What Is a Cocktail Bun?

Eugene P.

A cocktail bun is a type of sweet pastry that originated, and is popular, in Hong Kong. It is made from leavened sweet bread that is filled with a heavy coconut and butter mixture. The popular pastry is a staple in most Asian bakeries. Some bakeries include special additives, called dough improvers, to keep the bread very soft.

The flag of Hong Kong. Cocktail buns are popular in Hong Kong.
The flag of Hong Kong. Cocktail buns are popular in Hong Kong.

The cocktail bun, called gai mei bao in Hong Kong, originated in Hong Kong in the 1950s. It was an invention of necessity from a bakery that did not want to waste edible buns at the end of the business day. The original cocktail bun was made by combining day-old rolls with sugar and shredded coconut. A fresh, sweet dough was made and the coconut mixture used as a filling. The techniques and some ingredients have changed since the original, including the addition of ingredients such as butter.

The cocktail bun is a staple in most Asian bakeries.
The cocktail bun is a staple in most Asian bakeries.

The version of the cocktail bun that is most often served in 2011 does not use ground, day-old rolls in the filling. Instead, it is produced fresh each day to fulfill demand. The tops of the buns are brushed with an egg wash or butter to help them brown and give them a shiny finish. Designs also are sometimes drawn on top of the pastries with the coconut filling.

The filling is made by mixing shredded coconut with sugar and butter. Instead of using bread as a binder, an egg or egg yolk is used. It is very sweet with a distinct flavor and also is heavy, unlike the surrounding bread.

The bread used to make a cocktail bun is renowned for being very light, soft and moist. It has a slight amount of sweetness but does not overpower the filling. It is a typical type of Chinese bread that is used for sweet pastries and treats.

One element that is used in the bread to help give it a soft, pleasurable texture is called a dough improver. Dough improvers are liquids or powders that can be added to the dough to enhance certain attributes. In the case of cocktail buns, the additives help to make the bread soft even when it has been out in the air for some time. A variation of using dough improvers is to add a flour paste that has been cooked over a low flame. This cooked flour paste can impart some of the same aspects as the improver additives.

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