Samoan Puligi (steamed pudding)

We have a funeral in the family this week. My mom’s beautiful Aunt lived a long, full life and was called a few days ago to rest in Paradise.

Typical of many Samoan funerals, Auntie won’t be buried until early next week. In the meantime, the family is spending a lot of time together – cleaning, cooking, planning, reminiscing, discussing protocol, and sharing lots of meals.

Enthusiastic cooks might think ‘bring-a-plate’ gatherings like these would be the perfect time to show off their culinary skills – they’d be wrong.

We’ve got a big family connected to several church groups, and all Samoans are programmed to not arrive empty handed… so your stellar dish would be lost in the mountains of food available throughout the week.

But late in the evenings of a Samoan funeral, when most of the day’s visitors have gone and only the close, blood relatives linger – to buoy each other’s spirits with light banter and shared memories… this is the time to bring out the best of our refreshments. This is Cup Tea time.

Of the dozen or so dishes typically served as part of a Samoan Cup Tea, probably the most iconic for us (or maybe second only to our panipopo) is the steamed pudding. We call it puligi.

It’s obviously a dish we inherited from the Great British side of the world, most likely acquired during New Zealand’s occupation of Samoa early last century, but our version has a subtle Polynesian essence. We usually replace the pudding’s dairy component with coconut cream.




I’ve seen a lot of kitchen equipment designed especially for steaming. Don’t think you have to invest in any of that, though, to make puligi. I learned from my mom how to improvise. A large pot, a shallow cooling rack, the inside tin of an old rice cooker – we’re ready to roll.

Samoans love their pudding served with pouring custard.

Every single family I’ve had puligi with gets their custard from a box, which is great. As long as you follow the instructions and adjust things to taste, powdered custard can turn out very nice.


A couple years ago, though, I wanted to find out how they made pouring custard before it came in a box. It’s definitely different. The first time I served my made-from-scratch custard, my mom, uncles and aunts protested quite vocally. It was not what they were used to.

But then I tweaked my recipe a little to humour their taste buds and now they’ve accepted the advantages of ‘real’ custard. It’s lighter and creamier and just tastes… fresh.

These days, whenever possible (and with the blessing of my elders) I always make our custard from scratch.

You know, though, this puligi – adapted from a recipe my mom’s friend gave her years ago – doesn’t really need the embellishment of custard. It is flavourful and moist enough to be served on its own as a kind of cake. But it’s not so sweet that you can’t slather it with butter and have it for breakfast, the way one of my other aunts likes it.




However way you serve it, puligi is a Samoan favourite and a great addition to your cooking repertoire, especially if you’re Samoan, or your geography puts you at risk of ever having any of us over for Cup Tea.

Samoan Puligi (steamed pudding)

Puligi - steamed pudding dressed in piping hot custard - is a classic Samoan dessert for Cup Teas and New Years Eve (at least in my family). My mother got this beautiful recipe from a good family friend. Most Samoans make this with powdered custard, but I love the custard made-from-scratch - recipe included. 

Course Cup Tea
Cuisine Samoan
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 2 hours
Total Time 2 hours 20 minutes
Author Lils



  • 3 1/2 cups all purpose/plain flour
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp ground cloves
  • 340 grams butter about 1 1/2 cups
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 250g can of coconut cream
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 cups sugar total


  • 6 egg yolks
  • 1 tsp cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup caster sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups full cream milk



  1. Prepare your pot(s). 

    If you don't already have fancy pudding steaming equipment, you'll need two pots - one to contain the pudding batter, a larger one to steam it in (the steam bath?)

    I made this puligi in a tin pot from an old rice cooker, but you can use any other similar sized, suitable baking dish (my mom uses bundt pans). Just make sure it's fairly deep but will still fit comfortably into the steaming pot (yes, that's what I'm calling the larger pot now).

  2. Grease your tin well. I lined the bottom of mine with baking paper, but found that it really wasn't necessary. The pudding would have popped out easily without it, I'm sure.
  3. A shallow cooling rack goes into the bottom of the steaming pot; your pudding tin will sit on this.
  4. Before heating, pour just enough water in the larger pot to to cover the cooling rack (so the water level will come up just to the bottom of the pudding tin). You'll need to top up this water several times as it evaporates during cooking.
  5. Burning the sugar. 

    Put 1 cup of sugar in a heavy skillet or frying pan. Heat it on high, stirring often, till the sugar melts, turns brown and starts to get really frothy. Stir in your cup of water at this point, but expect a bit of hot sputtering.

  6. Once the water is incorporated, add the can of coconut cream and enjoy the swirly white in caramel as you mix it all in. Remove the pan from the heat and set it aside to cool.
  7. The pudding part.

    Sift the flour with the baking soda, salt and the spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves) into a large bowl then whisk well.

  8. In another bowl, partially melt the butter (it should be very soft, but not too runny) then mix in the other cup of sugar. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then stir in the burnt sugar/coconut cream mixture.
  9. Fold the dry ingredients in and mix well, but just until you get all the lumps out, then pour the batter into your greased tin. Cover it well with aluminium foil, then place it in the prepared steaming pot.
  10. Put the lid on the steaming pot and bring it to boil. Let it boil, adding more water as necessary, for 1 to 2 hours (mine took about an hour and 45 mins). Use a long skewer, inserted all the way to the bottom of the pudding, to check that it's done - it should come out clean.


  1. Beat the egg yolks with the sugar, vanilla and cornstarch until light and fluffy.
  2. In a heavy-based saucepan, heat the milk to boiling (frothing up) point, stirring often, then pour it slowly into the egg mixture, whisking vigorously the whole time.
  3. Return the entire mixture to the saucepan and heat it again but only gently (to a medium-low setting). Keep stirring till the custard thickens slightly.
  4. I usually taste it at this point, to make sure it's sweet enough, and add more caster sugar as necessary.
  5. For an extra creamy custard (optional!) I might add a drop of full cream as well.
  6. The custard is done when it's thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, although some people prefer it thicker. You'll figure out what works for you.

Please don’t let my long as instructions put you off making this puligi. It’s really easy once you’re actually doing it, and the result is too yum to pass up.

Let me know how you go!

About Lils

Made in Samoa, a child of God, lover of language, business and food, I'm a weekend photographer, wannabe world traveler, dilettante musician and sci-fi trekker of stars. Perpetual student, irrational optimist, I'm going to own a cafe someday and teach machines to think like us. Known irl as Lillian T Arp, I'm also that tea-totaling Hamo Geek Girl from One Samoana 😉


Made in Samoa, a child of God, lover of language, business and food, I'm a weekend photographer, wannabe world traveler, dilettante musician and sci-fi trekker of stars. Perpetual student, irrational optimist, I'm going to own a cafe someday and teach machines to think like us. Known irl as Lillian T Arp, I'm also that tea-totaling Hamo Geek Girl from One Samoana ;)

11 thoughts on “Samoan Puligi (steamed pudding)

  1. I just made your pudding for my husbands bday dessert, that was his request, “pudding and custard” : ). WE LOVED it!!! Thank you so much for sharing your recipe, will definitely make it again : ).

  2. April 26, 2014
    Talofa e, Your puligi recipe is so simple and easy. I was looking for a simple one to use for our Samoa Community gathering here in Charlotte North Carolina. I wish I had this recipe during our gathering after Church on Sunday for Easter. Most of our Samoa Community here are active in their Churches and the Community. We don’t forget how we we raised in American Samoa in Church. Some of us are from Leone, Nuuli, Fagatogo,Fagaalu,Vaitogi, Utulei, Vailoa, Futiga and AUA. Thank you for sharing that about funeral in Samoa. Respect is very important in our Culture and our families. May God blessed you for Sharing.

  3. Hi. This is in reference to your Pineapple custard pie. Can you please contact me with the following information. I really want to make your pie but I cannot without your help. I posted on the Somoana site but no response so I’m hoping you see this

    Your recipe looks great. I do need some help with it please.
    What size can is the pineapple?
    Do you use 2 cans (as in the picture above)?
    Do you drain the pineapple before adding it?
    Is the custard powder the same thing as Bird’s custard mix?

  4. Hi Lilian luving ur blogs and keen to contact you about an idea to hook u up with www, can u bounce ur deets so we can chat?

  5. made the puligi and it was perfect, my sauce failed, probably cause i used 1% lowfat milk,lol. any who…i used a vanilla pudding box i had on hand…it was a’ight. lol. my local supermarket didn’t carry custard in a box. this puligi is much better steamed than a baked recipe i got elsewhere. i used your 2 pot method. genius. i remember my mom using an ie. like ewww… those poor days…..thanks for the recipe its saved in my recipe bookmark.

  6. How do you make the puligi sauce… no one seems to add this info with their puligi recipe❣️

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