Pineapple buns are classic pastries that you can find in Hong Kong style bakeries. The bun is soft and slightly sweet and it’s topped with a golden crunchy, crumbly crust. This pineapple bun recipe uses ingredients that you can find in any grocery store.
Thank you to Bob’s Red Mill for sponsoring this post!
Pineapple buns (菠蘿包, bolo bao in Cantonese) are one of my favorite pastries from Chinese bakeries. Said to have originated from Shanghai, pineapple buns gained popularity in Hong Kong & Chinatowns throughout the world. Although the pastry does not contain any pineapple, the name comes from the way that the topping looks when it’s baked.
I have been eating pineapple buns since my childhood, and I’m so excited to finally figure out a recipe to make them at home. This recipe uses ingredients that you can easily find in any supermarket. I have tested this recipe probably 10 times and have provided a lot of tips and tricks below that you’ll need to make delicious pineapple buns.
HOW TO MAKE PINEAPPLE BUNS
MAKE THE DOUGH
I wanted the buns to have that characteristic soft texture that I find in pastries from Chinatown bakeries. Therefore, I adapted my milk bread recipe to use as the base for these pineapple buns. One important key to making the bread soft is to add tangzhong into the dough.
Tangzhong (湯種) is a Chinese technique of heating flour and water into a paste that is then added to the bread dough. This will give the bread a lighter, more feathery texture. To make the tangzhong, mix 2 tablespoons of Bob’s Red Mill Organic All-Purpose Flour with 1/3 cup of water. You can either heat this mixture in the microwave or in a saucepan until it forms a thick paste (see photo above). Once cooled, combine the tangzhong with the other ingredients for the dough.
ACTIVATE THE YEAST
I use active dry yeast to give the bread its lift and a bit of flavor. To activate the yeast, heat up 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons milk in the microwave on high for 40 to 45 seconds. Then, add 1 1/2 tablespoons of sugar into the heated milk and check the temperature. It should be somewhere around 110ºF to 120ºF. Once you confirm that the milk is at the right temperature, stir in the yeast. You don’t want the milk to be too hot because it can kill the activity in the yeast.
After about 5 to 8 minutes, the yeast should foam up, like you see in the photo above. If the milk still looks flat, it can mean that the yeast is out of date or the milk was too hot.
KNEAD THE DOUGH
While the tangzhong is cooling, and the yeast is activating, gather all the other ingredients for the dough. Unlike my milk bread recipe, I am using Bob’s Red Mill Artisan Bread Flour to give the bun more structure to hold up the topping. I absolutely love Bob’s Red Mill bread flour because it is easy to find and makes great tasting bread. Plus, the dough that I make with the flour is always a dream to work with.
Because of the amount of liquid in this dough, I highly recommend using a stand mixer to mix the dough. Mix the dough on low for 10 minutes in the stand mixer. Although you can crank up the mixing speed, the mixer will shake quite vigorously. The large amount of dough combined with the speed of the mixer will cause the bowl to clatter against the mixer constantly. To make things easier on the mixer, I prefer mixing the dough at a low speed.
Once you have kneaded the dough for 10 minutes, turn the dough over a work surface and knead it several times by hand. The dough shouldn’t be sticky, so you won’t need to flour the surface. Shape the dough into a ball and place it into a large, lightly greased bowl and cover it with a damp towel, silicone lid, or plastic wrap. Let the dough rise for 1 hour to 1 hour 30 minutes, until the dough doubles in size.
MAKE THE PINEAPPLE BUN TOPPING
While the bread dough is rising, make the pineapple bun topping. A lot of pineapple bun recipes, will call for lard and custard powder. I wanted to use ingredients that I often keep around the house, so I used butter, vanilla, and turmeric instead. The turmeric gives the topping a beautiful and natural yellow hue.
To make the topping, simply mix all the ingredients in a stand mixer and let the topping sit at room temperature until you are ready to shape the pineapple buns.
SHAPE THE BUNS
I prefer baking 6 pineapple buns at a time on a single baking sheet. I tried baking 12 at a time with 2 baking sheets, but I noticed the bake was very uneven on the buns.
As a result, I started weighing the dough, divided it in half so that I can bake the bread in 2 batches. Put half of the dough in the refrigerator while you shape and proof the first batch of pineapple buns. Putting the dough in the refrigerator the activity of the yeast so that the dough doesn’t overproof. Once the first batch of pineapple buns are in the oven, start on the second batch.
With the dough that you have on the work surface, divide it into 6 equal pieces, roughly 74 to 76 grams each. Knead each piece of dough several times to get rid of any air bubbles. Then, shape them into balls. Place all 6 pieces of dough onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Then, cover the dough with a towel. Let the buns rise again for 30 to 45 minutes, until they expand to 1.5 times its size (they’ll be about 3 inches in diameter).
After the second proof, divide the dough for the topping into 12 equal pieces, about 27 to 29 grams each. Then, shape each piece of dough into a small ball. Take one of the balls of dough and roll it out into a circle between 3.5 to 3.75 inches in diameter. I like to roll out the topping between 2 sheets of plastic so that the topping is easy to remove. To get the plastic sheets, I cut up a plastic storage bag. Alternatively, you can use parchment paper, but it tends to crease.
Carefully cover each bun with the topping. Then, brush the tops of the buns with egg wash. The egg wash enhances the look of the crackling effect once the buns are baked.
Bake the buns at 375ºF for 14 to 16 minutes. If you want the top to look darker, bake them at 385ºF for 14 to 16 minutes, until they are golden at the top.
CAN YOU PREPARE PINEAPPLE BUNS OVERNIGHT?
Yes! You can proof the dough for the buns and the topping overnight if you want to break up the work. Place the bread dough in a greased bowl and cover with plastic. Next, shape the topping dough into a flat disc before wrapping it in plastic.
On the following day, an hour before you are ready to shape the buns, take out the topping dough and let it sit on your counter. The topping is easier to roll out when it is at room temperature.
You don’t need to let the bread dough reach room temperature before shaping. However, the chilled dough will take longer to rise. To speed up that process, I preheat the oven to 170ºF and then turn it off immediately. Then, I place the shaped buns on a baking sheet and into the warm oven. Let the buns rise for 10 to 12 minutes, until they expand to 1.5 times its size. Take the buns out of the oven, add the topping and egg wash, and bake as usual. Note that the buns are more delicate after this speeded up proofing process, so be careful not to deflate the buns when you add the topping.
MORE RECIPES WITH BOB’S RED MILL FLOURS
How to Make Pineapple Buns (Bolo Bao)
- 20 grams all-purpose flour (2 tablespoons)
- 75 grams water (1/3 cup)
- safflower or any neutral oil for greasing bowl
- 145 grams whole milk (1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons)
- 18 grams granulated sugar (1 1/2 tablespoons)
- 7 grams active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
- 490 grams bread flour , (see note 1)
- 3 grams kosher salt (1 teaspoon)
- 80 grams sweetened condensed milk (4 tablespoons), (see note 2)
- 1 large egg
- 55 grams butter(4 tablespoons), melted
- 55 grams butter (4 tablespoons), at room temperature
- 135 grams superfine sugar (2/3 cup), (see note 3)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- egg yolk
- 1 tablespoon whole milk
- 120 grams all-purpose flour, (see note 4)
- 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/8 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 large egg
- 1 tablespoon whole milk
- large-sized mixing bowl
- stand mixer
- 2 large baking sheets
- parchment paper
Make the Tangzhong
- Whisk the flour and water inside a saucepan until the flour dissolves. (See note 5 for microwave directions.)
- Place the saucepan over medium heat and stir the mixture frequently. In about a minute, the flour will start to thicken. Don’t walk away during this process as you can quickly burn the tangzhong! Once the flour develops into a light paste, turn off the heat.
- Transfer the tangzhong to a bowl to cool. It will thicken as it cools.
Prepare the Dough for Buns
- Grease a large mixing bowl with oil. Set it aside.
- In a microwave-safe bowl, heat the milk for about 40 to 45 seconds. Add the sugar to the milk. Use a thermometer to check the temperature of the milk. It should be around 110ºF to 120ºF. It’s okay if you are just several degrees off.
- Add the yeast and stir to hydrate the yeast. Let it sit for 5 to 8 minutes while you prepare the other ingredients. After 5 to 8 minutes, the milk/yeast mixture will foam up.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the bread flour, salt, condensed milk, egg, melted butter, tangzhong and the foamy milk/yeast mixture.
- Fit the mixer with the dough hook. Mix the dough on low for 8 minutes (see note 6). If the dough completely spins away from the dough hook after a few minutes, turn off the mixer. Readjust the dough right into the center of the bowl and position the dough hook in the center of the dough. Run the mixer on “stir” for 15 seconds or so before you increase the speed to low.
- After 10 minutes, scrape the dough out of the bowl onto a surface and knead it several times. The dough shouldn’t be sticky, so you do not need to flour the surface.
- Shape the dough into a ball and place inside the greased mixing bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic or silicone mat. Let the dough rise in a warm area for about 1 hour to 1 hour 30 minutes, until the dough doubles in size.
Prepare the Dough for Topping
- Add the butter to the bowl of a stand mixer. Fit the mixer with the flat beater attachment. Cream the butter on medium-low until it is light and fluffy, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add the superfine sugar in two batches. The mixture will look very crumbly at this point, and that’s okay.
- Next, add the egg yolk, milk, and vanilla, and mix on low until just combined.
- In a small bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, and turmeric. Add half of the flour to the bowl with the wet ingredients, and mix on low until the flour is combined. Then, add the remaining flour and mix again. Once all the loose flour has been incorporated, increase the speed to medium-low, and keep mixing until the dough starts to come together into large chunks.
- Scrape the dough out of the bowl onto a surface. Gather it up into one large ball of dough. Transfer this to another bowl and cover it with a towel or silicone mat until the buns are done proofing.
Shape the Buns (Use Photos in Blog Post for Reference)
- Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Once doubled, punch down the dough to release excess air. Turn the dough onto a work surface. Divide the dough into 2 equal portions (450 to 456 grams each). Place 1 portion of dough back into the bowl, cover it, and refrigerate while you shape the first batch of buns.
- Next, divide the remaining dough into 6 equal pieces (74 to 76 grams each). Take one of the pieces of dough and knead it several times to get rid of any air bubbles. Then, shape this dough into a ball and transfer it to the lined baking sheet, seam side down. The dough should be about 2 inches in diameter. Repeat with the remaining 5 pieces of dough.
- Cover the balls of dough with a towel and let them rise in a warm place for 30 to 45 minutes, until they increase to 1.5 times its size (about 3 inches in diameter).
- Preheat the oven to 375ºF. If you want more golden looking pineapple buns, preheat the oven to 385ºF. Position an oven rack to the center position.
Add the Topping and Bake (Use Photos in Blog Post for Reference)
- While the buns are proofing, divide the dough for the topping into 12 pieces (about 27 to 29 grams each). Roll each piece into a ball.
- Take a plastic storage bag, and cut off the zipper. Continue cutting the bag along the edges so that you have 2 large sheets of plastic. You’ll be rolling the topping in between these plastic sheets.
- In a small bowl, prepare the egg wash by whisking an egg yolk with 1 tablespoon of milk.
- After the buns are done proofing, start rolling out the topping.
- Take a ball of the topping dough and place it on the center of a plastic sheet. Lightly flatten the dough out with the palm of your hand. Then, cover the flattened disc with the other sheet of plastic. Roll out the dough until you get a circle that is 3.5 to 3.75 inches wide.
- Peel off the top sheet of plastic, turn the topping onto your hand and carefully peel off the other sheet of plastic.
- Drape the topping over one of the buns. The topping shouldn’t cover the bun completely. The topping can burn if it touches the bottom of the baking sheet. Continue rolling out the topping and draping it over the buns.
- Brush the tops of the buns with egg wash.
- Bake the buns for 14 to 16 minutes, until the tops are lightly golden.
- Once the first batch of buns is in the oven, prepare the second batch of buns and bake.
- Let the buns cool on the baking sheet for several minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack.
- Enjoy the buns while they’re still warm! That’s when they are the tastiest.
- Measuring flour with measuring cups: I always use a scale for recipes like this, and I recommend that you do too. However, if you don’t have a scale, here’s how you would measure the flour with measuring cups. For the buns, you’ll need 4 cups + 1 tablespoon of bread flour, measured using the spoon-and-sweep method. Take a fork and fluff up the flour in your flour bag. Then, spoon flour into the measuring cup. Using a knife, level off the excess at the top. Do not tap the measuring cup on the counter to fit more flour. For the 1 tablespoon of flour, you can dip the tablespoon measure directly into the bag flour.
- Sweetened Condensed Milk: I use it to give the dough a sweet, milky flavor. You can substitute it with 2 tablespoons instant milk powder and 3 tablespoons of sugar. If you don’t have either sweetened condensed milk or milk powder, just use 3 tablespoons of sugar instead.
- Superfine Sugar is merely more finely ground granulated sugar. I am using it for this recipe because it dissolves easier and it gives the topping a nice crunch. Some brands label this as “ultrafine sugar.” If you can’t find any, you can blend regular granulated sugar in a food processor until the sugar is more finely ground. While you can use powdered sugar, the topping won’t be as crunchy. Furthermore, the powdered sugar topping goes completely soft the next day, whereas the superfine sugar topping retains a lot of its crunch.
- You need 1 cup of flour, using the spoon-and-sweep measuring method.
- Place the bowl into the microwave, and heat the flour and water mixture for 20 seconds on high. Take the bowl out of the microwave, stir everything and check the consistency of the mixture. Continue heating the mixture at 5 to 6 second intervals, stirring in between, until you get a thick paste.
- Because of the large amount of dough in the bowl, the mixer will shake pretty violently if you try to mix the dough at a higher speed. For the sake of preserving the longevity of my stand mixer, I opted to mix the dough at a lower speed.