Cinnamon Rolls Inspired by A Little Princess

AKA: More delicious goodies for your holiday gatherings!

As we make our way ever-closer to Christmas, we’ve been sharing our favorite literary-inspired recipes for the season. And, once again, our managing Heidi White is here with one of her tried and true recipes, this one inspired by A Little Princess.

It is winter, and Sara Crewe is starving. Upon her father’s death, Sara lost not just her only parent, but her fortune as well, leaving her orphaned and destitute. Miss Minchin, the headmistress of Sara’s exclusive boarding school, is cruel to her once-favored pupil, forcing Sara to work as little more than a slave while she sleeps in the freezing attic and eats table scraps. One winter’s day, Sara, clad in a thin, short dress and cracked boots, gazes longingly into a warm and cheerful bakery window at the fresh-baked bread and cakes. A kindly baker observes the thin, pale girl, clad so inadequately for raw London December, and offers her six currant buns. But as Sara gratefully gives thanks for the fresh bread and turns toward home, she sees a frail street waif shivering in an alley, "hungrier than I am," and she gives the child her own meager meal.

This moving vignette is from the childhood classic, A Little Princess. In the spirit of Christmas, I gave the baker’s currant buns an upgrade, adapting a cinnamon roll recipe to make sticky currant buns worthy of a more modern British bakery. This recipe makes two generous pans - one for you and one to bless a friend or neighbor as Sara Crewe, in spite of her many sufferings, blessed her neighbor. —Heidi White


Cinnamon Rolls

  • 2 1/2 cups very warm water 

  • 1/4 cup melted butter (for dough)

  • 1/2 cup maple syrup (honey works just fine)

  • 1 heaping teaspoon salt

  • 1 generous teaspoon cardamom (TRUST ME - this spice is extra-special-delicious in this recipe)

  • 2 tablespoons high-quality yeast (I always use SAF. You may use yeast packets if you like.)

  • 2 1/2 cups flour (keep flour bag available in case you need more)

  • 1 stick melted butter (for rolling out)

  • 2 tablespoons cinnamon, divided (or to taste)

  • 4 tablespoons brown sugar, divided (or to taste)

  • 1 cup currants (or raisins), divided


  • 4 oz cream cheese

  • 14 tablespoons butter

  • 1 tablespoon bourbon

  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup

  • 3 tablespoons milk

  • 3 cups powdered sugar

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt


In an electric mixer with the dough hook attached, pour in the very warm water (about the temperature of a hot shower). The hot water activates the yeast, so don’t skip this step! Never add the yeast directly into the hot water (it might kill the yeast instead of activating it), so add the melted butter, maple syrup, salt, and cardamom. Add 1 cup flour. Now add the yeast. Mix until just combined. Add the remaining flour in 1/2 cup increments, pausing between increments to mix until just combined. (Mixing while adding flour will make the dough tough - keep it soft by alternating.) After all the flour is added, mix for 10-15 seconds. If the dough pulls away from the bowl about halfway up the side, it is ready to mix. If it pulls completely to the center, add a tablespoon of water to soften the dough. If it is too sticky to pull away at all, add a tablespoon or two of flour, alternating mixing and adding, When the dough pulls away halfway up the side of the bowl, it is ready to mix for 5 minutes. After mixing, pulse in 1-2 tablespoons of water to make the dough very soft. 

Oil your hands. Divide dough in half. Roll out each dough half into a 12x18 rectangle. Spread with melted butter to the edges. Sprinkle brown sugar, cinnamon, and currants to the edges. Roll up jelly-roll style and cut into 1 1/2 inch rolls. Lay flat and place in greased 9X13 inch pan and let rise until doubled. 

Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes. 

Meanwhile, with an electric or hand mixer, whisk together the cream cheese, butter, bourbon, maple syrup, salt, and milk. Slowly stir in powdered sugar in 1/2 cup increments. Whisk until fully blended. The glaze should be thin enough to pour, so add more liquid if needed. Pour over warm cinnamon rolls and sprinkle with currants. Serve warm with coffee or tea. Voila!

More book-inspired holiday recipes in this series: