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Aug 9, 2022

Chinese Coconut Buns (Cocktail Buns)

These coconut buns, made with a buttery almost brioche-like dough and stuffed with sweet coconut filling, are a take on the traditional Hong Kong cocktail bun.  

Chinese Coconut Buns (Cocktail Buns) in a bowl and on a plate.

The story goes that these buns were created in the 1950s in Hong Kong by bakeries to use up leftover bread. The term Gai Mei actually means "cock tail," (like the chicken) and is Cantonese slang for leftovers. 

They have found their way to Chinatown bakeries in the U.S., and can be elongated like little ovals or rounded like these buns, with the coconut filling in the middle. There are even "inside out" coconut buns, where the coconut filling is distributed in swirls throughout the buns. 

Sometimes the filling will include milk powder and flour to simulate ground leftover bread, and they can also be topped with lines of a flour paste (similar to hot cross buns) for the same reason. 

Chinese Coconut Buns (Cocktail Buns) with sesame seeds in a basket.

The dough can be a buttery dough like this one, or a sweet cream and milk dough. 

This dough is super easy to handle and easily comes together. You can make these in just a few hours, and the resulting buns are light and airy, even with the milk, eggs, and butter. 

Ingredients in These Coconut Buns:

Instant or active dry yeast. I used instant yeast but you can use either one in equal amounts. 

Sugar, for both the dough and the filling. 

All-purpose flour. 


Whole milk. 

Unsalted butter for both the dough and the filling. 

Large eggs. 

An egg wash and sesame seeds for topping. 

Unsweetened coconut for the filling. 

Chinese Coconut Buns (Cocktail Buns) interior.

While I mixed this dough with a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, you can also knead this dough by hand. 

How to Make These Coconut Buns

First, make the coconut filling by combining unsweetened coconut, melted butter, and sugar. Set it aside while you make the buns (or you can make the filling while the dough is rising). 

Next, mix the yeast with sugar and water and let it sit until foamy. If you use instant yeast, you can skip this step and incorporate the sugar and water in the dough, but I still did this because there is a lot of yeast in this dough. 

After that, mix together the rest of the ingredients, along with the yeast, and knead it for about five minutes, until you have a smooth dough. Let it rise until doubled. 

Deflated the dough and form it into balls. Flatten the balls, top them with some of the coconut filling, and shape the dough around the filling. Let them rise, seam side down, on a baking sheet before brushing them with and egg wash and sprinkling them with sesame seeds. 

Finally, bake them for about 20 minutes in a 350 degree F oven. 

Chinese Coconut Buns (Cocktail Buns) on a blue plate.

These rolls are delicious warm from the oven. Serve them for breakfast, brunch, and for a teatime snack. I love them spread with a little blueberry jam, which is pretty unconventional but delicious. 

You can store any leftovers in an airtight container for up to a week. Leftovers are best reheated in a 325 degree oven or toaster oven for 10 minutes. This refreshes them beautifully, as if they are freshly baked. 

Coconut buns on black plates.

More Asian-Style Yeasted Bun Recipes:

Steamed Chicken and Vegetable Buns

Pineapple Buns

Steamed Piglet Buns

Steamed Bao Buns

Japanese Curry Buns

Hong Kong Bakery-Style Inside Out Coconut Buns

Bread bakers logo.

#BreadBakers is a group of bread loving bakers who get together once a month to bake bread with a common ingredient or theme. Follow our Pinterest board right here. Links are also updated each month on this home page. We take turns hosting each month and choosing the theme/ingredient.

This month's theme is coconut, chosen by Palatable Pastime.

Chinese Coconut Buns in a basket.

Chinese Coconut Buns

Chinese Coconut Buns
Yield: 12 Buns
Author: Karen's Kitchen Stories
Prep time: 45 MinCook time: 15 MinInactive time: 2 H & 30 MTotal time: 3 H & 30 M
These coconut buns, made with a buttery almost brioche-like dough and stuffed with sweet coconut filling, are a take on the traditional Hong Kong cocktail bun.


For the Dough
  • 4 1/2 teaspoons (2 packets) instant yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm water (about 110 degrees F)
  • 1/3 cup plus 2 teaspoons sugar, divided
  • 520 grams (4 cups) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 large eggs
  • Vegetable oil for the bowl
For the Filling
  • 1 1/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • Generous pinch of salt
  • 1 stick of butter, melted
For the Topping
  • 1 large egg
  • Pinch of salt
  • Sesame seeds, untoasted


  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer or a large bowl, combine the yeast, warm water, and 2 teaspoons of sugar. Let sit for 10 minutes, until frothy.
  2. Add the flour, salt, rest of the sugar and stir with a dough whisk or large wooden spoon. Add the milk, melted butter, and eggs, and stir to combine.
  3. Knead with the dough hook or by hand for at least five minutes, until you have a smooth dough. Place it into an oiled bowl, cover and let rise until doubled, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
  4. While the dough is rising, mix the coconut filling and set aside.
  5. Deflate the dough and divide it into 10 to 12 equal pieces and form each into a round. Using a rolling pin, roll each out into a 5 inch disk and place a tablespoon of the filling in the center. Gather the edges of the disk and seal them together to enclose the filling. Place the buns, seam side down, on a parchment lined baking sheet. You can fit all of the buns on one baking sheet. If they grow together while baking, that's okay. Cover with oiled plastic wrap.
  6. Let the buns rise for about 15 to 20 minutes while heating the oven to 350 degrees F.
  7. Whisk the egg and pinch of salt for the egg wash and sprinkle with untoasted sesame seeds.
  8. Bake the buns for 15 to 20 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool on a wire rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.

Nutrition Facts



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coconut, buns
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Recipe slightly adapted from The Chinese Takeout Cookbook (2012) by Diana Kuan. I highly recommend this book. Every recipe I've tried has been outstanding. 

Would you like to comment?

  1. I would love one of these for breakfast this morning Karen.

    1. I think you'd be totally pleased. I had mine with your son's jam!

  2. These look lovely. I'd love one with a cup of Vietnamese coffee for an afternoon pick-me-up.

  3. Oooo, that filling! These are a treat!

    1. Thanks! When I chose this I had no idea we'd be doing the inside out version for BBB!

    2. Yes, an amusing coincidence to have double coconut this month!

  4. I love coconut in anything, these buns are calling me!

  5. Wow that coconut filling inside the bun sounds so delicious. Lovely colour of the buns and they are tempting

  6. The color on these buns is amazing and that coconut inside looks so good!

  7. Such a beautiful bake! I love coconut and I would love to pick these buns any time of the day.


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