Dense and richly sweet dinner rolls stuffed with buttery, caramelized coconut, this recipe is goes out to all the crazy coconut fanatics. While they might not be the prettiest, they are seriously to die for, and that’s really all that matters.
Pan de coco, meaning coconut bread in Spanish, refers to two different types of breads, one popular in Honduras and the other in the Philippines. In Honduras, the pan de coco is not sweet despite having coconut milk and meat infused in the dough and is typically served with savory foods such as stews. By contrast, pan de coco from the Philippines is a dessert bread filled with a sweet shredded coconut and is served as a dessert or snack. This recipe is a version of the Philippines bread.
In the 1600’s, Spanish settlers most likely took pan de coco from Central America and introduced it to Southeast Asia. Because there is very little resemblance between the Honduras and Filipino version of pan de coco, it is unknown how the Filipinos adapted the Spanish name for their bread. The Philippines have many variations on this bread. Some have sweetened coconut milk in the dough while others are stuffed with coconut custard or shredded coconut. These buns are often enjoyed as a teatime snack.
Like my previous Russian Rose Bread recipe, this recipe is fairly straightforward. Again, the hardest part to the recipe is probably working with the yeast. You can read my explanation of working with yeast dough here. The egg yolks, milk, and butter provide the bread with the richness that is typically of dessert breads, and the egg wash brushed on top gives the buns their glossy shine. The combination of bread flour and all-purpose flour gives the bread its chewy texture and sturdy crust. If you don’t have bread flour, you can just use all-purpose flour. It’s not the end of the world, but I definitely can tell a noticeable difference in the texture of the buns when using bread flour.
Quick science lesson! The difference between all the various flours – cake, all-purpose, bread – is their protein content. Cake flour has the least amount of protein, all-purpose is in between, and bread flour has the most. When we knead dough, we transform the protein into gluten which forms something like a sturdy, mesh structure. This is great for yeast breads because the gluten allows the dough to trap the CO2 released from the yeast, causing dough to rise. The developed gluten also ensures a hearty crust and chewy interior. On the other hand, you don’t want to develop the gluten when you are making brownies, cakes, or cookies because then you’ll be stuck with a dense, tough pastry. Bottom line: if you want the baked good to be soft and tender, go with all-purpose or cake flour. If you want them to be firmer and chewier, go with bread flour.
Some recipes use white sugar for the filling, but I prefer to use dark brown sugar because it provides better flavor. While baking in the oven, the brown sugar caramelizes with the butter, deepening their flavor and infusing into the bread. You could also choose whether to use sweetened or unsweetened coconut. I chose sweetened coconut because I go all out, but I’m sure there is enough brown sugar that unsweetened coconut won’t make much of a difference.
Forming the buns reminded me of making dumplings. Each piece of dough is flattened into a disk, a small amount of filling is placed in the center, and the edges of the dough are pinched together to encapsulate the filling.
This recipe is adapted from Pinoy Cooking Recipes.
- ½ cup warm water, about 110-115 degrees F
- 2 ¼ tsp. or 1 package active dry yeast
- 3 egg yolks
- ¾ cup milk, room temperature
- ½ cup melted butter
- ¼ cup + 1 tbsp. sugar
- 3 cups bread flour
- 1 ½ cup all-purpose flour
- ½ tsp. salt
- 1 egg, beaten with a little milk or water
- 1 cup dark brown sugar
- 1 cup shredded coconut, sweetened or unsweetened
- 1 ½ tbsp. softened butter
- 1 tsp vanilla
Dissolve 1 tbsp. of sugar and the yeast in the warm water. Let it proof for about 5 minutes or until it foams up and gives off its distinctive yeasty smell. Then combine the yeast mixture, egg yolks, milk, butter, and sugar in a standing mixer fitted with a dough hook attachment.
When all the wet ingredients are combine, add the flour and salt. Knead on a medium speed for 5-6 minutes or until the dough is smooth and slightly tacky to touch. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl, cover, and let it rise for an hour in a warm, draft-free place.
In a small bowl, combine the ingredients for the filling, mix well, and set aside.
Once the dough has risen for an hour, punch the air out of the dough, roll it into a log, and cut it into 12 equal pieces. Flatten the dough and till with about 1-1 ½ tbsp. of the coconut brown sugar filling. Pinch the sides of the round together so there are no open spaces or gaps. Place the buns seam-side down on a greased baking tray. Cover with a clean kitchen towel, and let them rise for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Brush the tops of the buns with the egg wash, and bake for 20-25 minutes or until the tops are golden-brown. Serve warm with milk, tea, or coffee.
Early Mornings and Parades
An involuntary yawn escaped Gene as he shifted uncomfortably on the concrete road. All this sitting was making his butt hurt. It was seven in the morning, and he was helping stake out a spot for the Grand Street Parade along Session Road for his friends Jane, Taylor and Derek. When they arrived in the Philippines, they were unprepared for how crowded and popular the country was during the end of February, but they quickly learned that Baguio City held the annual Flower Festival which drew in a lot of tourists from all around the world. Apparently it was a celebration that symbolized the rise of Baguio from a huge earthquake they had. Gene and his friends didn’t purposely plan to arrive to the Philippines during the festival, but they figured it was a good idea to see it since it was so hyped up.
Gene and his friends took shifts reserving their spot on the side of the road since they were told it fills up very quickly, and they weren’t kidding. Jane had to come out around 4am because people were already beginning to camp out on the roadside. While his friends took earlier shifts, Gene got to sleep in, but now they were out getting breakfast while Gene protected their spot. He didn’t mind too much because he’d take sleep over food, and his friends promised they’d bring him something to eat anyways.
It was pleasant out, close to 70 degrees Fahrenheit or 21 degrees Celsius as the Philippines and the rest of the world went by. Session Road was now completely packed with tourists and natives, young and old. A mixture of English and Filipino flew around making Gene’s head spin. There were a couple police officers meandering about to make sure noting too crazy went on.
Gene flagged down a man walking by who was selling something called Strawberry Taho. Gene had never had of a Strawberry Taho before but he was getting hungry at this point, and the twelve hour jet lag was seriously messing with him. He handed the vendor 20 Philippine pesos which amounted to something like 50 cents in USD. The vendor grabbed a spoon and a plastic cup filling it with some soft white stuff, Tapioca pearls (Gene was familiar with that), and poured some strawberry sugar syrup over the top. Gene curiously sniffed it before taking a bite of the taho. He immediately realized that the white stuff was tofu, and paired with the chewy tapioca pearls, they formed in interesting texture. He liked the strawberry stuff, but overall it was very… different. Gene wasn’t sure if he liked it.
“Gene!” he heard a familiar voice call out, and Gene spotted his friends pushing through the crowd. Gene’s attention zeroed in on the paper bag and cup of coffee in Taylor’s hands. Thank God. He didn’t really want to finish the Strawberry Taho.
“Here’s your breakfast,” Taylor said, handing Gene the items.
The smell of sweet bakery wafted from the bag along with the familiar smell of coffee. Gene reached into the bag and pulled out a bun that looked very similar to a dinner roll. Without asking, Gene bit into the roll and was surprised to find that it was filled with a sugar coconut
“Good isn’t it?” Derrek grinned. “They call it pan de coco. Funny how they use Spanish over here. These things are like the best sellers in the bakeries. And it was so cheap!”
“This is heavenly,” Gene said with his full mouth. And he didn’t even like coconut.
The Grand Street Parade began at 8am with a massive marching band and street dancers. The marching band members were dressed in bright, colorful uniforms with all their shining instruments while the dancers twirled flags to the music. There were also traditional Igorot dancers which comprised of men only dressed in loin clothes. The whole performance made Gene slightly uncomfortable. The parade finished with more dancers in bright orange and yellow costumes. The whole parade lasted about an hour.
Already exhausted from traveling and waking up early to watch the parade, Gene and his friends headed back through the dispersing crowd to their hotel rooms. They had to rest and recharge if they wanted to come back out Sunday morning to watch the Grand Float Parade.