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20230800 Authentic Hong Kong Pineapple Buns with CLAS

Yippee's picture

20230800 Authentic Hong Kong Pineapple Buns with CLAS


Please see here and here to learn more about concentrated lactic acid sourdough (CLAS). 



While in Hong Kong, I sampled pineapple buns (called 'ball-law-bao' 菠蘿包 in Cantonese) from EVERY Chinese bakery I passed by. To my disappointment, they didn't live up to my childhood memories. Some lacked that satisfying bounce after a bite, and some had an odd taste in their pineapple crust. However, my disappointment quickly faded because I had found the perfect, authentic recipe to recreate the ball-law-bao of my youth. This recipe comes from the book Hong Kong Bread by Chef Yung Ling Yau. P.S. There's a newer edition of this book with a revised title and additional recipes, including two more of my childhood favorites: egg tarts and coconut tarts.

Since decent ball-law-bao is hard to come by, I feel compelled to share this recipe with those who long for the delectable taste of this classic treat. 


While working with Chef Yau's recipe, I noticed something interesting: no salt was used. Surprisingly, the absence of salt didn't result in any unusual taste, thanks to the sweetness of the bread that masked the blandness. However, it's worth noting that the blandness becomes quite apparent in other salt-free bread dough, like Montreal-style bagels. So, generally, it's not a good idea to skip the salt.


The format of today's CLAS version recipe differs from my usual ones, as I prepared the instructions for a friend who adores my ball-law-bao but lacks experience in bread baking.





Ingredients for the Pineapple Crust 

- enough for 16 buns; use half for one bake


- Pastry/cake flour: 168g

- Sugar: 112g

- Butter: 14g

- Milk powder: 14g

- Egg yolk: 1

- Lard: 66g

- Condensed milk: 28g

- Evaporated milk: 28g

- Ammonia carbonate: 2g (available at Michael’s or online)

- Baking soda: 1g

- Yields approximately 454g of crust




1. Mix the above ingredients until they are just homogeneous.


2. Use half of the batch for one bake. The crust per bun should be approximately 28g. Roll it into a ball, flatten it into a disc by hand, then gently roll it out once. Rotate the disc 90 degrees and roll it out again. Repeat this process until you've come full circle. The discs should be large enough to cover the proven dough balls' top. Refrigerate the discs while the buns are proving.


3. Refrigerate the remaining crust for the next bake.


Hong Kong Pineapple Buns


Ingredients (for 8 buns):



- All-purpose flour: 243g

- Whole egg: 1 (about 50-60g)

- Sugar: 38g



- Warm water: 84g (divided)



- Whole-wheat CLAS (flour + liquid): 19g

- Kosher salt: 3.8g (optional)

- GOLD yeast: 1.8g



- Butter: 23g (diced)



- Milk: 51g




1. Mix

  - Add ingredients from A. to the mixer with a paddle attachment.

  - Start the mixer.

  - Gradually add B. until a dough forms and all ingredients are moistened. Reserve any unused water for later use; you may not need all 84g, depending on how absorbent the flour is.


2. Rest

  - Cover the dough in the mixing bowl and let it rest at room temperature for 30 minutes to an hour.


3. Mix (again)

  - Switch to the dough hook.

  - Add C. and mix until all ingredients are well incorporated. Add a little water to moisten if needed.

  - Mix with the dough hook until the dough gains strength and starts pulling away from the mixing bowl's sides.

  - Gradually add D. until well incorporated.

  - Gradually drizzle E. while the mixer is running. Add more after each drizzle is well incorporated into the dough.

  - If, at any point, the machine sounds labored or heats up, stop mixing and put the mixing bowl into the fridge to cool for 10 minutes before resuming mixing.

  - If you feel that the dough can take in more water or it feels dry (though not likely), and you have water reserved from above, drizzle it into the dough while the mixer is running and mix until it’s well incorporated.


4. Bulk Ferment – 1st rise

  - Place the dough in a straight-sided container and let it rise in a warm place until the volume doubles.


5. Divide and Preheat Oven

  - Divide the dough into 8 portions, approximately 63g each, and shape them into dough balls.

  - Prepare the crust, dividing it into 8 portions, approximately 28g each. Flatten and roll them into discs large enough to cover the top of the dough balls.

  - Preheat the oven to 392°F (for a darker crust) or 375°F (for a golden crust).


6. Final Proof - 2nd rise

  - Cover the dough balls and let them rise in a warm place (around 30°C) for about 30 minutes or until the dough appears slightly puffy.


7. Bake

  - Place a crust disc on each dough ball.

  - Apply an egg wash (whole egg whisked) on top.

  - Bake on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper at 375°F for 15-20 minutes or until the top appears golden. Rotate halfway through.

















Here's a video that tells the story of pineapple buns:




GaryBishop's picture

I don't see pineapple in the ingredient list.

Yippee's picture

It's named this way because the crust resembles the texture of a pineapple's skin.


squattercity's picture

I'm with Gary. Wut no pineapple?

But big thanks for the crust recipe. Here in NYC, Chinese bakeries call these 'sweet topping buns.' You can get them plain or sometimes with fillings -- coconut or red bean or custard, depending on the bakery. When I had an office near Chinatown, I was addicted to them. I still return to gorge myself every so often and have always wondered how they got that dry dusty sweet crunch.

Now I know. 謝謝! Xièxiè!


Yippee's picture

I enjoy savoring a plain, warm bun with a thick slab of COLD butter,  known as 'ball-law-yau,' where 'yau' refers to oil (butter), as shown in the video below at 2:36:




At 2:34, Hong Kong-style milk tea paired with 'ball-law-yau' is a classic afternoon tea combo. Have you tried it?



Now you need to figure out how to make HK-style milk tea at home🤭🤭🤭

squattercity's picture

Mmmmmm! I'm heading to NYC's Chinatown now for my fix!

squattercity's picture
Yippee's picture

Just one?😄😄😄

jo_en's picture

Thanks for this Yippee!!

They are a favorite here. Yours look so yummy. :)

I had been thinking too that clas must have a contribution to Chinese doughs and here you have broken ground on it.

I love the steamed bun as in this  video by Chinese Demystified... would like to convert it to clas.

So glad to get your detailed instructions too.

Yippee's picture

when I return😉😉😉


jo_en's picture

I hope you are getting through your harvest  time and whatever you are doing. 

Can't wait for more stuff you're doing!

jo_en's picture

Hi Yippee,

Your bun recipe is just what I wanted to have!!

I didn't do your recipe fully-no topping- I only had time to get the dough mixed and baked.

The buns are sooo good. They have the right chew and "stick" to your mouth feel. That is kind of hard to describe but I had been 

wanting that very quality.

Thanks for another great clas recipe!!

Yippee's picture

to savor the taste of Hong Kong without actually traveling there?

This dough is versatile; it serves as the base for many other Hong Kong bread recipes in the book as you'll soon discover.

Deej's picture

One of the dummies here.  Can you tell me what Whole Wheat CLAS (flour + liquid) means?

-- Deej

Deej's picture

Nevermind.  I see the note at the top.

jo_en's picture


You are very welcome to this bread forum! There are all kinds of sourdough starters here and clas is one of them.

I like it a lot because it takes a lot of "harshness" of out 100% whole wheat breads and uses a minuscule amount of dried instant yeast (diy).

Also it takes 24 hr for mix up a batch of clas that will be sufficient for 5-6 loaves of bread.  I freeze mine in portions but others just leave it in the refrigerator.

A recipe of lovely lemony brioche bread or a 100% whole wheat lean loaf take about 4.5 hr, start to finish-an easy afternoon bake.

I hope to read about your interests. Let us know what you like!


Yippee's picture

See here.