Pineapple buns, also known as bolo buns or melon pan, are likely one of the most popular items in Asian bakeries. In this recipe, I'll show you how to make these at home. After refining my recipe by making over a hundred pineapple buns, I believe my recipe can help you make pineapple buns that are even better than what you can get from your local Asian bakery.
What is a pineapple bun
Pineapple bun is basically a soft and fluffy milk bun topped with a cookie layer that provides a contrasting texture. Just like the baked custard bun, the pineapple bun is one of the most popular and classic buns in Taiwan bakeries. These are called pineapple buns because the pattern on the top of the bun somewhat resembles the the pattern on a pineapple. So there’s actually no pineapple involved in this recipe.
How to make great tasting milk buns that are soft and fluffy
There are several different tips for making a milk bun with a dreamy texture that’s soft, fluffy, pillowy and can pull apart in silky strands. Here are my main tips:
Try using the tangzhong method
The tangzhong method is an easy way to upgrade the texture of bread. All you need to do is to heat up a small amount of the liquid and the flour together and add the mixture into your dough. You can get more information from King Arthur Flour and American’s Test Kitchen if you like to know more about the science behind it.
There are different ways to do Tangzhong, and the one I’m showing you in this recipe is my favorite one because it’s easy and super effective. Simply mix some boiling water with bread flour, then store the resulting dough in the fridge overnight (or 8 hours) and it’s ready to be added to your main dough when needed!
However, if you prefer not to use the Tangzhong method, you can use the dough recipe from my Asian bakery style dinner roll, which will also work out very well.
Start with cold liquid
I know many of you may be skeptical with this one — aren’t we supposed to use warm water to activate the yeast? Will the dough rise if I use cold liquid? Let me explain. When you are making bread, instant (rapid-rise) yeast is your best friend. It doesn’t need to be pre-activated with warm water, just adding it directly into the mixture with other ingredients will do. I highly recommend using Saf instant yeast, as I was surprised by how much better my bread tasted after I began using it. I tried both regular and gold one and both work very well.
In order to achieve a dreamy bun texture, a lot of kneading is required. We need to knead the dough until the surface of the dough is smooth and can pass the windowpane test (meaning that you should be able to stretch the dough into a smooth and nearly see-though membrane).
Kneading generates heat, and we don’t want our dough to become too warm (ideally never going above 82°F) during the kneading process. If the dough ever gets too warm, then (1) the flavor of the resulting bread will suffer, the bread itself will (2) have a rougher texture and will (3) be prone to getting stale quickly. That’s why we want to start with using a cold liquid. I learned this technique relatively recently from some professional bakers in Taiwan, and it really leveled up the texture of the Asian breads that I make.
Try the Autolyse method
I highly recommend trying the Autolyse method. This method simply consists of allowing the dough to rest for 30 minutes for the gluten to develop right after forming the dough and before adding salt and butter. Using the Autolyse method is almost like cheating on your (windowpane) test, as it really makes developing the proper dough for this recipe nearly fool-proof. This is why the instructions in the recipe box includes this resting step.
Use a scale
It’s important to weigh your ingredients with a scale instead of using a measuring cup, since the cup of flour I measure will easily be different than the cup of flour you measure due to differences in how we handle the measurement. Making Asian buns/breads requires a higher accuracy than normal bread, and it is how I developed this recipe. I used this OXO kitchen scale that’s recommended by Cook’s Illustrated, but any cheaper one will work just fine!
Storing and reheating
The bun portion can last up to three days in room temperature and still be soft and yummy; however, If you are not eating these on the first day, I would recommend storing them in the freezer once they’re cool in order to maintain the best texture. When you want to eat them, just bake in the oven at 350°F (180°C) for 10 minutes or until the top becomes crispy. Don’t store these in the fridge, or else they will become dry and stale.
If you choose to keep the buns in room temperature and the cookie top looses its crispiness (this usually happens a few hours after coming out from the oven), simply bake them for 3-5 minutes and they will be awesome and crispy again.
Don't Forget to Try
Pineapple Bun (Taiwanese Style)
- 30 g boiling water, 2 tbsp
- 25 g bread flour, 2½ tbsp
- 70 g unsalted butter, 5 tbsp, softened but not too soft
- 60 g powdered sugar, ¼ cup + 2 tbsp
- 25 g beaten egg, use the rest of the egg from making bread dough
- 100 g bread flour, ¾ cup + 1 tbsp
- 15 g dry milk powder, 2 tbsp, see note
- 250 g bread flour, 2 cup
- 30 g cake flour , ¼ cup, see note if you don't have cake flour
- 10 g dry milk powder, 1 tbsp, optional
- 30 g sugar, 2 tbsp
- 15 g honey, a little bit less than 1 tbsp
- 1 tsp instant yeast, preferably saf instant yeast
- 25 g beaten egg from a large egg, ½ large egg, ⅛ cup, save the rest for making cookie top
- 80 g cold whole milk
- 60 g cold water , cannot be replaced with milk
- all tanzhong paste
- 4 g sea salt , ½ tsp
- 30 g unsalted butter, cut into 6 - 8 pieces
- egg wash, or powder sugar
Make Tanzhong the Night Before
- Measure 25 grams of bread flour in a bowl. Set the kitchen scale to zero with the flour and bowl on it and pour in 30 grams of boiling water. Stir until combined to form a sticky dough.
- Let it cool down before storing in the fridge overnight or for 8 hours. Use it within 24 hours.
- In a bowl, mix butter and powdered sugar together with a spoon or spatula. Add the egg mixture in three batches into the mixture, incorporating one batch before adding the next. An egg beater is recommended for this process.
- Add bread flour and dry milk powder, fold a few times until the butter mixture is all coated with flour before pouring onto a working surface.
- Use a bench knife (dough cutter) to fold and press with your palm until the flour and the butter mixture are well combined. You can also do this in a big mixing bowl and use a spatula to press and fold until you can't see any dry flour.
- Place the cookie top mixture on a piece of plastic wrap and roll it into a log. Twist the two ends to seal and store it in the fridge until ready to use.
- Add all the ingredients for the dough except for sea salt and butter into the stand mixer and knead on low speed until the dough is formed.
- Cover the mixing bowl and let it rest for 30 minutes.
- When it's done resting, add salt and continue to knead the dough on low for 30 seconds
- Add butter cubes one at a time and knead until the dough is very smooth and passes the windowpane test. (This step usually takes me about 6-7 minutes, with 5 minutes on low speed and 1 -2 minute on medium speed. The actual time it takes you depends on your mixer.)
- Form the dough into a ball (it will be very sticky, but if it's too sticky to handle, then add a little bread flour and knead for another 1~2 minutes) and put it in a lightly greased bowl. Cover, and let it rise for 1 hour to 1.5 hours in a warm place (about 82°F to 90°F) until it doubles in size.
- Transfer the dough onto a working surface and cut it into 8 even pieces. Flatten the dough to deflate it before rolling each piece into a ball.
- Take the cookie dough out from the fridge and cut it into 8 even pieces.
- Take one piece and roll it into a ball, put it between the plastic wrap and press it down with the bench knife to form a disk. I prefer having the cookie top covering the entire surface of the bun, so I usually press the edges down with my fingers to make it bigger and thinner before cover it on the bun.
- Place the cookie dough on the bun and wrap it over the top side carefully. Make sure to let the cookie dough stick directly to the bun dough without any gaps. Repeat the same for the rest of the buns and place them on a lined baking tray with 2½" (6 cm) space between each. If you cannot work fast enough before the cookie dough begins to soften, store half in the fridge until you are ready to work on them.
- Use a bench knife to make the classic criss cross patterns on the top of the buns if you like. You can also just let it split naturally after proofing, depending on your preference.
- Cover with plastic wrap and let it rise in a warm place (around 80-85°F) for around 60 minutes or until the expanding dough causes cracks/separation in the cookie top.
- Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C) towards the end of the proofing process.
- Brush the top with egg wash or dust a layer of powdered sugar. Bake for 16 minutes or until the top is golden brown and crispy.
- Place the buns on a cooling rack and let it cool down for 5 minutes before enjoying.