If you’ve ever had a cinnamon roll in Pakistan, it’s most likely been at a Cinnabon in a mall (the US-based franchise first opened in Karachi in 2012). This sweet, indulgent dessert satisfies Pakistanis’ sweet tooth so much, it may as well have been invented here.

But while the Americans may have exported cinnamon roll to the world via its franchises, it originally comes from northern Europe and is found in countries such as Sweden, Finland and northern Germany.

While cinnamon rolls can be traced back to parts of Europe, its star ingredient — cinnamon — came from Sri Lanka, reportedly brought by the Romans to northern Europe. In fact, cinnamon is one of the oldest spices to be traded in the world. In ancient Egypt and Greece, the spice was so prized, it was considered a gift worthy of royalty. The Egyptians even used cinnamon in embalming mummies.

Native to the Subcontinent, cinnamon was, at one time, part of the colonial trade wars. The Portuguese and Dutch fought to control the cinnamon trade in Sri Lanka while the British established one of the world’s largest cinnamon estates in Kerala, India.

The Nordic dessert of cinammon rolls is the perfect addition to a wintry afternoon tea

The British eventually also colonised Sri Lanka — in 1796 — completing their dominance in the trade of the prized spice. Today, Indonesia and China are the largest exporters of cinnamon, providing 70 percent of the world’s supplies. Of course, this cinnamon is a related species to the Sri Lankan variety — Cinnamomum verum or “true cinnamon”.

For most of us, cinnamon is associated with savoury dishes — biryani and pulao wouldn’t be the same without it! But in the West, cinnamon is commonly found as an ingredient in cakes or sweet fare.

Cinnamon rolls, for example, are eaten in Scandinavia with coffee; the sweetness complementing the bitterness of the coffee. Dig out cinnamon from your spice rack and reflect on the spice’s geopolitical history — while munching on some delicious rolls of course!

Cinnamon Rolls (Makes 14-15 rolls)

What can be better in the winter than curling up with a cup of masala chai and cinnamon rolls hot from the oven? I prefer them plain but, if you’re hankering for something very sweet, drizzle that frosting.

The rolls can be made a day ahead but they’re best made — and served — fresh. If you make them a day before, cover and wrap the dough tightly with a cloth or cling wrap when storing in the fridge. Before baking, take them out of the fridge and let the roll dough rise for at least half an hour.


For the rolls

2 cups milk
4 cups flour (plus one more cup)
1 tablespoon dry yeast
½ cup unsalted butter, melted
½ cup granulated fine sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
For the filling
¾ cup butter
¾ cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon

For the frosting

8 tablespoons cream cheese
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
1 cup confectionery/icing sugar


Melt the butter in a heated saucepan or the microwave. Warm the milk to around 35-40°C. Note: If the milk or butter is too hot, it will kill the yeast, so be careful.

Scoop out ¾ cup of butter for the filling and set aside.

In a bowl, mix the milk, butter and sugar, whisking it well. Add the yeast, folding it in, and set aside for a minute.

Add 2 cups of the flour, folding it into the mixture. Add the remaining 2 cups and fold well into the mixture.

Wet a small towel and cover the bowl with it. Put in a warm place for an hour — I usually heat up my small toaster oven, turn it off and place the mixture in there for it to rise. If it’s a hot day, any spot in the kitchen where there’s plenty of sun or warmth will also do.

Check to see if the dough has doubled after an hour or so. If the dough hasn’t risen enough, place back in the warm place.

After the dough has doubled in size, add ¾ cup flour, the baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Mix well.

Sprinkle flour on a clean, flat surface. Sprinkle some flour on your hands and the dough, too. Knead well, sprinkling on flour to get rid of the dough’s stickiness. Press down on the dough, kneading it till it is soft to the touch. Roll out the dough into a ½-inch-thick rectangle.

Make the filling for the rolls. Mix the softened butter, cinnamon and brown sugar in a bowl. Spread the mixture with a butter knife on the rolled-out dough.

Roll the dough into a long tube, pinching the open end close. Place the roll pinched-side down and cut into 1.5-inch-thick pieces. There should be 14 to 15 pieces.

Place the cut rolls in a baking pan. Wet a towel and cover the pan with it. If the pan is too shallow and touching the dough, you can put the roll pieces in a pot or deep bowl and transfer them to a baking tray later. Place in a warm place for half an hour to make the dough rise. Once the individual rolls have risen, they are ready to bake.

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Bake for half an hour or until done (the rolls should look golden brown). Set aside to cool.

Make the frosting. Mix all the ingredients thoroughly and place in the fridge till needed.

Drizzle frosting on the baked rolls. Serve fresh with a hot cup of tea or coffee.

Published in Dawn, EOS, November 20th, 2022



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