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Vegan Chinese Pineapple Buns (Bolo Bao)

Vegan Chinese Pineapple Buns (Bolo Bao)

Breakfast, Chinese Food, Sweets

the blog:

Fluffy and lightly sweetened, these Vegan Chinese Pineapple Buns (Bolo Bao) taste just like the traditional Asian bakery-style version. They are topped with a crispy, buttery and sugary crust that cracks into a beautiful pineapple pattern (hence the name). These Vegan Pineapple Buns make for the perfect breakfast or snack to have along with a cup of tea or coffee.

Vegan Chinese Pineapple Buns (Bolo Bao)

Surprisingly, growing up, my mom did not bake often. She was more of a cook and whenever she baked, it was mostly from cake or cookie boxes because she did not know how to make American food. Many Chinese and Vietnamese desserts she liked did not require baking so she did not use the oven for baking often. However, we do love visiting the Chinese bakeries in Boston Chinatown weekly for fresh pineapple buns or custard tarts. They were my family’s favorite Chinese baked goods.

Growing up, my dad was the sole financial supporter of our family. My mom preferred to stay at home to take care of us and ensure we won’t get into trouble. My dad worked at various restaurants in Boston as a chef. Every morning before he heads to work, my mom would prepare a mug of Iced Vietnamese Coffee for him and along with some sort of bread, oftentimes, pineapple buns, or milk bread. I remember asking my mom why she didn’t make pineapple buns instead at home to save money, but she didn’t know how to.

So when I was in middle school, after discovering finally how to work the oven we had at home, I made my first batch of Pineapple Buns after researching countless recipes and key ingredients, in hopes that they would taste good enough that my dad can bring them with him before he heads to work in the morning. I remember spending the entire day in the kitchen measuring the flour repeatedly and waiting for the dough to rise. In the end, when the kitchen timer came off, I couldn’t be more excited. They smelled exactly the same as the pineapple buns we get. However, they were a bit smaller and a tiny bit denser.

Vegan Chinese Pineapple Buns (Bolo Bao)

What are pineapple buns?
If you are not familiar with pineapple buns (known as Bolo Bao), they are a popular pastry from
Hong Kong. They are light, soft, and fluffy inside and the best part to me is the topping. It is a buttery and sugary crust that cracks into the patterns of a pineapple leading to the name.

If you just learned about pineapple buns, you must know that there are no pineapples inside of them so don’t be surprised when you bite into one and there is no pineapple! The name all comes from the exterior. The cracked topping resembles the outside patterns of a pineapple and so, people coined them to be Pineapple Buns.

My mom was so surprised that I was able to make them and was really happy with them even though I was a little bit down that they were not as fluffy as I thought they would be. My mom heated them the next day for my dad to bring to work and even though they did not look the same as his usual ones, he brought them to work every day that week until they were gone. My dad is not huge in expressing his feelings, but I know that he appreciated them.

Since then, I made them a few other times for him to bring to work until I went to college. Now that I am vegan, I made a vegan version of these classic Chinese Pineapple Buns, in remembrance of the buns I made for my dad.

Vegan Chinese Pineapple Buns (Bolo Bao)

Here is an overview of these Vegan Pineapple Buns (Bolo Bao)!


Flour: I used regular all-purpose flour to make these buns. You can also use equal amounts of bread flour if you do not have all-purpose flour.

Sugar: To make it refined sugar-free you can use coconut sugar, but note that the color of these buns will be a bit darker and there will be a stronger taste of coconut flavor to the buns, unlike the traditional version.

Vegan Butter: I like to use unsalted, vegan butter to better control the saltness level of the buns. If you do not have unsalted, vegan butter you can just omit the salt in the dough! I would not recommend substituting the butter with coconut oil.

Maple Syrup: I brushed the cookies with some maple syrup to provide them with a golden color on top. If you do not want to use maple syrup, that is totally okay!

Yeast: I used active dry yeast, but you can also use instant dry yeast.

Plant-Based Milk: I prefer to use unsweetened, plant-based milk with no other flavoring like vanilla so that you can better control the flavor of the recipe. You can use any plant-based milk of choice and even better with full-fat coconut milk. The fat in the coconut milk leaves the buns extra smooth and elastic and easier to knead.

Coconut Oil: I used unrefined coconut oil, but you can also use refined coconut oil. If you do not have coconut oil, substitute it with equal amounts of unsalted, vegan butter.

Coconut Milk Powder: This is important for the topping for the buns. It is what gives the pineapple buns its unique flavor!

Vegan Chinese Pineapple Buns (Bolo Bao)
Vegan Chinese Pineapple Buns (Bolo Bao)


Can I make these Vegan Chinese Pineapple Buns gluten-free?
I haven’t tested the recipe with gluten-free flour yet. However, you can try using 1:1 Gluten-free flour for the best results (I recommend using Bob’s Red Mill).

How do I store these pineapple buns?
If you have any leftovers, store the buns in an airtight container. You can also freeze them by letting the buns cool completely before transferring them to an airtight container and placing it in your freezer. You can always wrap these buns individually with plastic wrap. When you are ready to eat one, you can microwave one of the buns for about 1-2 minutes or more until it is warm again. You can also reheat them in the oven at 200F for about 10-15 minutes or more until they are warm again.

Can I make these buns refined sugar-free?
Yes! You can substitute the sugars with coconut sugar instead! However, note that the color of the buns will be darker in color.

How do I know when these buns are done?
The edges of the buns will look lightly golden in color. When you insert a toothpick into the center of the buns, the toothpick should come out clean.

What can I substitute the annatto powder with?
If you do not have annatto powder, you can also substitute it with turmeric powder or natural, vegan yellow food coloring. For the turmeric powder, be careful to not use too much. Otherwise, you will be able to taste the turmeric in the buns.

If you like these Vegan Chinese Pineapple Buns (Bolo Bao), you might also like to try:
No-Bake Vegan Matcha Blackberry Tarts
A Guide to Making Matcha Latte at Home
Vegan Matcha Bread Rolls

I cannot wait for you to try these Vegan Chinese Pineapple Buns (Bolo Bao)! If you do, please tag me on Instagram @_withhelen or leave a comment below letting me know you like it! Happy Baking!

Vegan Chinese Pineapple Buns (Bolo Bao)

Vegan Chinese Pineapple Buns (Bolo Bao)

Fluffy and lightly sweetened, these Vegan Chinese Pineapple Buns (Bolo Bao) taste just like the traditional Asian bakery-style version. They are topped with a crispy, buttery and sugary crust that cracks into a beautiful pineapple pattern (hence the name). These Vegan Pineapple Buns make for the perfect breakfast or snack to have along with a cup of tea or coffee.

  • Author: Helen Au
  • Prep Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
  • Cook Time: 18 minutes
  • Total Time: 1 hour 48 minutes
  • Yield: 8 1x
  • Category: Sweets
  • Method: Baking
  • Cuisine: Chinese
  • Diet: Vegan



24g (3 tbsp) all-purpose flour
120g (½ cup) cup water

126g (½ cup) full-fat coconut milk, warmed (or any other unsweetened, plant-based milk of choice)
1 packet (2 ½ tsp) active dry yeast
30g (2 tbsp) water
30g (2 tbsp) unsalted, vegan butter, melted
½ tsp unrefined, coconut oil, melted
376g (3 cups) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
101g (½ cup) cane sugar
6g (2 tsp) baking powder
¼ tsp fine sea salt

129g (1 cup) all-purpose flour
30g (2 tbsp) coconut milk powder
50g (¼ cup) cane sugar
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp annatto powder (or turmeric powder or natural, vegan yellow food coloring)
90g (6 tbsp) unsalted vegan butter, melted

30g (2 tbsp) unsalted, vegan butter, melted
½ tbsp maple syrup
Pinch of annatto powder (or turmeric, vegan yellow food coloring)


  1. Make the Roux. Combine the flour and water in a small pot over medium heat. Stir until it slightly thickens. Remove from the heat and allow it to cool.
  2. Make the dough. Add the yeast and warmed coconut milk (or other plant-based milk) to a bow and mix well. Allow it to sit for 5 minutes or until the yeast activates (foams). Then, add in the water, melted coconut oil, and melted vegan butter. Mix until well combined.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt together. Slowly add in the wet ingredients and the roux. Knead the dough until it becomes soft and smooth. The dough will be slightly sticky at the start but continue to knead for at least 5 minutes until it starts to smooth. If it is still sticky, add ½ tbsp of all-purpose flour and knead until it is smooth and elastic. Cover the dough with a damp kitchen towel or plastic wrap and allow it to double in size, about 1 hour if you live in a cool environment or about 30 minutes if your home is warm.
  4. Meanwhile, make the topping. Add all the ingredients for the topping together and mix until a dough forms. It will be slightly wet, but the dough should hold together. Roll it into a disc shape and cover with a plastic wrap or airtight container. Transfer the dough to the fridge to chill for at least 30 minutes.
  5. Once the dough doubled in size, divide the dough into 8 equal pieces. Roll into a ball and place each dough onto a lined baking sheet pan, about 2 inches apart.
  6. Take the chilled topping dough out from the fridge. Roll the dough out and using a 2 inch round cookie cutter, cut out 8 pieces of the dough, re-rolling the dough as needed. Place each round topping dough on top of a bun pressing it down slightly. Using a knife, make diagonal lies across the buns. Cover and allow the buns to rise again for 30 minutes.
  7. Preheat the oven to 375°F (191°C).
  8. Combine the ingredients for the brushing together and using a brush, brush each bun with the mixture.
  9. Bake the buns for 10 minutes, then, reduce the oven to 350°F (177°C) and bake for an additional 5-8 minutes, until the buns are lightly golden in color.
  10. Remove the buns from the oven and allow them to cool for at least 5 minutes before eating. They are best enjoyed while they are warm.

Keywords: pineapple buns, chinese pastries, chinese bread, vegan bread, bolo bao, vegan pineapple buns

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