Hawaiian Buns: sweet little bites of paradise

Hawaiian pineapple.

It really is as good as it gets. Sweeter and more delicious than what we find on the mainland (at least in Vermont!), stopping at the farmer’s market for fresh pineapple is one of the highlights of being in Oahu.

I’m fortunate enough to get to spend the month of April in paradise, working and enjoying all that this beautiful island has to offer. I’d have been crazy not to take advantage of this opportunity to blog, if only to show some of the pictures I’ve taken. It was an awfully cold winter in Vermont, so forgive me if I can’t get over how PERFECT it is here!

beach life.

I mean, seriously.

Pineapples aren’t native to the Hawaiian Islands, but they are one of the things that turned Hawaii into a major agricultural hub. In fact, Lanai is also known as “Pineapple Island,” because it used to be an island-wide pineapple plantation.

So far, I’ve eaten pineapples on hotdogs, in sandwiches, in smoothies, on top of drinks (winky face!), and just about any other way I can get them. My husband was pretty spot on when he said that we’re not going to be able to eat them once we get home to the East Coast. They just won’t compare.

Pineapple with a view

Kind of a strange photo, I know. But the view from our apartment is so pretty. And I just couldn’t take the time to walk it across the street to the beach. It smelled so good!

Pineapples are a symbol of hospitality, and the people of the Hawaiian Islands are nothing if not kind and hospitable. Must be all of that smile-inducing sunshine. I just can’t get over it!

One thing you see in grocery and convenience stores all over the island are sweet Hawaiian rolls. There are many different local brands available. A popular brand of sweet rolls has even found its way to the mainland, as far away as New England.

Hawaiian Rolls in the grocery store.

King’s Hawaiian rolls are sort of a supermarket hot item. They originated in Hilo, Hawaii, on the big island, in the 1950s. Founder Robert Taira created a bakery selling loaves of soft and sweet breads that, as the company states, “rarely made it home.”

I, for one, love when an orange package of those delicious dinner rolls shows up on the dinner table. Usually with one or two missing, but hey, I don’t judge. But as a proud employee of King Arthur Flour, I’ll tell you homemade is always better, so to the kitchen I went to try to recreate these delicious buns.

Hawaiian buns are very similar to Portuguese bread, and for good reason. It’s said that the Portuguese farmers who first settled on the islands brought their bread recipes with them, and they were eagerly embraced and gobbled right down. Our recipe for Portuguese Bread was a terrific starting point.

View from the top of Diamond Head.

View from the top of Diamond Head.

Being in Hawaii inspires me. I mean, it’s an absolute paradise, with access to such delicious fresh produce. So to make these buns as “Hawaiian” as possible, I added (you guessed it) pineapple juice as a sweetener in the recipe.

The King’s Hawaiian rolls don’t list pineapple juice as an ingredient, but these buns taste remarkably similar. And after a test-kitchen taste test, it was decided that the addition of pineapple made these homemade buns a hands-down winner.

The pineapple doesn’t take center stage in the buns. What it really does is create a ultra-soft sweet roll, with a little hint of something pleasant that you can’t quite place. As you can imagine, it makes them very hard to put down.

cliff walk

Not convinced that you’d like to make these tasty little Hawaiian buns? Here, just imagine yourself in paradise while you’re baking away.

*Sigh* OK. On to tasty rolls!

sponge starter

In the bowl of your stand mixer or the bucket of your bread machine, combine:

1/4 cup King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon instant yeast

Combined and rested starter.

Allow the sponge to rest for 15 minutes. It won’t change much in appearance, but it’ll give the yeast a little head start.

SAF Gold Instant Yeast is the best yeast for this type of bread. Why is that? Sweetened yeast doughs are extremely slow risers. Sugar attracts water, and when it’s in bread dough, it pulls water away from yeast – leaving the yeast thirsty and unable to thrive. This unique strain of yeast is “osmotolerant” – meaning it requires less water. It’s like a camel in the desert, unaffected by dry conditions, meaning your loaves will grow big and soft and puffy with ease.

You can certainly use regular instant yeast, but expect a longer rise time, an extra 30 minutes or more for each rise.

Both and wet and dry ingredients for the Hawaiian buns.

Add the following to the rested sponge:

1/2 cup pineapple juice, canned*
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup softened unsalted butter
2 large eggs plus 1 large egg yolk (reserve the white for later)
1 teaspoon vanilla

*While we prefer the convenience of canned pineapple juice, this recipe can absolutely be made with fresh. If you want to use fresh pineapple: microwave the juice for 2 minutes until it reaches 200°F, and allow to cool to lukewarm before using. The process of heating will kill any enzymes in the juice, which would otherwise destroy the gluten.

wet and dry ingredients

Whisk together:

2 3/4 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
2 tablespoons potato flour
1 1/4 teaspoons salt

After it’s fully whisked together, add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture. This extra step ensures the potato flour won’t create clumpy pieces in your dough. Trust me – if you don’t, it definitely will!

Why the potato flour? The starch in potatoes attracts and holds water, and helps to increase the moisture content in baked goods. This will ensure your little pineapple buns will be ultra-soft and moist when pulled from the oven.

It also helps to extend the shelf life, but we know these won’t be around long enough for that to matter!

mixing dough

Mix and knead until the dough is cohesive and smooth; it’ll be very sticky at first.

If you’re using a stand mixer, beat with the flat beater for about 3 minutes at medium-high speed; then scrape the dough into the center of the bowl, switch to the dough hook, and knead for about 5 minutes at medium speed. It will have formed a soft ball, but will probably still be sticking to the bottom of the bowl.

If you’re using a bread machine, simply let it go through its entire cycle.

Lightly grease the mixing bowl or a large (8-cup) measure, round the dough into a ball, and place it in the bowl or measure. Cover, and let rise until very puffy, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

If you’re using a bread machine and the dough hasn’t doubled in size when the cycle is complete, simply let it rest in the machine for another 30 to 60 minutes.

Lightly grease a 9” x 13” pan.

making rolls

Gently deflate the dough. Divide it into 16 equal pieces, by dividing in half, then in halves again, etc. Round each piece into a smooth ball. Space the buns in the pan.

fully risen rolls

Tent the rolls gently with lightly greased plastic wrap. Let them rise in the pan for 1 hour, until they’re nicely puffy. Toward the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 350°F.

Mix the reserved egg white with 1 tablespoon cold water, and brush onto the surface of the rolls; this will give them a satiny crust.

baked rolls

Bake the rolls for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the internal temperature reads 190°F on a digital thermometer.

Hawaiian buns, turned into pulled pork sandwiches.

Remove the rolls from the oven, and after a few minutes, turn them out onto a cooling rack. These rolls can be served warm or cold or… you know what? There are no rules with these. Eat them however you can. They’re that good!

Surfers out doing surfer stuff.

Sorry (not sorry!), last one. I couldn’t resist. Aloha!

Please bake, rate, and review our recipe for Hawaiian Buns.

Print just the recipe. Don’t forget, you can adjust the font size at the top left of the print page.

Gwen Adams

Gwen Adams grew up in northern New Hampshire, on top of a mountain, surrounded by nature and not much else. After graduating from Lyndon State College in 2010, Gwen sought a career that combined her passion for writing with her love of baking. She found ...


    1. The Baker's Hotline

      For best results, we strongly recommend using a designed-to-be-gluten-free recipe for dinner rolls, like this one here. To make them a little extra buttery and decadent, consider brushing them with melted butter once they come out of the oven. Make them more similar to the Hawaiian recipe, replace the milk with pineapple juice. Happy GF baking! Annabelle@KAF

  1. Kari Bharucha

    My family LOVES King’s Hawaiian style bread but I struggle with the lack of nutrition. Do you think it would be possible to make these with your white whole wheat flour (or at least partially) and get a similar taste?

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Kari! You could use our white whole wheat for up to half the flour in the recipe. You’ll want to add about two extra teaspoons of liquid for every cup of whole wheat flour because it absorbs more. They may not rise as much and could have a denser finished texture, but they’ll taste absolutely wonderful! Annabelle@KAF

  2. Jenifer Graham

    These rolls sound fantastic. I have a family member who is lactose intolerant and I’m wondering if I can substitute vegetable oil for the butter?

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Jenifer, our favorite substitute Earth Balance as a dairy-free alternative to butter. It’s a vegan butter substitute that comes in both tubs for spreading on toast and in sticks that are ideal for baking, and you can find it in many grocery stores. In most recipes, you can’t even tell the difference! Happy baking! Kat@KAF

  3. Rachel

    So I’m a beginner baker, I watch lots of baking shows and I have recently gone dairy free so I’m pretty excited about this recipe, as sweet rolls are my favorite holiday food. Since I’ll be making these for 16 people, possibly more, I wanted to double or even triple the recipe. Can I just double the ingredients and follow the instructions and then split it for proofing? Or should I just make 2 separate balls of dough? I’m also worried about it being too thick to mix if I double it. Just looking for the best way to make a bunch of these rolls. Thanks!!

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Rachel, we’re glad to hear you’re excited to get baking! If your stand mixer can handle a large capacity of dough, you can go ahead and make a double batch. If you’re mixing and kneading the dough by hand, you can also make a double batch as long as you’re willing to put some effort into working the dough. As a general rule of thumb, most yeast bread recipes can be easily doubled. You can simply multiply most ingredients, using anywhere from 1-2x the amount of yeast called for in the original recipe. The amount of yeast used can vary depending on your preference, with more yeast leading to a faster rise but less flavor development, and less yeast leading to more flavor development but a longer rise. If you plan to increase your bread recipe by more than double, you may want to use bakers’ percentages, which we explain in some detail on our blog: Baker’s percentage: Scaling recipes up and down the easy (and accurate) way. Find more details about how to bake dairy-free here. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  4. Gess

    Just wondering if the buns can be made ahead and cold proofed in the fridge for the final proofing stage? Then baked off in the morning after letting them sit out and come back to room temperature.

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      You bet they can, Gess! Follow the process you describe, allowing the muffins to rest at room temperature for about 15 to 20 minutes while the oven preheats in the morning. (Give them more time if they don’t look puffy, but we bet they will!) Bake as directed in the recipe. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  5. David in Bethesda

    Super successful as six “Hamburger” rolls. I followed the KAF catalog recipe, not yet aware of enzymes, using pineapple juice from a bottle claiming not from concentrate. Also used an organic dark brown sugar. All else the same, using a stand mixer. Since the risen dough was quite sticky I sprinkled each bun portion with flour and was able to form tight balls with repeated stretching underneath toward the center. The balls held up nicely on the final rise on a regular sheet pan and the buns baked into beautiful puffy shapes of the best classic burger buns. Oh, don’t forget the eating: top notch, couldn’t ask for better.

  6. Barbara

    Making these right now and thought I would make them for dinner when we have a guest who is dairy intolerant. To make these totally dairy free, what would be a good substitute for the butter?

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Your dinner guests are sure in for a treat, Barbara! We recently did a whole lot of dairy-free test baking, and we found that vegan butter was a fantastic substitute for regular butter in most recipes, yeast dough included. You can typically find vegan butter at most grocery stores; we like using Earth Balance brand. To read more about dairy-free baking, check out the post where we sum up all you need to know here. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  7. QueenKleen

    This was such a great read. I really like King Arthur flour for baking bread but I learned about the preferred Yeast – SAF Gold Instant, why canned pineapple juice would be used (due to the enzymes in fresh pineapples), and that potato flour acts as a humectant in the rolls. There was so much context in history to this. I was pleasantly surprised. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Christine Nelson

    I have made these amazing rolls previously, but would like to change it a tad to include crushed pineapple in the recipe. If I were careful to squeeze out as much of the juice as possible, would it be possible to add say l/2 cup of the crushed pineapple. Or perhaps you would have a better idea as to how to incorporate it into the dough.

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      That sounds like it would taste great and work nicely, Christine! If you find the dough is too wet or sticky just sprinkle a teaspoon or two of flour on the board to lightly knead it into. Annabelle@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      It’s 149 per roll, Maryann. We encourage you to always check the “at a glace” box of any of our recipes to see if we’ve shared the nutritional info. Kindly, Annabelle@KAF

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