Guyanese cuisine has many savory and sweet dishes where coconut is the star ingredient. It is a fruit that is widely available due to the climate and location of the country. We use it to make rice dishes, oil, milk, pastries, and breads. One of my favorite coconut any-time-of-day foods is a red roll known as Salara.
What is Salara?
Salara (also known as red roll, coconut roll, or red bread) is one of the most popular breads of Guyanese cuisine. A soft, but slightly dense bread dough is rolled up with a sweetened and spiced coconut filling, then baked until golden brown.
The coconut is colored using red food coloring for a vibrant feel. It is the visual hallmark of the dough. Many Guyanese people would even say Salara isn’t Salara if the coconut isn’t red! After it cools, slice it, and admire the beautiful swirls inside. This bread is typically enjoyed for breakfast, snack time, or after dinner with a nice hot cup of tea.
Growing up I remember purchasing Salara from Guyanese bakeries in Queens, NY. You can easily purchase a bag of 3-5 slices at Guyanese bakeries. Many people will buy it alongside other pastries and loaves of bread for the week.
Other times the women in my family would bake it on the weekends—when they weren’t working and had more time to work on large baking projects. The process of making salara takes up to two hours from start to finish. This includes mixing the dough and allowing it to rise, prepping the coconut filing, filling the dough, and rolling it and letting it rest then baking.
The Best Salara is Homemade
Although this is one of my favorite breads, I’ve always had two complaints on varying occasions—there was never enough coconut in the filling, or the bread was too dry! This recipe solves both of these issues I’ve had with the store-bought varieties and is absolutely delicious.
This would be perfect on a brunch table served alongside other teatime snacks for a holiday spread—think Mother’s Day or New Year’s Day. Or enjoy it as a hold-me-over snack with your favorite soft drink to wash it all down!
Ingredients for Salara (Guyanese Coconut Roll)
Salara is a yeasted bread dough with a coconut swirled filling. The bread is made from a soft dough that has a bit of butter in it, but not enough to make it a short crust pastry. The coconut is seasoned with brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and aromatics like vanilla and sometimes almond extract or Guyanese mixed essence—a blend of different extracts. Lastly, the coconut is gently sautéed to melt the sugar and meld all the flavors together.
How to Make Yeasted Dough for Salara
Although many people are intimidated by bread making, the dough for Salara is quite simple to bring together. Start by activating the yeast, which just means mixing it with liquid (in this case warm water and sugar). Sugar helps the yeast bloom or grow progressively, which is what you want in order to achieve a fluffy dough.
The quality of yeast matters as well. You’ll know your yeast has expired if it doesn’t bloom after 15 minutes. In that case, start with a brand-new container or packet of yeast. I prefer using the Platinum Red Star active dry yeast, it always provides great results.
In a separate bowl, mix some all-purpose flour with sugar and salt. When the yeast is ready add it to the flour and knead into a soft dough. Let the dough rest and rise for 40 or so minutes then you can begin assembling the Salara.
Tips and Tricks for Making Salara
- To make this recipe successfully I recommend having everything measured out and ready before you start working: Know what bowls you’re going to use, line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set it aside, and prep the coconut ahead of time.
- I also recommend having an extra brand-new packet of yeast just in case the first batch of yeast doesn’t bloom.
- During the first rise, I like to place the bowl with the dough in the oven or microwave alongside a mug with steaming water. The humidity helps the yeast rise nicely. If putting in the oven—use a pan of steaming water instead of a mug.
- McCormick red food coloring works fine. Just make sure any food coloring you use is a “no-taste” red.
Ingredient Swaps and Substitutions
Salara when made completely from scratch can take a couple of hours, but using substitutions can speed up the process and still yield a beautiful red bread.
- Traditionally Salara is made with freshly grated dry coconut—desiccated coconut. This however takes a lot of effort and patience. A specific grater is also needed to grate the coconut. Thankfully, using store-bought sweetened coconut flakes is a great substitute. You can use it as is or pulse it in a food processor to make it more fine and similar to the freshly grated option.
- If you’d like to speed up the process, using a package of your favorite bread mix (for one loaf) works in a pinch.
- Any kind of milk and fat can work for the dough. I’m using dairy butter, but coconut oil, coconut milk, almond milk and vegan butters can be used measure for measure in its place (a 1:1 ration works best).
- Other options for red food coloring—beetroot dye or hibiscus plant (boil some hibiscus or sorrel flowers in about 1/2 cup water until the water is very red, let it cool) then use it to color the coconut. A couple of tablespoons is enough anymore than that will make the coconut too wet and eventually make the Salara soggy. Note that neither of these options will get the coconut to a deep red color.
Guyanese vs. Trinidadian Salara
Trinidadian coconut roll is visually similar to Guyanese Salara. However, the Trinidadian version is made from a short crust pastry while the Guyanese version is a yeast-based dough. The results are a difference in texture. Trini coconut rolls don’t usually contain any food coloring, but the flavorings are similar and both very tasty!
Because the dough for Salara is yeast-based, I don’t recommend freezing it prior to baking. The thawed dough tends to not rise as much as when you bake it the same day you made it. The filling on the other hand freezes quite nicely after seasoning and cooking. So that means you can make the coconut filling, store it and have it ready when you want to make a batch of Salara. Store filing in a gallon-sized freezer bag.
I prefer to make the Salara from start to finish (including baking), let it cool, then freeze. Once the salara is completely cooled, wrap it whole, in plastic wrap. Although if you’ve made a loaf and want to store the rest in the freezer, you can wrap those pieces together in plastic wrap. When ready to defrost I like to put it in the oven for 10-12 minutes at 300°F.
After the Salara is done baking, let it cool completely. Wrap in wax paper and then wrap in foil or line a Tupperware dish with wax paper and store Salara inside. Salara can be refrigerated and warmed up when ready to eat or left on the counter for up to 2-3 days at room temperature.
More Yeasted Baked Goods
Salara (Guyanese Coconut Roll)
- For the dough
- 1 teaspoon active dry yeast, such as Red Star
- 1 teaspoon granulated or brown sugar
- 1/4 cup warm water
- 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more as needed to prevent sticking
- 4 tablespoons granulated sugar
- Pinch of salt
- 3/4 cup warm milk
- 2 tablespoons melted butter
- For the filling
- 3 cups sweetened shredded coconut
- 1/4 cup water
- 2 tablespoons melted butter
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon almond extract
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- Liquid red food coloring (I use McCormick brand)
- To finish
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
Bloom the yeast:
In a small wide bowl, add dry yeast and 1 teaspoon sugar. Pour warm water over the yeast and sugar and stir until combined. Let it sit for 20 minutes—the yeast should become very foamy. As long as it foams, it’s good to use.
Combine dry ingredients:
In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, 4 tablespoons sugar, and salt using a whisk.
Combine wet and dry ingredients and knead dough:
Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Pour in milk, melted butter, and bloomed yeast.
Using a rubber spatula, stir to combine until a tacky dough forms.
Knead the dough:
Sprinkle additional flour over the dough as needed and gently knead on your countertop until the dough is soft and no longer tacky or sticky. To knead, use your fingers to bring one edge of the dough into the center then press down with the end of your palm. Use your knuckles to massage as you go along. Do this for a couple of minutes.
Rub a little oil on your hands and drizzle over the dough. Gently knead again. Rub oil along the inside of the bowl and bottom of the bowl and place dough inside. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rest for 45 minutes until doubled in size.
Combine filling ingredients:
In a large mixing bowl, combine coconut, water, butter, vanilla extract, almond extract, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and few drops of food coloring. Your filling should be a deep red color.
Cook the coconut filling:
Heat a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the coconut filling and sauté until sugar is melted and filling smells fragrant, 5-6 minutes. Set aside to cool until room temperature, about 10 minutes.
Knead rested dough:
Remove plastic wrap from the bowl, using your hands, punch the dough down to remove large air bubbles. Knead gently for 3-4 minutes to remove smaller air bubbles until the dough is soft and pliable.
Roll out the dough:
Sprinkle a little flour on a work surface—using a rolling pin, roll out dough into a rectangular shape around 16 inches by 14 inches and 1/4 to 3/4 inch in thickness. This measurement does not have to be exact or perfectly rectangular, but get it as close to this as possible.
Add filling to dough:
Evenly spread filling on dough using a silicone spatula. I prefer a spatula because it doesn't tug at the dough when spreading. Leave about an inch around the edges without filling.
Roll Salara dough:
From the longest side, roll the Salara into a log. Pinch the edges to seal the dough closed so the filling doesn’t seep out during baking. Once it’s sealed gently tuck it under for a rounded edge. Fold each end under to seal.
Prepare baking sheet and let Salara rest before baking, and preheat oven:
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Lift the Salara onto the baking sheet and place diagonally. You can use a silicone spatula to help with lifting one end.
Allow the Salara to rest on the baking sheet for 25 minutes uncovered to allow the dough portion to rise for a second time.
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Bake Salara for 25-26 minutes. You’ll know it’s done when it is evenly browned and your kitchen smells fragrant. Another way to test for doneness is if you press the Salara with a spatula and the cooked dough springs back without a dent.
Brush Salara with melted butter and let cool:
When Salara is done, immediately brush melted butter all over the top and sides. Cover with plastic wrap and kitchen towel. Let it cool completely before slicing.
Cut Salara into 12-13 slices. Enjoy warm or cold for breakfast, a snack, or a teatime treat. Wrap remaining slices in wax paper or parchment paper and then in a sheet of aluminum foil paper. You can also store it in an airtight container lined with wax or parchment paper.
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