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Coconut cocktail buns

My dad worked in Chinatown for decades, and when my brothers and I were young he’d occasionally bring home a bright pink box filled with Asian bakery treats. These coconut buns (or gai mei bao) were always a family favorite. The best part of gai mei bao is the buttery coconut filling, so I’ve packed a generous amount into this homemade version. The bread dough uses the “tangzhong” technique, which involves cooking a portion of the flour with liquid in order to give the bread a longer-lasting soft texture. 




  • 25 g (3 tablespoons) bread flour
  • 125 g (1/2 cup) milk


  • 225 g (1-3/4 cups plus 1 tablespoon) bread flour
  • 125 g (1 cup) all-purpose flour
  • 46 g (3-1/2 tablespoon) sugar
  • 7 g (1-3/4 teaspoon) kosher salt
  • 21 g (3 tablespoons) milk powder
  • 6 g (2 teaspoons) instant yeast
  • 63 g (1/4 cup) heavy cream, at room temperature
  • 63 g (1/4 cup) milk, at room temperature
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • All the tangzhong
  • 56 g (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature


  • 168 g (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 74 g (1/3 cup plus 2 teaspoons) granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 47 g (1/3 cup plus 2 teaspoons) cake flour
  • 56 g (8 tablespoons) milk powder
  • 90 g (1 cup) unsweetened desiccated coconut

Topping and finishing:

  • 63 g (4-1/2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 38 g (3 tablespoons) granulated sugar
  • 60 g (scant 1/2 cup) cake flour
  • 1 large egg, whisked with 1 teaspoon milk or water and a pinch of salt, for egg wash, divided
  • Sesame seeds, for garnishing
  • Simple syrup or warmed honey (optional)



  1. In a small saucepan, whisk the flour and milk together until smooth. Cook over medium-low heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens enough for the whisk to leave lines on the bottom of the pan, about five minutes. 
  2. Transfer the tangzhong to a clean container and press plastic wrap directly on the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Let cool to room temperature before using. 


  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the flours, sugar, salt, milk powder, yeast, cream, milk, egg, and tangzhong. Mix on medium-low until the dough is smooth, about three to five minutes.
  2. Turn the mixer to low and add the butter about one tablespoon at a time, incorporating each batch before adding the next. Turn the speed up to medium and continue kneading until the dough is smooth and supple and passes the windowpane test, about ten minutes.
  3. Shape the dough into a smooth ball and transfer to a clean, lightly oiled container. Cover and let rise at warm room temperature, 78 to 80°F (26 to 27°C) until doubled, about 60 to 90 minutes.
  4. While the dough is proofing, make the filling and topping. 

Filling and topping:

  1. To make the filling, cream together the butter, sugar, and salt until well combined, about two to three minutes. Add the cake flour, milk powder, and coconut and mix to combine. Divide the mixture into 12 equal portions, about 36 grams each. Roll each portion into a short log about 3-1/2 inches (9 cm) long. Cover until ready to use.
  2. To make the topping, cream together the butter and sugar until smooth. Add the cake flour and mix well. Transfer the mixture to a re-sealable bag and snip off a corner for piping. (The mixture is rather thick and is easier to pipe from a re-sealable bag as opposed to a piping bag.) 


  1. Transfer the proofed dough to a clean floured surface. Gently deflate and divide the dough into twelve equal portions. Shape into smooth balls. Cover with lightly oiled plastic wrap and let rest for ten minutes. Meanwhile, line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. To shape a bun, turn the roll or press out a portion of the dough into an oval shape, about 3 x 5 inches (8 x 13 cm). Place a portion of filling in the middle of the oval lengthwise. Fold the dough in half and pinch the edges well to seal in the filling—make sure to really pinch tight so the filling doesn’t leak out during baking! Turn the bun seam side down. Pinch the ends and gently roll back and forth a few times to seal well. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet, seam side down. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling.
  3. Once all the buns are shaped, brush with the egg wash and cover with lightly oiled plastic wrap. Let proof at warm room temperature, 78 to 80°F (26 to 27°C) until noticeably puffy, about 45 to 60 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C) with a rack in the middle.
  4. Right before baking, lightly brush the buns with a second coat of the egg wash. Pipe two stripes of topping on each bun, about 1 inch (2.5 cm) from each end. Sprinkle with sesame seeds.
  5. Bake for about 18 to 20 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack. Brush the tops with simple syrup or warmed honey, if desired. Cool for about ten minutes before serving. Buns are best slightly warm from the oven. Store leftover buns in a sealed plastic bag at room temperature for two to three days. Microwave them briefly to restore their soft texture. 

Baker's Notes:

  1. Desiccated coconut provides the best texture for the filling—it is finer than regular shredded coconut. If you can’t find desiccated coconut, pulse an equal weight of shredded coconut in a food processor until fine. 


  1. Sandwich Loaf: This dough can be baked as a single loaf in a 9 x 5–inch (23 x 13–cm) loaf pan or a 9 x 4–inch (23 x 10–cm) Pullman pan. Omit the coconut filling and topping. Follow the directions for shaping in Soft Sourdough Sandwich Bread (page 114). Bake at 350°F (175°C) for about 30 to 40 minutes.
  2. Curry Beef Buns: Substitute the coconut filling with Curry Beef Filling (page 136). Instead of flattening each dough portion into an oval, flatten into a round with the edges thinner than the middle. Place a generous spoonful of filling in the center. Pull the edges of the dough over the filling and pinch together well to seal in the filling. Place the buns seam side down. Proof and bake as directed, omitting the piped topping but garnishing with sesame seeds.
  3. Cinnamon Rolls: This dough can be used to make a yeasted version of the sourdough cinnamon rolls or any of its variations. Follow the filling and shaping directions in Sourdough Cinnamon Rolls (page 118) and the proofing and baking times above.

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