Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Panipopo - Sweet coconut buns

By panipopos

pani = buns
popo = coconut
pagipopo in the vernacular

My aunt makes amazing panipopo, massive trays of them, and sells them from her shop in Samoa. Unfortunately the only clear recipe I've ever been able to get out of her is for the panipopo sauce ("equal parts coconut milk and water, then sugar to taste"). So here is my version which pairs a simple bread bun with Aunty's coconut sauce. These were usually eaten after the evening prayer, with a steaming hot cup of kokosamoa (Samoan cocoa), but I have been known to eat them as a midnight snack and then again for breakfast the next morning.

Panipopo (makes 12)

1 package (or 2 and ¼ teaspoons) active dry yeast
1 cup (240ml) warm water
¼ cup (50g) sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons (30ml) vegetable oil
2½ - 3 cups (313-475g) all-purpose flour or bread flour

Put the yeast and water in a large bowl and leave for 10 minutes.
What you're doing here is giving the yeast a headstart before everyone else jumps in the bowl. You should see your yeast froth to the surface of the water. If you don't see any froth then a) your yeast is old or dead and you need to get some fresh stuff, b) your water was too hot and you burned them to death or c) did you wait 10 minutes? did you really? i mean, like really REALLY?

Add all the rest of the ingredients and mix to form a soft dough.
It's difficult to give an exact flour measurement because flours differ from place to place. What you're looking for is a cohesive mass of dough, so add the first two cups of flour, mixing after each addition, and then add the last cup in bit by bit until you see your dough come together.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 10 to 20 minutes or until dough is smooth and elastic.
This is the most work you'll have to do for these buns, I promise. You can add a little bit of flour from time to time to keep the dough from sticking to the surface or to your hands, but don't add too much or you'll end up with tough dough (tough dough = tough buns).

Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover and leave to double in volume. (Optional step: Punch down and leave to double in volume again.)
In my 30°C/86°F kitchen, my dough took about 1 hour to double in size. The dough will prove (rise) at almost any temperature except freezing, it just depends on how hot/cold your kitchen is. Better to go by volume here, and not by time.

Punch the dough down and turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Shape the buns and place in an ungreased baking tin. Cover and leave to rise until almost doubled.
So there are two common ways to shape the buns:
  • Roll into a long rectangle, and then roll it up. Slice into 2.5 cm (1 inch) or any even-sized rounds.
  • Pinch off balls of dough and roll into balls.
Some say that the jellyroll-style buns soak up more of the coconut sauce, but I've made them both ways and they're pretty much the same.
Because of the size of my oven, I used two 20 cm round aluminium tins, but I think the buns look better in rectangular or square pans. There's something about seeing all these uniformly shaped buns lined up in a row. The important thing about your baking pan is that it is deep enough to hold the buns and sauce without it bubbling over. Oven cleaning - not fun.

While the buns are rising, preheat your oven to 190°C/375°F, and make your coconut sauce.

Coconut sauce:
½ can (200ml) canned or fresh coconut milk
½ can (200ml) water
½ cup (100g) sugar
Combine all ingredients well.
If your coconut milk is a little coagulated, just give it a stir and it'll be right as rain. Try to use a good quality canned coconut milk (my mother thought the thicker, the better) but as always, fresh is best.
If you taste the sauce as it is now, you might find it almost sickeningly sweet, but don't worry, because during baking, some of the sugar is absorbed by the buns.

When the buns have doubled in size, pour the sauce over them. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown and the sauce is bubbling up around the edges.
Let them cool at least a half hour before cutting into them. This gives the buns time to set up, and also gives the sauce a chance to thicken slightly.

* Recipe can be doubled.
* Buns can be frozen in baking pans immediately after shaping and then baked the following day. After you take it out of the freezer, just leave it to double in size (will take 2-3 hours to defreeze and then rise), pour on your sauce, then bake.
* Keep leftovers (ha! what leftovers?) in the refrigerator.

Usually served upside down (sauce-side up) with generous helpings of sauce, but I like to eat them right side up, so I can grab the dry part with my hands, eat off the coconut-soaked part, and then redip the drier bread in the sauce as I work my way up the bun.

Good luck guys. I hope you try these because although the recipe seems long, if you cut out all my commentary, it's actually very short. And yes, these do take some time, but remember it's the pani's time, not yours.