Vietnamese Coffee Buns

Look closely at the present
you are constructing.
It should look like the future
you are dreaming.
— Alice Walker

Welcome back to Persona Kitchen everyone! I am very excited to be re-sharing this weeks recipe, Vietnamese Coffee Buns. This was the first recipe I ever posted on the blog and to be completely honest, it is still one my favorites!

When I first seriously thought about starting this blog, I knew that first and foremost I needed to come up with a name for it. I had been stuck for weeks trying to think of one. Each day I came up with a few and none of them sounded right. Finally, one night while I was sitting at work, it hit. A Common Kitchen. I hurriedly got online to search if they domain was already in use and to my surprise it wasn't. I hopped on Square Space and purchased the domain. Two months later, I posted my first recipe: Vietnamese Coffee Buns

Developing the perfect first recipe wasn't easy. It was a daunting task and I thought about it for weeks, literally. I wanted to share a recipe that was unique, delicious,  and be something that would also catch peoples' eye. I started developing recipes for four tiered cakes, pies, and cupcakes. None of them seemed right for the first recipe. Then one morning I was craving a cinnamon roll. A coffee cinnamon roll. So I got my notepad and started writing. 

I wanted to make the ultimate Coffee Bun. At the time, Vietnamese Coffee inspired desserts were a big thing. I first had Vietnamese Coffee, strongly brewed coffee with sweetened condensed milk, a few years ago at a local Vietnamese restaurant. It was served in a tall glass over ice and I remember taking the first sip and it immediately became one of my favorite beverages. I wanted to take all of the individual components of that drink and create a 'cinnamon' roll with all of those same flavors. 

I wanted the dough for the buns to be soft and chewy. I decided to use a dough that uses the 'tangzhong' method. This method creates an ultra soft dough and in my opinion it allows the buns to hold up for longer so you don't have to eat them as quickly as most of the yeast dough's I've made before. The dough for this recipe is fairly simple to make. I highly recommend making it with a stand mixer because it requires  kneading, however, you can knead by hand if you're okay with getting a little arm work out! I've done it both ways and it turned out great both times.  

As for the filling, I wanted it to have a strong coffee flavor but I also didn't want it to be bitter. Vietnamese Coffee is made by using a classic metal Vietnamese drip filter with strong dark roast coffee. I had to find a way to get a strong coffee flavor without having to use coffee grounds because I didn't want to have a 'crunchy' texture since it's hard to get super-finely ground coffee at home. The solution? Good quality Espresso Powder! I useMedaglia D'Oro Espresso Powder which you can purchase at most grocery stores or online. If you can't find that one, just buy any good quality espresso powder, preferably one that is imported from Italy. Once you have a good espresso powder, all you need is butter, brown sugar, and kosher salt. That's all that goes into the delicious coffee filling for these buns. 

Now for my favorite part of the recipe: the Sweetened Condensed Milk Frosting. As I mentioned above, sweetened condensed milk is usually what is used to sweeten Vietnamese Coffee. Sweetened condensed milk is milk in which the water has been removed from it and sugar is added. This results in a perfectly sweet thick 'milk' which has various uses. When I was a child, I would always be in the kitchen when my Uncle Adam would make German Chocolate Cake and whenever he would open the cans of sweetened condensed milk to make the frosting, I would dip my finger in the can because I loved the taste of it so much. The frosting for these Vietnamese Coffee Buns is really easy to make and only requires three ingredients: butter, sweetened condensed milk, and salt. The result is a smooth, creamy, and perfectly sweetened frosting that I could eat by the spoonful. Trust me, you will want to put this frosting on everything!

Jake messaged me the other day and said, "I'm craving a coffee bun" and I decided that it was time to finally re-make them. I chose to do this because I wanted to show how much my food photography and personal style has improved. )To be honest, I also just wanted to have two dozen of these around to eat!) Since I first posted these Vietnamese Coffee Buns I have gotten new back drops, props, and camera lenses. And although I am still developing my personal style, it has improved greatly over the last year in my opinion.  I have learned that I have a more 'simple' style; I like my layouts to be clean and organized. I've learned like I like to minimally edit my photos because I want the food I make to look as true to the real thing as possible. And most of all, I have learned that I only want to make food that I actually enjoy. 

This recipe has stayed a favorite because it is just that good. The dough, the filling, and the frosting, it all reminds me of a glass of Vietnamese Coffee. They are perfectly soft and chewy. The filling is the perfect balance between the slightly bitter coffee and sweetness from the sugar. The frosting, well, need I say more about that? Trust me, you need to make these! Everyone will thank you for them and you’ll thank yourself too.

I hope you enjoyed this weeks' recipe because I had such a fun time re-making it. It was sentimental making these Vietnamese Coffee Buns since they were the first recipe I ever made. I remember being so nervous to post this for the first time but I'm glad that it was the debut recipe for Persona Kitchen. It's been a little over a year since I started this blog and I look forward to many, many more to come. 

Xx Bell

Vietnamese Coffee Buns


For the Tangzhong

  • 5 Tablespoons Water

  • 5 Tablespoons Whole Milk

  • 3 Tablespoons + 1 Teaspoon All Purpose Flour

For the rest of the Dough

  • 4 Cups + 2 Tablespoons Flour

  • ⅓ Cup Non-fat Dry Milk Powder

  • 1 ¾ Teaspoons Kosher Salt

  • 1 Tablespoon Instant Yeast 

  • ¾ Cup Whole Milk, lukewarm

  • 2 Large Eggs

  • 6 Tablespoons Butter, melted

For the Vietnamese Coffee Filling

  • 8 Tablespoons Butter, melted

  • 4 Tablespoons Espresso Powder (NOT Instant Coffee granules)

  • 1 Cup Brown Sugar, packed

For the Sweetened Condensed Milk Frosting

  • 1 Cup (16 Tablespoons) Butter, softened

  • 1 (14 ounce) can Sweetened Condensed Milk

  • ¼ Teaspoon Kosher Salt 


Make the Dough

  1. Make the Tangzhong: combine the water, milk and flour in a small saucepan and whisk until fully combined. Cook  over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture becomes thick, about 1-2 minutes.

  2. In the bowl of a standmixer fitted with the dough hook attachment , add the tangzhong and the rest of the dough ingredients. Mix on low speed just until the ingredients come together, about 1 minute. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and let rest for 15-20 minutes. Once rested, knead the dough in the standmixer on medium-low for another 10-15 minutes or until the dough is smooth and elastic. Transfer the dough to a large greased bowl (I used one tablespoon of softened butter). Cover and let rise for one hour or until doubled in volume. In the meantime, prepare the filling.

Prepare the Vietnamese Coffee Filling

  1. In a small bowl add the melted butter, espresso powder, brown sugar, and kosher salt and mix until combined. Set aside to cool until ready to use.

Roll/Fill the Dough

  1. Once the dough has doubled in size, use your fist to punch down the dough to remove the air pockets. Dust your working surface with a little bit of flour and dump the dough onto it. Start rolling the dough into a rectangle that is roughly 20x12 inches long. The exact size of the rectangle doesn't matter, you just want the dough to be ¼-½ inch thick. 

  2. Next, spread the filling mixture evenly over the entire rectangle, leaving about a 1/2 inch border on the longest the sides (the ones that are 20” long). Once you have the filling spread out, with the longest part of the dough (20”) parallel to you, start rolling the dough into a log. Once you finish, pinch the seam together and place the dough seam-side down on the counter. Using a sharp or serrated knife, cut the log into approximately 12-14 disks, about 1½ inches thick.

  3. Preheat oven to 350°F and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the buns on the baking sheet about one inch apart. Cover and let rise for another 30 minutes. Once the buns have risen slightly, bake for 25-30 minutes or until the buns are slightly golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool. (*Note: Once you take the buns out of the oven you will notice that the bottom of the pan will be coated with the gooey filling. Don't panic! This happens. The buns will actually absorb most of this as they cool.)

Make the Sweetened Condensed Milk Frosting + Frost the Buns

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip the butter on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about two minutes. Switch to the balloon whisk attachment. With the mixer still on medium-high speed, slowly drizzle in half the can of sweetened condensed milk. Once you’ve added half the can, stop the mixer and scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. Turn the mixer back on and whip for about 1 minute. Add in the remaining half of the sweetened condensed milk and salt and whip on high for another minute.

  2. Once the buns have cooled completely, use a spoon or offset spatulal to spread a generous amout of frosting on top of the coffee buns and enjoy!

* You can frost all of the buns at once or if you plan on eating them over the course of couple days, leave them unfrosted in an airtight container. Transfer the frosting to an airtight container and frost as you go. These cinnamon rolls will stay good for about three-five days if kept in the refrigerator. When you want to eat one, heat it up (unfrosted) for 10 seconds in the microwave and frost!