Pani Popo

Pani PopoEach new school year, I was greeted with the inescapable “what I did over summer vacation” essay assignment. I often struggled with mine; the short answer being “nothing.” Writing a nihilist “NOTHING!” across a page may be arty, but my 4th grade teacher, Ms. Allison, would not approve. Perhaps that was part of the writing exercise – forcing students to uncover little nuggets of adventure within three months of doing almost nothing. Each year, the (anti)climax of my family’s summer was a road trip to Cedar City, UT – seven of us piled in the apple green, wood paneled station wagon. We stayed with an older couple, longtime family friends, and most days, dad and siblings would venture forth for a day of spelunking, hiking, and exploring. A susceptibility to car sickness relegated me to days with mom and Mrs. Heinz in the kitchen, eavesdropping as they chatted and cooked.

As an adult, I’ve found that this year’s summer vacation hasn’t changed much. I’ve spent the last 11 days pottering around the house spending a good deal of time in the kitchen, playing with a few different recipes. For example – this is my second attempt at a white-girl version of Pani Popo, Samoan coconut glazed pull-apart rolls. I could have made my own rolls, as I did the first time, but I decided on a shortcut – using frozen, pre-made rolls. The golden raisins are my addition and not traditional, making the finished bread taste like coconut bread pudding when warm. A friend had the brilliant idea of finely chopped macadamia nuts instead, similar to a not-so-sweet pecan roll. The nuts will most make an appearance on the next batch.

Pani Popo
Makes 8 rolls


1 T. Unsalted Butter
1/3 c. Golden raisins or finely chopped macadamia nuts (optional)
1 can Coconut milk
1/2 c. Sugar
¼ t. Salt
8 Frozen dinner rolls (soft, yeasty variety)


Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 9” cake pan with butter and scatter with raisins or nuts, if using. Mix coconut milk, sugar and salt in a small bowl until combined. Place dinner rolls in the pan and let proof per package instructions. Pour coconut milk mixture over fully proofed rolls. Bake for approximately 30 minutes or until rolls are fully cooked and a light golden brown. If tops are browning too quickly, cover with foil. Remove pan from oven and cool 10 minutes. Turn rolls out onto a serving platter so the coconut side is on top.