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Bua Loy Dessert Recipe (Rice Balls in Coconut Milk)

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Bua loy dessert recipe with sticky rice balls in coconut milk, so creamy and so irresistibly sweet. Hands down, THE BEST authentic Thai dessert you’ll ever make! Trust me, it’s so good, the kids well be begging for seconds and even thirds.

Top-down view of Thai bua loy dessert with glutinous rice balls swimming in coconut milk, served in a coconut shell.

Here are some more Thai desserts with coconut milk to try later: ruam mit, tub tim krob, and don’t miss out on kanom krok for the best coconut pancakes!

This is the best weekend dessert to turn into a fun family thing. Whip up a big batch and enjoy it warm, then chill the leftovers for the next day. If you’re not feeding a family, feel free to halve the recipe for a smaller serving.

What is bua loy

Bua loy or bua loi is a popular Thai dessert featuring soft glutinous rice flour dumplings or balls in sweet coconut milk. The name translates to ‘floating lotus’, referring to the colorful rice balls floating in a bowl of milk.

Rice balls in coconut milk recipe

Coconut lovers, LISTEN UP! This Thai dessert with coconut milk is simply irresistible, and you’re about to have the time of your life making it. Grab the kids and get them in on this – it’s not just a dessert recipe, it’s a whole mood!

Bua loy dessert in a coconut shell with coconut milk. A wooden spoon is held over the bowl, containing a taro, pandan, and potato glutinous rice ball.

Ready for the chewiest, stretchiest rice balls you’ve ever had? With a mix of glutinous rice flour and tapioca flour, these are just so satisfyingly good.

When it comes to color and flavor, the more, the better! Today we’re rolling bua loy taro, purple potatoes, sweet potatoes, and pandan. Each tiny, colorful ball has its own delicious flavor.

Left part of coconut shell with bua loy kai wan dessert, garnished with pandan leaves. In the top are purple flowers.

If you’re ever at the street food markets in Thailand, you cannot – I repeat, CANNOT – skip on bua loy kai wan (bua loy sweet egg). The sweet poached egg is like the cherry on top.

You can use your leftover tapioca flour to make these sen yai noodles!

Why try this coconut milk dessert

  • Authentic Thai cuisine: Craving authentic Thai flavors? No need to book a flight, just gather the family and get this party started.
  • Sweet and addictive: The coconut milk – super addictive. It’s so sweet and so good, I’m guilty of over-eating!
  • Rich in flavors: We’ve got taro, sweet potatoes, purple potatoes, and pandan leaf all bringing their unique flavors. Each colorful ball differs in flavor.
  • Warm or cold: Dig into this dessert straight from the pot or let it chill, either way, it’ll be delicious.
  • Customizable: Go ahead and your own twist to this recipe: add a splash of juice, a new flavor, or even some food coloring.
Close-up of glutinous rice balls and fresh pandan swimming in coconut milk with a poached egg.

Can’t get enough? Check out my collection of Thai dessert recipes, or try my favorite: khanom tom, delicious Thai coconut balls!

Ingredients

Ingredients can be sourced at Asian grocery stores and Asian markets.
The exact measurements are in the recipe card at the end of this post.

Glutinous rice dough

Bird's eye view of bua loy ingredients; glutinous rice flour, tapioca flour, cold water, sweet potato, purple sweet potato, pandan, and taro.
  • Purple sweet potatoes
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Pandan
  • Taro
  • Glutinous rice flour – For each sticky rice dough, you will need glutinous rice flour and tapioca flour to give the dough a chewy and stretchy texture. Both flours are gluten-free.
  • Tapioca flour – You can get all ingredients at Asian grocery stores or order them online at Asian specialty stores.
  • Cold water – Cold water is crucial for achieving the ideal consistency.

Note: You can totally keep it simple by picking one flavor, like sweet potatoes, and roll with it. No need to use four flavors for the dough if you don’t want to!

Sweet coconut milk

Bird's eye views of glutinous rice balls, water, pandan leaves, salt, egg, sugar, and coconut milk arranged on a banana leaf.
  • Coconut milk – Use a high quality full-fat coconut milk for a rich, creamy texture. Coconut milk is dairy-free. Use milk not coconut cream.
  • Pandan leaves – These are added to the coconut milk for aroma and flavor.
  • Water – Water is added to the coconut milk to adjust the consistency.
  • White sugar – For sweetening the coconut milk dessert. Taste-test and make more or less sweet to your taste. Use white sugar to replicate the exact taste of this recipe, so not palm sugar.
  • Salt
  • Egg (optional) – This bua loy kai wan recipe adds an egg to the coconut milk, poaching it in the milk.

Feel free to halve the recipe for a smaller serving.

How to make bua loy

  1. Cut taro & potatoes

    Top-down view of taro, potatoes, and pandan plus a steamer with pieces of taro and potatoes cut into small shapes.

    1. Wash potatoes and taro, then slice into small, even-sized pieces. Transfer to a steamer and steam until they are fork-tender.

    2. Wash pandan leaves and blend with water (see pandan dough ingredients). Afterward, pour the mixture through a sieve and catch the pandan water.

  2. Make the taro dough

    Instructions for making glutinous rice balls.

    1. In a large mixing bowl, mash the steamed taro.

    2. Add glutinous rice flour and tapioca flour.

    3. Mix into a fine substance using your hand.

    4. Gradually add cold water while kneading into a dough (with a texture similar to clay) that doesn’t stick to your fingers.

  3. Repeat for potato, sweet potato, and pandan

    Colorful glutinous rice balls dough in a clear bowl.

    Repeat the previous step for potato, sweet potato, and pandan. After you make each dough ball, you can wrap it tightly in plastic wrap to prevent it from drying out.

    Note: For the pandan rice ball, There’s no need to add water. Simply begin with mixing glutinous rice flour and tapioca flour, then gradually add pandan extract (from step 1) and knead into a dough ball.

  4. Roll into small balls

    Large flat dish with dough and small sticky rice balls, plus a pot with water.

    1. Prepare a large flat dish with glutinous rice flour.

    2. Roll each dough into small balls and place them on the flat dish.

    3. Then, fill a cooking pot with water and place over high heat. Spoon the sticky rice balls onto a sieve and shake it several times to remove excess flour, then add them to the pot. Gently stir to prevent sticking. The balls will float to the top when ready, but I like to let it simmer for 2-3 more minutes to ensure they’re done. Remove them with a sieve and transfer to a large bowl filled with room temperature water to stop the cooking process. Work in small batches, not overcrowding the pot.

  5. Make sweet coconut milk

    Top-down view of a pot with coconut milk, sticky rice balls, egg, and pandan leaves.

    1. Place a pot over medium heat and add coconut milk, water, white sugar, pandan leaves, and salt. Bring to a boil.

    2. Crack the eggs in the boiling water, cook for 3–4 minutes or until the egg is done. Don’t stir, this will break the egg.

    3. If serving right away, mix in the rice balls and take off heat. For later use or large batches, store rice balls and coconut milk separately until serving.

You can try my khanom chan recipe or Thai luk chup recipe with mung beans next!

Cooking tips and tricks

  • Using other ingredients: You might need to adjust the water quantity for your dough when using other ingredients in the mix. For example, pumpkin is a water-packed vegetable, so you might need less cold water or maybe no water at all.
  • Roll the balls small: While cooking, the balls will expand a little.
  • Taste as you go: Customize the sugar in the coconut milk based on your preference. Taste-test until it’s perfect for you.
  • Stir gently: When cooking the rice balls, stir gently to ensure they stay intact.

Kitchen tools

  • Blender: For extracting pandan water
  • Cutting board and chef’s knife
  • Measuring spoons and cups
  • Sieve or slotted spoon
  • Large mixing bowls
  • Cooking pot x2

How to serve rice dumplings in coconut milk

Bua loy dessert can be served warm during colder months, or chilled for a refreshing summer dessert. Garnish with toasted coconut flakes, coconut meat, or black sesame seeds.

How to store and reheat

I recommend keeping leftovers rice dumplings no longer than a day. The rice balls lose their chewiness as time goes on, soaking up all that delicious coconut sauce. Store the leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge and enjoy chilled or reheat.

If you make this dessert ahead of time or whip up a large batch with leftovers, keep the sweet coconut milk and the sticky rice balls separate until ready to serve.

Reheating instructions: Reheat on the stove over low heat, stirring gently.

Did you know?

  • Some variations of Thai bua loy may include pumpkin bua loy or other fillings like black sesame, juices, or food coloring.
  • The Thai name for these glutinous rice balls cooked in sweet coconut milk is บัวลอย or bua loy. “Bua” means “lotus” and “loy” means “to float”, which refers to the tiny colorful rice flour balls floating in a sea of coconut milk.
  • For many Thai people (including me) this is a true childhood dessert. It’s loved by both children and adults and is commonly served at street food stalls or special occasions.
  • In Asian cuisines, there are many more desserts with glutinous rice balls. For example: China (tang yuan), Indonesia (wedang ronde), Japan (mochigome).
  • This Thai dessert is often enjoyed during festivities, historically it originated in the royal palace kitchen and was a treat reserved for special occasions.

Frequently asked questions

Can I make this ahead of time?

The small sticky rice balls can be made ahead of time and stored in the freezer or the fridge. The coconut milk sauce can be made one day in advance to be served chilled.

What does bua loy taste like?

Bua Loy tastes like bubble tea (boba) but instead of tea, it uses coconut milk. The bouncy rice balls reminds me of mochi, tang yuen or the pearls in boba tea. They have a nutty flavour because of the taro.

Can I substitute glutinous rice flour?

No. This is a must have or else it wouldn’t be Bua Loy. Also, other flour will not give you the chewy or bouncy consistency that is very much loved.

Authentic Thai dessert recipes

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Bua Loy Dessert Recipe (Rice Balls in Coconut Milk)

Top-down view of Thai bua loy dessert with glutinous rice balls swimming in coconut milk, served in a coconut shell.
This delicious Thai dessert features chewy sticky rice balls and sweet coconut milk.
Praew
Cook Time 1 hour
Total Time 1 hour
Cuisine Thai
Course Dessert
Serving Size 6 people

Ingredients

TARO DOUGH

  • 1.76 ounce glutinous rice flour
  • 0.35 ounces tapioca flour
  • 2.82 ounces taro
  • 3 tablespoons cold water

PURPLE POTATOES DOUGH

  • 1.76 ounce glutinous rice flour
  • 0.35 ounces tapioca flour
  • 2.82 ounces purple potatoes
  • 3 tablespoons cold water

SWEET POTATOES DOUGH

  • 1.76 ounce glutinous rice flour
  • 0.35 ounces tapioca flour
  • 2.82 ounces sweet potatoes
  • 3 tablespoons cold water

PANDAN DOUGH

  • 3.52 ounces glutinous rice flour
  • 1.05 ounce tapioca flour
  • 1.23 ounce pandan leaves
  • 3.38 fluid ounces water

SWEET COCONUT MILK

  • 16.9 fluid ounces coconut milk
  • 4.2 ounces white sugar
  • 6.76 fluid ounces water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 pandan leaves
  • egg optional, to taste

Instructions

PREPARE THE INGREDIENTS

  • Wash potatoes and taro, slice into small, even-sized pieces. Transfer to a steamer and steam until a fork can prick into it.
  • Wash pandan leaves and blend with water (see pandan dough ingredients). Afterward, pour the mixture through a sieve and catch the pandan water.

MAKE THE DOUGH

  • TARO DOUGH:In a large mixing bowl, mash the steamed taro.
  • Add glutinous rice flour and tapioca flour.
  • Mix into a fine substance using your hand.
  • Gradually add cold water while kneading into a dough (has a texture similar to clay) that doesn’t stick to your fingers.

SWEET POTATO DOUGH: In a large mixing bowl, mash the steamed sweet potato.

  • Add glutinous rice flour and tapioca flour.
  • Mix into a fine substance using your hand.
  • Gradually add cold water while kneading into a dough (has a texture similar to clay) that doesn’t stick to your fingers.

PURPLE POTATO DOUGH: In a large mixing bowl, mash the steamed purple sweet potato.

  • Add glutinous rice flour and tapioca flour.
  • Mix into a fine substance using your hand.
  • Gradually add cold water while kneading into a dough (has a texture similar to clay) that doesn’t stick to your fingers.

PANDAN DOUGH: Mix glutinous rice flour and tapioca flour in a large mixing bowl.

  • Gradually add pandan water (from step 1) and knead into a dough.

ROLL INTO SMALL BALLS

  • Prepare a large flat dish with glutinous rice flour.
  • Roll each dough into small balls and place them on the flat dish.
  • Then, fill a cooking pot with water and place over high heat. Spoon the sticky rice balls onto a sieve and shake it several times to remove excess flour, then add them to the pot. The balls will float to the top when ready, but I like to let it simmer for 2-3 more minutes to ensure they’re done. Remove them with a sieve and transfer to a large bowl filled with room temperature water to stop the cooking process. Work in small batches, not overcrowding the pot.

MAKE SWEET COCONUT MILK

  • Place a pot over medium heat and add coconut milk, water, white sugar, pandan leaves, and salt.
  • Bring to a boil and then crack the eggs, cook for 3–4 minutes or until the egg is done. Don’t stir, this will break the egg.
  • Serve: If serving immediately, add the colorful sticky rice balls to the pot and remove from heat. If making ahead of time or making a large batch with leftovers, keep the sweet coconut milk and the sticky rice balls separate until ready to serve.

Notes

  • Use the nutrition card in this recipe as a guideline.
  • This recipe is made with taro, sweet potatoes, purple potatoes, and pandan. Feel free to experiment with different flavors or even food coloring.
  • I recommend keeping leftovers no longer than a day in the refrigerator.
  • Feel free to halve the recipe for a smaller serving.
  • Note: You can totally keep it simple by picking one flavor, like sweet potatoes, and roll with it. No need to use four flavors for the dough if you don't want to!

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