Lemony Sweet Cheese Rolls

Lemon Sweet Rolls
Photography by Brian Wetzstein | Food styling by Donna Coates and Linda Hall

A spin on the traditional Syrian dessert halawet el jibn, these sweet cheese semolina rolls feature lemon in place of orange blossom and rose waters.

SERVING SIZE: 3 pieces (60 grams)
PREP TIME: 15 minutes
COOKING TIME: 16 to 18 minutes


  • 1 cup low-fat cream cheese, room temperature
  • ½ cup nonfat Greek yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • ⅔ cup sugar
  • ⅔ cup (160 milliliters) water
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon (20 milliliters) fresh lemon juice, divided
  • 1⅔ cup shredded low-moisture part-skim mozzarella cheese
  • ½ cup semolina flour
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped raw pistachios


  1. In a small mixing bowl, combine cream cheese, yogurt and lemon zest with a large spoon then place in the refrigerator.
  2. Place two 18-inch sheets of plastic wrap on a counter side by side.
  3. In a 2-quart pot over medium heat, make simple syrup by adding sugar and water and stirring until sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes.
  4. Pour simple syrup into a 2-cup glass measuring cup, then pour all but ½ cup into a 1-quart pot.
  5. To the 2-quart pot, add remaining ½ cup simple syrup plus 1 teaspoon lemon juice and bring to a light simmer over medium heat.
  6. Add mozzarella to the 2-quart pot and stir gently until it forms a soft mass, about 1 minute.
  7. Add semolina and stir to combine into a dough-like ball for 3 minutes or until temperature reaches 165°F.
  8. When cool enough to touch, split dough into equal halves and place each in the center of the plastic wrap sheets.
  9. Cover each ball of dough with a second sheet of equal-sized plastic wrap and press palms onto dough to form an oval. Use a rolling pin to spread each oval into a rectangle, approximately 12-by-7 inches.
  10. Remove top sheets of plastic wrap and use a butter knife to straighten or trim edges.
  11. Cut each rectangle in half lengthwise and separate by a few inches.
  12. Add 5 tablespoons cheese mixture along the long edge of each small rectangle, making sure it is evenly spread the length of the rectangles.
  13. Pull plastic wrap up on cheese side of rectangle to help form the dough into a roll and overlap excess plastic to keep the shape.
  14. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  15. Bring simple syrup to a gentle simmer over medium heat, then reduce heat to low and cook for 6 to 8 minutes.
  16. Add remaining 1 tablespoon lemon juice, stir and simmer for 6 minutes.
  17. Pour into a small bowl and refrigerate for 25 minutes.
  18. Unwrap rolls and use a sharp knife to slice them into about 1¼-inch segments (9 pieces per roll).
  19. Use a wet towel to wipe any excess cheese off the knife between slices.
  20. Dip one side of each piece into the chopped pistachios and place nut-side-up on a serving plate.
  21. Finish by drizzling lemon syrup on top.

Cooking note: Rolls can be covered in plastic wrap and stored in the refrigerator for up to two days. Store syrup separately (drizzle syrup over rolls just before serving).

NUTRITION PER SERVING: 180 calories, 6g total fat, 3g saturated fat, 21mg cholesterol, 183mg sodium, 21g carbohydrate, 0g fiber, 15g sugar, 9g protein, 90mg potassium, 156mg phosphorus

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Michele Redmond
Michele Redmond, MS, RDN, FAND is a French-trained chef and “Food Enjoyment Activist” who specializes in flavor development, food culture diversity and culinary nutrition through online classes, training events and consulting. She directs TheTasteWorkshop.com in Scottsdale, AZ. Follow her on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.