauce a few ladles at a time, pausing to let each batch of sauce soak in before adding the remainder. Place the tin in the oven and place a second, larger rimmed tray underneath to catch any drips if the sauce bubbles over. Bake for 25-30 minutes until the buns are dark golden and firm to the touch.

Let the buns sit in the tray until warm (or room temperature) before removing and serving – this is important to allow the coconut sauce to be absorbed into the buns. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Tips:

To easily measure the water for the sauce, just fill the empty can of coconut cream – that will give you 425ml of water.

More stories

What’s Cooking

Mark Limacher’s Christmas Cassata

NZ Chef

My mum Mary arrived in NZ from Northern England in 1957. She was beautiful and gregarious, and a fine singer and dancer, but never really had that that much interest in cooking or food. My mother-in-law Jean, on the other hand, who hails from Yorkshire, is a really grand cook. I’ve enjoyed a lifetime of…

Jax Hamilton’s Coconut and Ginger Drops

Celebrity Chef

Cooking was my mum’s way of showing us how she loved us, her dishes are love and nostalgia for me. Every six months or so my aunts would gather in our London kitchen from around the country. There would be music, dancing, laughing, and the old stories – us kids were banned because they used too…

Simon Gault – Mum’s Easy Spinach and Sausage Lasagna

NZ Chef

Mum and Dad both cooked for us and were really keen foodies; I was Chief Taster. Lasagna is often considered everyday food but when Mum made this one it was a real treat, one of those recipes you just look forward to when she says she’s cooking it. Even my daughter asks for it now,…

Kent Baddeley’s Beef Cheeks

NZ Chef

I grew up in Matawhero where my Nana had a hotel and restaurant on the farm, and people came for miles for her food. I was always in the kitchen with Nana, who only cooked what she could grow and kill herself on the farm, and she had a wonderful sense of flavour, always wanting…

Lois Daish’s Welsh Rarebit Dip and Tomato and Cucumber Salad

Food columnist at The Listener

My mother always served Welsh Rarebit as a dip, rather than grilled on toast. My guess is that this innovation began as a mistake when the mixture was too runny to spread. It certainly appealed to me as child, and we’re now into the fourth generation of making it this way in my family. The…

Sean Connolly’s Corned Beef Pie with Mushy Peas

Chef

I’ve been quoted before saying that Mum’s corned beef pie would be my death row meal. Mum was fantastic with pastry and I’ve always used her half-butter half-lard pastry recipe when I cook. For many years I’ve wanted to recreate the whole pie, but I’ve never dared, so I’m using this opportunity to pay homage…