Pineapple buns (bolo bao in Chinese) are one of the classic pastry staples in Chinese bakeries. They’re named after the way the cookie topping crackles after it’s baked, giving the tops of the buns a pineapple-like appearance.
I distinctively remember the first time I had a pineapple bun, the crunchy sweet topping took me by surprise contrasted by the soft texture of the milk bun at the base. They’re hopelessly addicting and are commonly had as a breakfast pastry or afternoon snack. Pineapple buns only need a couple ingredients that are easily found in most supermarkets, and because it’s a snack I love so much I’ve practiced this recipe numerous times to make sure I got it right. I hope these tips and tricks help you too!
HOW TO MAKE PINEAPPLE BUNS
MAKE THE TANGZHONG FOR THE DOUGH
I wanted the buns to have a soft and fluffy texture that is commonly found in most asian pastries. Because of that, I adapted my taro milk bread recipe to use as the base for these pineapple buns. One of the most important elements in making soft and fluffy milk bread is starting the dough with tangzhong.
Tangzhong is a specific technique of heating flour and water into a paste that is added to bread dough. By doing this, the tangzhong guarantees that the bread you’re making will have a lighter, fluffier texture. It also helps the bread stay fluffier for longer – eliminating having to worry about whether your bread will go stale in 1-2 days.
To make tangzhong, mix 2 tablespoons of bread flour with 3 tablespoons of whole milk and 3 tablespoons of water. Heat this mixture over the stove or in the microwave until it becomes a thick paste. Stir frequently with a fork or a whisk to get rid of any lumps of flour. Once the paste has formed, set it aside and allow it to cool before adding it to the rest of the dough.
MAKE THE DOUGH
Gather the rest of the dough ingredients into the bowl of a stand mixer. Because of the amount of kneading required to create strong gluten strands for this bread recipe, I recommend kneading this dough using a stand mixer. I am using the Kitchenaid Artisan 5Qt Stand Mixer for this recipe, so my kneading times are specifically for that mixer with this dough quantity. If you’re kneading by hand, I would add an extra 5-10 minutes to the knead time depending on your level of kneading.
KNEAD THE DOUGH
Mix the dough on speed 2 for 5 minutes in the stand mixer. Then increase to speed 4 for another 5-6 minutes. Lastly, increase the kneading to speed 6 for 5+ minutes until the dough becomes smooth, elastic, and passes the windowpane test. Kneading by this mixer could take up to 15+ minutes so be patient! When kneading at speeds 4 and above, the mixer can rattle and shake very vigorously so I would advise to hold down the mixer while it’s kneading.
I have tried kneading the dough at lower speeds (speed 2) for longer periods of time but it doesn’t get the same type of fluffiness as I do when I knead the dough at speeds 4 and 6. For proper fluffy milkbread texture, the dough needs to be aggressively kneaded and this seems to only be possible using speeds 4 and above.
One the dough has been properly kneaded, turn it over to a floured work surface and fold it into a smooth ball. The dough should be smooth, slightly tacky, but still easy to handle. Place the ball of dough into a large slightly greased bowl and cover it with a towel or plastic wrap. Let the dough rise for 60 to 90 minutes, until the dough doubles in size (see picture above!).
MAKE THE PINEAPPLE BUN TOPPING
While the bread dough is rising, make the pineapple bun cookie topping. This is a simple mixture of creamed butter and sugar, egg yolk, milk, milk powder, bread flour, baking powder and baking soda, and a dash of salt. Some recipes include vanilla extract in this recipe, but I chose to omit it here. Feel free to add it in if you so desire!
Once the topping is mixed, I like to shape it into a log and chill in the fridge for easy portioning later on.
SHAPE THE BUNS
Once the dough has doubled in size, gently deflate the dough and divide it into 12 equal pieces. Each piece will be about 55g.
Shape each piece into a ball and place onto a pan lined with parchment paper. You will be able to fit 6 buns per pan. Cover the buns and allow to rise for 40 to 50 minutes, until puffy.
Towards the end of the second rising time, preheat the oven to 350°F and remove the log of cookie topping from the refrigerator. Allow the topping to rest on the counter for 10 to 15 minutes to make it easier to handle.
Slice the log into 12 equal pieces, about 31g each or roughly 1/2″ wide. Place a piece between pieces of parchment paper or plastic wrap and flatten with your palm until a 2 1/2″ disc forms. You can also use a rolling pin to form the circle for a more precise cookie top, but it doesn’t have to be perfect.
Optional step: Use a bench scraper to carve slight pineapple-like lines on the cookie tops. This enhances the crackling when the cookie top bakes but it isn’t at all necessary (see picture below as an example).
Drape each cookie topping over the bun (it won’t cover the entire surface) and gently press down to secure it.
Brush the cookie topping with the beaten egg yolk. This gives the buns their dark golden color and enhances the look of the pineapple effect.
Bake the buns at 350ºF for 16 to 20 minutes or until the topping is golden brown and crackled.
Pineapple Buns (Bolo Bao) – An Asian Bakery Classic
- 3 tbs water
- 3 tbs milk whole preferred
- 2 tbs bread flour
- ½ cup milk (113g) whole preferred, cold
- 2½ cup bread flour (300g)
- 2 tbs dry milk powder (14g)
- ¼ cup granulated suguar
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tbs instant yeast
- 1 large egg
- 4 tbs unsalted butter (57g) melted
- 4 tbs butter (57g) softened
- ⅔ cup granulated sugar (132g)
- 1 large egg yolk
- 1 tbs milk whole preferred
- 1 cup bread flour (120g)
- ¼ cup dry milk powder (28g)
- ¼ tsp baking soda
- ¼ tsp baking powder
- ¼ tsp salt
- 1 large egg
- 1 tbs milk
Make the Cookie Topping
- In a large bowl or bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until smooth, about 1 to 2 minutes.
- Add the egg yolk and milk, then mix until smooth. Add the flour, milk powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Mix until thoroughly combined. If the dough seems dry, add more milk a teaspoon at a time.
- Form the dough into a log about 6" long and 1 1/2" wide and wrap tightly in parchment or plastic wrap. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Make the Tangzhong
- Combine all of the ingredients in a small saucepan and whisk until no lumps remain.
- Place the saucepan over low heat and cook the mixture, whisking constantly, until thick and the whisk leaves lines on the bottom of the pan, about 3 to 5 minutes.
- Transfer the tangzhong to a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer.
Make the Dough
- Pour the cold milk over the tangzhong to help it cool to lukewarm.
- Weigh your flour; or measure it by gently spooning it into a cup, then sweeping off any excess. Add the flour and remaining dough ingredients to the bowl with the tangzhong, then mix and knead — by mixer or bread machine — until a smooth, elastic dough forms; this could take almost 15 minutes in a stand mixer.
- Shape the dough into a ball, and let it rest in a lightly greased bowl, covered, for 60 to 90 minutes, until puffy but not necessarily doubled in bulk.
- Lightly grease two baking sheets, or line with parchment paper. On a lightly floured surface, gently deflate the dough and divide it into 12 equal pieces, about 55g each.
- Shape each piece into a ball and place onto the prepared pan. You will be able to fit 6 buns per pan.
- Cover buns and allow to rise for 40 to 50 minutes, until puffy.
Shape, Assemble, and Bake the Buns
- Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 350°F and remove the log of cookie topping from the refrigerator. Allow the topping to rest on the counter for 10 to 15 minutes to make it easier to handle.
- Slice the log into 12 equal pieces, about 31g each or roughly 1/2" wide. Place a piece between pieces of parchment paper or plastic wrap and flatten with your palm until a 2 1/2" disc forms. You can also use a rolling pin to form the circle for a more precise cookie top, but it doesn’t have to be perfect.
- Brush the top of each bun with the beaten egg yolk — just a dab in the center will do. (Brushing the entire surface will cause the cookie topping to shift during baking.) Drape each cookie topping over the bun (it won't cover the entire surface) and gently press down to secure it.
- Brush the cookie topping with the beaten egg yolk and bake for 18 to 22 minutes, until the topping is golden brown and crackly.
- Remove from the pans from oven and transfer them to a rack to cool for 15 minutes before enjoying!
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