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Coconut Roll or Roli Poli: Popular sweet treat from Trinidad and Tobago

Written By | Dec 26, 2019
Coconut Roll, Puff 'n Stuff

Freshly baked coconut rolls. Screen shot of YouTube “how to” video. Link:

WASHINGTON — Trinidad and Tobago is a twin island Republic located right off the northeastern coast of Venezuela. This little island nation is a well known destination for seasoned travelers. Foodies especially. For those relishing a sweet sensation to reawaken their already decadent taste buds, the Coconut Roll is the perfect treat. Particularly the famous Coconut Roll produced by the Puff ‘n Stuff bakery of San Fernando.

Health benefits of coconut

The coconut is known for its fiber content. It is also rich in iron, which promotes healthy blood flow. These benefits, including the coconut’s high manganese content, help promote strong bones while fighting against the onset of osteoporosis.

Similar to most other pastries, the coconut roll comes with either a flaky crust or soft dough crust, and is usually coated with a sweet glaze, aka a “sugar water resin” for those who specialize in baking. If caught fresh out of the oven. the roll will be slightly sticky. Left to cool, only the taste-buds can detect it.

Treated as a light snack, is not too filling. So it goes great with brunch, or, later in the day, can be a delight as an eat-on-the-go picnic-style treat.

Seeking out the Coconut Roll in Trinidad and Tobago

When traveling in Trinidad and Tobago, finding a great selection of delicious pastries is easy. That’s particularly true at Puff ‘n Stuff Bakery in the city of San Fernando, situated in the southwestern part of Trinidad, the big island. It’s a major tourist destination, offering great accommodations and boasting awesome food selections and a truly exotic night life. I suggest you pay a visit there on your next trip to the twin isles, a journey you may find just as sweet as the cakes at Puff ‘n Stuff.

Coconut Roll, Puff 'n Stuff Bakery

Puff ‘n Stuff Bakery, main location. Screen capture via Google Maps. Fair use, citing the establishment.

More about the Coconut Roll

While visiting this island nation, you could gobble up a great variety of sweet, high calory treats, most of which you can find in any bakery. The Trinidad and Tobago coconut roll, however, is virtually unique.

Bakers mix the shredded coconut in the Trinidad and Tobago coconut roll with red food coloring to bring out not only the optics of the pastry but the mouthwatering attractiveness of the culinary art itself.

Most coconut-pastries from other locales are white. That’s fine, and this more accurately reflects the color of natural coconut. But in its presentation, such a coconut roll lacks the vivid allure that uniquely belongs to the Trinidad and Tobago coconut roll. Peering into the selections available in the glass pastry display case at your local Starbucks pales in comparison to T&T’s eye-catching confection. The rich hue and the swirls of red embedded in the tasty crust calls out to you, before you even hit the register. It appears in the pastry case as a long roll that is sliced in diagonals, just like the National flag.

A single slice will run you about TT$12. That’s about US$2. And it is well worth it.

Making the Coconut Roll filling

The rolls offered by some local bakeries will have a more pronounced taste of bay leaf, one of the herbs used to prepare the coconut filling. In general, the following spices are added to the coconut filling: grated nutmeg, ground cinnamon, cane sugar, bay leaf, orange peel. The filling can also be amped up with a dash of angostura bitters and / or extracts of vanilla, pear, and anise seed.  And, of course, that touch of red food coloring to create the filling’s distinctive pink shade.

The baker adds these ingredients to the right amount of grated coconut. Then, he or she heats the mixture the sugar melts and the filling achieves the baker’s desired texture. One local option: Some rolls are served without that notable red coloring, however, unlike the usual T&T coconut roll. In this case, the filling is brown in color due to the caremalized cane sugar used to sweeten the filling.

Making the Coconut Roll dough

Pastry-makers create the dough with proprietary ingredient blends. Usual ingredients include flour, shortening or oil, eggs, sugar, baking powder or yeast and various essences or extracts. They roll the mixture into a ball and leave it to rise until it’s ready. Then, they roll the balls out into a roughly rectangular, flat sheet, and leave the dough to rest. Then, they spoon the cooked filling onto the flattened dough, which they then rolled into cylinders somewhat like American nut rolls or poppy seed rolls. If using a yeast recipe, the pastry chef leaves the dough to rise before baking.

Then, the pastry-chef moves the pastry onto a baking sheet and places it into the oven preheated to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. The chef bakes the rolls for about 15 minutes. After the rolls cool, the chef or bakery staff brushes the sugar water glaze on and the rolls stand ready for slicing on the diagonal. The staff arranges the freshly baked rolls in the pastry case eager customers line up to buy them.

— Headline image: Freshly baked T&T style coconut rolls. Screen shot of YouTube “how to” video


Kerry Baynes

Kerry Baynes is currently a Msc University West Indies, Financial Economics. As a research assistant for the New Jersey State Senate, he was responsible for research on economic, budget/fiscal issues, and the impact of tax policy. He served as a Media Strategist for Garry Cobb For Congress, in 2014 and Giordano for Assembly, in 2015. Since 2006, he acted as Manager of Alpha Strategy Group, an Urban Media Company. Currently an Associate at World Financial Group (WFG), he works to build and protect wealth for families and individuals from all walks of life.