Thursday, September 8, 2011

Old-school Coconut Buns

I have been feeling very nostalgic nowadays, a feeling of nostalgia has suddenly crept over me without any forewarning. Anything that is old-school, anything that hails from my childhood days, anything that is from Singapore. And those sudden food-cravings, oh gosh, they drive me crazy.....cravings at 12 midnight of char kway teow, hainanese chicken rice, nasi lemak, coconut buns, char siew buns, tangyuan, bak chang, nonya kuehs, and all the goodies. I must be either getting old or homesick...

I remember when I was young (which was not too long ago by the way), there weren't as many bakeries in Singapore as today. No big bakery chains such as BreadTalk or Bengawan Solo or Four Leaves. Bakeries or confectioneries as they were called in those days, were usually family-run businesses tucked in HDB estates, catering to folks living nearby. Unlike the current modernized bakeries in shopping centres which churn out fanciful breads and pastries with unimaginable names and fillings, old-school confectioneries only served a limited variety of baked buns or breads, usually char siew buns, coconut buns, kaya buns, curry buns or hotdog buns. Such is the charm of these old-school confectioneries, that they never fail to evoke a feeling of nostalgia and much cherished childhood memories. Nevermind that the shop decor hails from the 1970s and nevermind that the facade of the shop looks like it badly needs a facelift, what pulls in the crowds are, tradition and heritage. And people keep going back to these confectioneries, to get a slice of the heritage and old charm which have been vanishing quickly in the concrete jungle of Singapore.

Now, enough of reminiscence. As much as I would like to jump on a flight immediately to Singapore to soak up the charm of those 1970s confectioneries and to devour a slice of those old-school buns , I can't, which means I have to roll up my sleeves and bake them myself. Not too bad an idea, just a matter of choosing the right bun to start with and finding the right recipe. Since the craving for old-school coconut buns got so strong yesterday, I decided I have to bake some to alleviate my constant 12-midnight hunger pangs. 

I decided to follow Pusiva's recipe as I have bookmarked it a long time ago but never got a chance to start on it. The coconut fillings were really simple to make and it tasted heavenly, neither too sweet nor too wet, just the right consistency. But the dough was a bit sticky, luckily I could salvage it by adding just 1 more tbsp of flour and kneading it in a bread machine.

All was plain-sailing until I popped the buns in the oven, and went upstairs to continue surfing my facebook. Tick tock, tick tock. I forgot to keep an eye on my buns downstairs and before I even realised, they had become almost "chao tar", a bit too brown for my liking! Such beautiful buns, more than 2 hours of effort nearly destroyed in a moment of folly! I was sulking immediately, feeling guilty about not keeping watch over my coconut buns. Luckily, the appearance of the buns belied the juiciness of the coconut fillings within, much to my relief. Actually they weren't burnt, they looked as if they were, but they just got a bit too brown due to the egg-wash. The coconut fillings was absolutely delicious and the buns were soft, just like what I imagine old-school coconut buns to be. I baked 10 buns, finished 2 when they came straight out of the oven, ate another 1 at 9pm as supper and gobbled yet another 1 at 12 midnight before I went to sleep. My little boy ate one and he said it was lekker, while dear Hubby not to be outdone by me, took the rest to work. So there was only 1 left for my breakfast the next morning. :(

Adapted from Pusiva's recipe

2 cups plain flour (220g)
1.5 tsp dried yeast
4 tbsp sugar
0.5 tsp salt

1/2 cup milk (118 ml or 8 tbsp)
1/4 cup butter (55g)
1 egg

Coconut Fillings
1 cup grated/dessicated coconut (100g)
1/3 cup gula melaka/palm sugar (65g) *
1/2 cup water (118 ml or 8 tbsp)
1 tbsp plain flour

Egg Wash
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp water

*Gula melaka/palm sugar can be substituted by brown sugar.

1. Mix together the flour, yeast, sugar and salt. Set aside.

2. Heat milk and butter until the butter melts. (Alternatively you can microwave the milk and butter at high mode for 30 to 45 seconds and stir it until it melts.) Pour the melted milk and butter into the flour mixture, then add in the egg. Knead the dough until smooth and shiny. Cover and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour or until doubled in size. (If the dough is too sticky, add 1 tbsp or more of flour.)

3. Meanwhile, heat the water and palm sugar in a non-stick pot at medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Add the grated coconut and flour. Stir constantly until the mixture becomes a soft paste. Remove from heat and let the coconut fillings cool down.

4. Punch down the dough and knead gently on a lightly floured surface. Divide the dough into 10 equal sized balls. At the same time, divide the coconut fillings also into 10 portions. Flatten each ball with your palm, roll it out with a rolling-pin into a circle, fill it with a portion of coconut fillings and seal the bun neatly. Gently rotate the bun repeatedly until it forms a smooth-skinned ball. Place each bun into a lined and greased baking tray. Cover the tray with a greased clingwrap and let the buns rise again in a warm place until nearly doubled in size, approximately 45 minutes.

5. Beat together the egg yolk and water. Egg wash the buns. Bake in a preheated oven at 190° C for 20 minutes. Watch out if the buns turn brown, quickly cover with a piece of aluminium foil.

Note: Since the buns are made of coconut fillings, they do not conserve well in a warm environment, hence it is best to keep in a cool place or in a fridge. You can then warm up the buns in the oven for few min or in a microwave for 30 seconds just before eating.

This post has been submitted to YeastSpotting.


  1. I was craving coconut buns today and came across your recipe. They look so delicious that I have to give them a try today!

  2. Hi there, just to drop you a note to say 'Hi'. Thank you for sharing all you experiences making those Asian bread on the internet. As a fellow Singaporean but now living in Hk, I was particularly touched by your recipe blog on making those Singaporean old-school coconut buns as I can personally relate to how you must have felt. I've never tried making any asian breads but I probably will start doing so. Don't stop blogging because there are people who are like me who appreciates what you do :)

    1. Hi Sophie,
      Thank you very much for your kind words, appreciate it :)


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