Enter any Chinese style bakery and you’ll find baked Chinese buns filled with a sweet, fragrant coconut mixture. There are two parts to this recipe: the milk dough, and the coconut filling. This is a recipe that my Mom learned in a Hong Kong based cooking school, and that we’ve simplified for the American style kitchen. 

Chinese sweet coconut buns with sesame seeds

In 1976, we immigrated to the United States and landed in Nebraska. Growing up Chinese in the Midwest was no easy feat, especially for my Mom. We were just one of two Asian families in the entire city and she had to learn to navigate daily life with just a dictionary and a list of everyday phrases on paper (we didn’t have Google Translate back then.)

My mom and I

My mom, the bun-master!


What are Chinese Sweet Coconut Buns?

Chinese Sweet Coconut Buns, also known as “Coconut Milk Buns,” are a staple in Chinese bakeries and a beloved treat among those who crave something sweet with a touch of exotic. Imagine biting into a soft, pillowy bun that reveals a heart of sweet, fragrant coconut filling. It’s a delightful balance of tender bread and a slightly crunchy, sugary filling that sends your taste buds straight to dessert heaven.

What sets these buns apart is their unique combination of textures and flavors. The outside is soft and yielding, almost like a cloud, while the inside surprises you with its sweet, moist filling that’s bursting with coconutty goodness. They are often enjoyed as a breakfast treat, a snack, or even as a dessert. In many Chinese households, including mine, they’re a nostalgic nod to childhood and family gatherings.


Unsweetened vs. Sweetened Coconut Flakes: What’s the Difference?

sweetened coconut in a bowl

Sweetened coconut is whiter and fluffier.


Unsweetened coconut in a bowl

Unsweetened (or organic) coconut is generally thinner with a warmer color.

When it comes to baking Chinese Sweet Coconut Buns, the type of coconut you use can make a world of difference. Let’s talk unsweetened vs. sweetened coconut flakes. Unsweetened coconut flakes, often labeled as desiccated coconut, are exactly what they sound like – dried coconut with no added sugar. They’re all about the pure, unadulterated flavor of coconut. When you use unsweetened coconut in your buns, you’re signing up for an authentic taste experience that’s not overwhelmingly sweet but subtly delightful.

On the other hand, sweetened coconut flakes are a bit like the life of a party – a bit extra and a lot sweet. They’re the same dried coconut flakes but jazzed up with added sugar. If you use these in your buns, expect a sweeter, more dessert-like flavor. It’s a good workaround if you’re in a pinch, but remember, it’ll change the character of your buns from subtly sweet to decidedly decadent.

The choice between unsweetened and sweetened coconut flakes really boils down to your taste preference and how authentic you want your buns to be. While the sweetened version is readily available in most grocery stores, the unsweetened variety, often found in health food stores or online, will give you a closer taste to what you’d find in a traditional Chinese bakery.


My Coconut Recommendation

Personally, I highly suggest you go with unsweetened coconut flakes, sometimes called desiccated coconut. It should be without sugar, and only one ingredient, which is dried coconut. You can purchase on Amazon or at your local health food grocery store.

If you do opt for sweetened coconut flakes, make sure you omit the sugar in the filling recipe, and know that the resulting recipe will not be the same.


Video for Chinese Sweet Baked Buns



Chinese Sweet Basic Dough Recipe

For the Chinese Sweet Dough recipe, you’ll need:

  • white granulated sugar
  • active dry yeast
  • powdered dry milk
  • softened butter
  • eggs
  • bread flour
  • egg wash

This dough is a simple dough, mix and knead until smooth. Let rise for 1 hour in a warm spot (or until doubled in size). While the dough rises, it’s a good time to make the filling. The Sweet Coconut Filling recipe is below.  


Forming the Chinese Sweet Coconut Buns

Once the dough has risen, and the filling is ready, it’s time to divide the dough and form the buns. The recipe will make 32 buns in total, so with a scale, measure out 1 ounce pieces of dough and form into tight, round balls, tucking the edges under. Keep all the dough covered to prevent drying out. 

Once all the dough has been measured and formed into balls, start back with the first ball you formed. With a rolling pin, roll out the dough — you can make the buns either oval, or round. 

When we made these buns, Mom wanted a version with sweet coconut filling, and another with savory ground beef filling (recipe coming soon!). We differentiated the two by the SHAPE of the buns….the oval were the sweet coconut filling, and the round buns contained the ground beef mixture. 


How to Get Shiny Tops

Whisk 2 eggs with 2 tablespoons of water for an egg wash. Brush onto the tops of the buns. I sprinkle sesame seeds on top as well.

Bake 375F for 20 minutes. 


See More of My Mom’s Recipes

Chinese Sweet Coconut Buns Recipe

Chinese Baked Buns

5 from 2 votes
Course Appetizer, Breakfast, Dessert, dinner
Cuisine Chinese
Servings 32 buns


Chinese Sweet Bun Dough

  • 2 cups warm water
  • 1/2 cup white granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup powdered dry milk
  • 1/2 cup softened butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 6 1/2 cups bread flour
  • 2 eggs + 2 tablespoons water for the egg wash
  • 3 tablespoons sesame seeds

Coconut Filling

  • 6 ounces softened butter
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2/3 cup desiccated unsweetened coconut flakes
  • 1/2 cup powdered dry milk
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour


Make your bun dough:

  • Add the water, sugar and yeast to the mixing bowl and let sit for 5 minutes, until the mixture is foamy. Turn on the mixer on low speed and add in the powdered dry milk, softened butter, eggs, and salt. Let mix for 2 minutes. Add in about half of the flour. Add the rest of the flour as needed to form a slightly sticky dough. Knead until smooth and elastic, about 6 minutes.
  • Transfer the dough to a large oiled bowl, turning to coat. Cover and let rise at room temperature for 1 hour, or until doubled in size.

Make the Sweet Coconut Filling

  • In a large bowl, mix together all of the ingredients until well combined. You may need to use your hands to lightly mix and "knead." Shape into 16 oval-shaped balls. Cover until ready to use.

Shape the buns

  • Turn the dough out of the bowl to a lightly floured surface. Roll into a long log, and divide dough into 32 equal portions, about 1 ounce each. Form each piece into a tight round ball, tucking the edges under and pinching the seam closed. Place seam side down. Keep all pieces covered as you go.
  • Beginning with the first ball you made (use the balls in order), use a small rolling pin to roll out the balls to 4-5" round (or oval, if making oval shaped). Place spoonful of desired filling on top, and pinch/pleat to close. Place bun on a parchment lined cookie sheet, and cover. Let rise for 20 minutes in a warm spot.

Bake the Buns

  • Heat oven to 375F. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and water.
  • Brush each bun with the egg wash. Repeat so each bun has double layer. Sprinkle sesame seeds on top. Bake 20 minutes, until buns are golden brown. Let cool on wire rack.
Keyword baked buns, chinese buns, chinese new year
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