I love bread. In any manner or form. At restaurants, I dig into the bread-basket and fiddle with the different varieties. When I’m traveling, I love to see what kind of fantastical artisan bread is being made or native to whichever culture I’m visiting. At home, when time permits it, I love nothing more than to wake up around dawn and leave yeasty dough to rise while the sun comes up (usually a weekend or a vacation practice!). The way the scent freshly baked bread fills the house is both warm and comforting and there’s nothing like it in the world. Somehow, while bread is baking, all is well.
So, in the past, I’ve toyed with various kinds of bread – pita, naan, brioche, focaccia, vegan varieties, fruit varieties, even stuffed varieties… and every so often, I explore what’s out there by doing research. It recently I found that the Samoans bake their bread while its bubbling in a bath of coconut milk, and is known as Pani Popo. Soft, succulent and coco-nutty, the bread is meant to be eaten alone, as a dessert, or with anything savory, and doubles as a dinner roll. This recipe adopts a similar concept to that of Pani Popo, where a smooth dough is made using coconut milk as the main liquid, left to rise, then baked in a hot oven for 25-30 minutes in a sweet bath of coconut milk, bubbling away and absorbing it all to form perfectly browned, slightly sweet and sticky buns that are soft and just delicious. It also occurred to me, after tinkering with the original Pani Popo recipe, that everything used here is non-dairy. This recipe is 100% vegan. I’m sure that’ll come in handy to someone somewhere!
3 cups flour
2 teaspoons yeast
¼ cup warm water
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 400g can of coconut milk (or coconut cream)
¼ cup sugar
Preheat oven to 200.C
In a cup, mix warm water and yeast together and set aside for about 5 minutes until yeast starts to froth.
Put flour in a large plastic bowl, and add yeasty water, 1-tablespoon olive oil, and salt, and mix with a metal spoon.
Gradually, add ¾ of the can of coconut milk to the flour, mixing with a wooden spoon. Set aside remaining ¼ of coconut milk, and dig in with your fingers, kneading until it comes together into smooth dough that isn’t too sticky.
Use remaining tablespoon of olive oil to oil another bowl. Place dough in there, cover with a towel, and leave to rise for about an hour in a warm place.
Once arisen, punch down dough and divide into 8 to 10 parts. Roll each part into a ball, and place evenly in a ceramic or Pyrex dish (I used a ceramic skillet in my case). Cover and leave to rise for an additional 15 minutes.
While the rolls are rising, dissolve sugar in remaining coconut milk. Pour the milk over and around the rolls, finishing off with a sprinkle of sugar on each roll.
Bake in the oven for about 20-30 minutes, until arisen and surface is slightly golden.
Remove from the oven, and serve warm or cold.
Note: You’ll find the crust at the top is slightly hard once it’s out of the oven. Let the bread cool slightly, cover, and leave for 15 minutes. The crusts will soften on their own.