A white cermic plate topped with five round pineapple buns baked with a golden flakey topping

Pineapple Buns (Bolo Bao)

Delicious pineapple buns – soft and fluffy milk bread, topped with a sweet, crumbly, and golden topping. Growing up, I had the privilege of living close to three Chinatowns. These neighborhoods are predominately made up of Chinese cuisine so they were sprinkled with many Chinese bakeries, which played a large role in my childhood as they were for my mom and her mom before her. These bakeries carry an huge assortment of yummy treats, from puff pastries and milk bread to sandwiches and cake slices. Amid all of the options, pineapple buns stood out as a favorite in our family. I’m excited to share a step-by-step guide on how to make your own batch of yummy buns right at home!

A white cermic plate topped with five round pineapple buns baked with a golden flakey topping

What are pineapple buns?

Pineapple buns (bolo bao, polo bao, sweet bun with topping, or sweet topping bun) originate from Hong Kong. These buns consist of a round milk bread base that is baked with a sweet crust made from a mixture of eggs and flour. The bread portion of this dough is milk bread, making it exceptionally soft and fluffy. What makes milk bread special is that it is prepared with a water-roux or tangzhong, a flour, milk, and water mixture, which adds moisture to the bread. The name “pineapple bun” may seem misleading since there are actually no pineapples used in the recipe. The name is derived from the appearance of the topping, which is typically scored before baking to create a hatch mark pattern resembling the texture of a pineapple’s skin.

What do pineapple buns taste like?

Milk bread reminds me a lot of brioche in its sweetness and texture. The difference is that the milk bread is made without eggs and butter. The tang zhong (roux) used elevates the milk flavor while maintaining a unique featherlight, tender, and moist quality that other breads do not have. The topping is sweet, crumbly, and tastes like imitation vanilla extract which has a mild vanilla flavor.

Why This Works

Pineapple buns shine when served fresh. This recipe guarantees a consistently successful outcome, delivering a featherlight and tender milk bread dough. The use of a stand mixer helps to streamline the prep work, reducing the overall time required. Best of all is that with just this one recipe, you can modify this bolo bun recipe to create various shapes. Take note that the proofing time and baking time may vary depending on your equipment so be sure to account for that:

  • For individual portions of buns: You can use a 18×13 Baking Sheet, also known as a Baking Tray or Cookie Sheet. This flat pan with raised edges is typically used for baking cookies, pastries, and other items.
  • For pull-apart dinner rolls: Opt for a round or square 9×9 Cake Pan, which is used for baking cakes.
  • For a loaf of bread that you can slice into pieces: Choose a 9×5 Loaf Pan, used for baking bread or pound cakes.
From top to bottom: bread flour, water, sugar, milk, heavy whipping cream, cake flour, eggs, butter, yeast, salt
From top to bottom: bread flour, water, sugar, milk, heavy whipping cream, cake flour, eggs, butter, yeast, salt

Special Ingredients

What is bread flour?

Bread flour is a unique type of flour great for making bread. It’s produced from a specific kind of wheat with a high protein content. This protein is like the magic ingredient that helps the bread become sturdy and rise tall when we bake it. Compared to all-purpose and cake flour, bread flour is the strongest because of its high protein content. The high protein in bread flour makes the dough stronger compared to using cake flour or all-purpose flour. You can find it in two types: bleached or unbleached. I usually buy the bleached version, which still gives my buns a fluffy white interior after baking.

What is cake flour?

Cake flour is a unique kind of flour that works wonders in creating deliciously soft and fluffy bakes like special cakes or bread. It’s made from a distinct type of wheat and contains less protein than other flours. This special flour gives cakes a wonderfully tender and light texture, almost like biting into a fluffy, cozy pillow! Unlike all-purpose and bread flour, cake flour is the least sturdy of the three because it’s essentially all-purpose flour blended with corn starch. Its low protein content results in a dough that’s exceptionally light and airy, making cakes especially soft.

Cake flour is like the special ingredient in a bolo bun topping recipe because it helps make the topping super light and fluffy. When we mix cake flour with other ingredients, it creates a topping that is not too heavy and not too dense. It’s like the magic ingredient that makes the bolo bun topping so tasty.

A baking tray is prepared with parchment paper, on which eight pineapple buns are arranged and all set to be baked.
Pineapple buns with the topping assembled and gently scored before baking. Be sure to roll out the topping ultra thin.

Can I use a gluten free flour?

If you have gluten intolerance, gluten-free flours will not be suitable for this recipe. ): However, you might be interested in my Sesame Balls recipe which uses glutinous rice (sticky rice) flour which aligns with your dietary requirements.

What is ammonium carbonate?

Ammonium Carbonate (aka soda ash, baking ammonia, or baker’s ammonia) is used for baking. It is a leavening agent that is not as strong as baking soda or baking powder; therefore, it creates a crisp texture instead of a cakey one. Unlike other leavening agents, it bakes without any bitterness. It is not utilized in recipes requiring a strong leavening agent, such as cakes or bread. While there might be a faint ammonia flavor during baking, this scent swiftly dissipates, giving way to the rich combination of eggy and vanilla notes in a well-made pineapple bun.

There are many pineapple bun recipes online that call for baking the topping with baking soda. The problem with these recipes is that the delicious flavors are masked by a bitter off-flavor from baking soda, making the topping not as delicious. To fix this issue, Chinese bakeries use ammonium carbonate.

When purchasing baker’s ammonia, it is advisable to choose reputable brands. Some tests conducted in Asia revealed traces of melamine in food made with Chinese-made baker’s ammonia. Given the variety of ammonium bicarbonate options in the market, a reliable choice recommended by cake stores is the one from Loriann.

It’s crucial to emphasize that baker’s ammonia should be appropriately stored and sealed between uses, as the product has the potential to evaporate into the air and essentially “disappear.”

Can I substitute the dairy out?

When we make these special milk bread buns, using whole milk and whipping cream is super important. It’s like having the most key puzzle pieces for making the buns just right. If we change these pieces (by using different types of milk or cream), the buns might not turn out the way they should. The whole milk and whipping cream helps keep the buns soft and moist, and gives them the perfect fluffiness. It’s like they are the secret ingredients that make the buns rise properly and hold their shape. Without these special ingredients, we might not get the delicious buns we really want.

What is yeast?

Yeast is a type of fungus that is commonly used in baking. It consumes the sugars in the milk and flour and then releases carbon dioxide gas, which causes the dough to rise. Yeast can be found in two forms, fresh or dry. When used in baking, yeast helps to create a light and airy texture in breads and other baked goods. Here are the different types of yeast available:

  • Dry – This type of yeast is more commonly found sold in a small envelope at grocery stores, supermarkets, and online retailers. It can be stored in the pantry for several years, but it’s best to use it within 3 months of purchase.
    • Active Dry – Needs to be dissolved in liquid (slightly warm water or milk) before using
    • Instant (rapid-rise yeast, bread machine yeast) – Can be added directly to dry ingredients without proofing. It is finer and more active than active dry yeast.
  • Fresh (compressed yeast) – This type is perishable and must be stored in the refrigerator. It can be found at some specialty food stores, but its availability may vary. It is typically sold in large blocks, which may be more than is needed for everyday home baking. This type of yeast is typically used by professional bakers, it has a shorter shelf life than dry yeast and should be used quickly after purchase. It also can be found in smaller portions, but it’s best to check the availability at local specialty food stores or bakeries.

For steamed buns, my preferred choice is active dry yeast. I recommend purchasing it in dark jars from the refrigerated section.

How do I buy dry yeast?

Active dry yeast is available at most grocery stores or can be easily ordered through grocery delivery apps, making it easily accessible. When choosing your yeast packaging, I recommend opting for jars instead of individual envelopes. Jars provide greater shelf stability and reliability for long-term storage.

To guarantee the best performance, pay close attention to the yeast’s expiration date, as its effectiveness diminishes over time. For optimal results, use the yeast within 3 months of purchase and dispose of any that has been sitting in the pantry for an unspecified duration.

Proper storage is key to preserving the yeast’s potency. Keep it in a cool, dry place, away from direct light and moisture, to maintain its activity and ensure your baked goods rise flawlessly. Following these guidelines will help you achieve fantastic results in your baking endeavors with active dry yeast.

How do I test if my yeast is still alive?

Yeast is a living organism so ensuring that it is active before using it in a recipe is essential. To do this, you can perform a simple test: Mix the yeast with a tablespoon of liquid, like milk or water, and wait for 5 minutes. If it becomes frothy and bubbly, the yeast is active and ready to use. However, if there is no change, it indicates the yeast is no longer alive and should be discarded.

When working with yeast, it’s crucial to use chilled or lukewarm liquid to prevent heat from exceeding 115°F / 65°C, which could kill the yeast. Though not always mentioned in recipe instructions, checking the yeast’s activity is a good practice to ensure successful bread-making.

A white cermic plate topped with five round pineapple buns baked with a golden flakey topping

Pineapple Buns (Bolo Bao)

Soft and fluffy milk bread topped with a sweet, crumbly, and crusty golden topping.
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Prep Time 45 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
1 hour 30 minutes
Total Time 2 hours 45 minutes
Course Breakfast
Cuisine Asian, Chinese
Servings 8 Buns



  • 3 tbsp unsalted butter melted
  • 1 whole large egg
  • 1 tsp imitation vanilla extract
  • 1 cup and 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 1/4 cup cake flour
  • 1/4 tsp ammonium carbonate

Tang Zhong

  • A little less than 1/4 cup water
  • A little less than 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 1/4 cup bread flour


  • 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
  • A little less than 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp active dry yeast
  • 2.5 cups bread flour
  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter softened
  • Tang Zhong
  • 1 whole large egg
  • 1/2 tsp fine sea salt

Egg Wash

  • 1 large egg yolk only


Tang Zhong

  • On low heat, in a pan, combine milk and bread flour. Stir until it thickens into a paste, then set it aside.


  • In the bowl of a stand mixer with a dough hook, combine heavy whipping cream, milk, sugar, yeast, bread flour, softened butter, tang zhong, egg, and salt.
  • Knead on the lowest speed until a soft, non-sticky dough ball forms. Continue mixing for 10 minutes.


  • In a bowl, blend melted butter, egg, vanilla, sugar, cake flour, and ammonium carbonate until it forms a clumpy mixture.
  • Then, squeeze it together to create a ball. Knead until combined.
  • Wrap it in plastic wrap, and shape it into a log.


  • Line a baking tray with parchment paper.
  • Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces. Take one piece and shape them into spheres with your palms.
  • Arrange the dough ball on the baking tray and repeat.
  • Allow them to rest in the turned-off oven with the pilot light on until doubled in size, 1-1.5 hours. To expedite the proofing process by half the amount of time, you can accelerate it by placing a pan of boiling water inside the oven alongside the tray. This method creates a warmer and more humid environment, which is particularly advantageous during colder seasons.


  • Preheat the oven to 325°F / 163°C.
  • Divide the topping into 8 pieces. Place one piece between two layers of plastic wrap and flatten it into a circle using your palms.
  • Transfer it onto the dough and score with a hash mark if desired. Repeat.
  • Using a patting motion, brush the toppings with a generous layer of egg yolk.


  • Bake on the center rack for 25 mins, then move the tray to the top rack for the last 5 mins. Enjoy the buns same day or the next morning.
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