Updated: Oct 21
Calling all lemon lovers! These Lemon Sweet Rolls are the perfect weekend baking escape. The lemon is not overpowering and has hints of cinnamon, all-spice, and brown sugar to mimic the traditional cinnamon rolls we all crave. Pair this morning of baking with some Marvin Gaye, and get to baking!
Read recipe over carefully before and while making your rolls! Paying attention to anything that’s bolded.
Lemon Sweet Rolls
For the dough:
2 1/2 tsp active yeast, (1 envelope or 1/4 ounce)
3/4 cup whole milk warm (100°F)
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces and softened, (1 stick)
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
1/4 cup honey
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 TBS lemon zest, about 1 lemon
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon
For the sticky lemon filling:
3/4 cup light brown sugar, (lightly packed)
1 TBS lemon zest, about 1 lemon
4 TBS unsalted butter, softened (1/2 stick)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp all-spice
1/8 tsp salt
2 TBS lemon juice, about 1 lemon
For the lemon cream cheese glaze:
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 TBS butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup powdered sugar
For the dough:
Combine warm milk and honey in the bowl of a stand mixer. Sprinkle the yeast over top and give it 1 light stir with a spoon or spatula. Let this mixture sit for a few minutes until it starts to foam. *Using the mixer paddle, turn the mixer on low, then stir in the eggs, vanilla, and lemon zest, until combined. Next, stir in the salt, cinnamon, and 3 cups of the flour.
Now, increase your mixer speed to medium and add half of your butter, 1 piece at a time, allowing the dough to absorb the butter. After half of your butter is added, turn dough over with a rubber spatula, scrape down sides, return your mixer to medium speed and add the remaining 1 ½ cups of flour. Then as before, add the remaining half of your butter 1 piece at a time, until your dough has come together and is soft with a slight stickiness.
Now, switch to the dough hook and knead at low speed for about 4-5 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and stretchy.
Lightly grease a large bowl with vegetable oil. Place dough into the bowl. Move the dough around the bowl until it becomes fully coated with oil. Wrap the bowl with plastic wrap and store in a warm place, free from drafts. Let the dough rise for about 1 hour or until it doubles in size.
For the filling:
Mix the brown sugar, lemon zest, butter, cinnamon, all-spice, salt, and lemon juice in a small bowl until all ingredients are combined. Place this mixture in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes while your dough is rising. You don’t want this mixture to be completely firm but you also don’t want it to be too soft or runny or it will fall out of your dough when spreading and rolling.
To make the rolls (once the dough has risen):
Lightly grease a 13x9-inch baking dish with baking spray or butter. On a floured surface, form the dough into a large, thick rectangle about 10 x 15 inches. Use a rolling pin if you prefer.
Now, spread the lemon filling evenly over the dough to the edges, but not over. Roll the dough tightly, starting from the longest side. Cut the log into 12 even rolls and place each in the prepared baking dish. Cover the rolls lightly with plastic wrap so there is room for them to expand. Let them rise for 1 hour or until puffy and doubled in size.
Heat the oven to 350°F. Place the rolls in the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes. You can peek inside the middle roll with a knife to make sure the dough is soft, gooey, yet not raw (be gentle).
For the cream cheese glaze:
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, or with a hand mixer, beat the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla on medium until smooth. Add the powdered sugar and mix on low until combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix on medium until the icing is light and fluffy, about 3 to 4 minutes.
Glaze the rolls:
When the rolls are done, Let them cool for about 10 minutes in the pan before spreading on the icing. Let them cool for another 10 minutes or so before serving (if you can wait that long).
Serve rolls warm but not hot. Garnish with any remaining lemon zest. Freeze any leftovers, by wrapping with plastic wrap and placing them in a freezer bag. They will keep in the freezer for up to 3 months.
By longest side, we mean the side, that when rolled, will give you the longest and thinnest log. Rolling the other direction would give a shorter and thicker log. Using the longest side will ensure that you get 12 cinnamon rolls.
If you don’t have a ⅛ tsp. Eyeball a ½ of a ¼ tsp, it will be okay for this recipe!
The butter needs to be extremely soft for this recipe BUT NOT MELTED.
*Yeast is fragile. You will need to make sure your milk is not too hot, a thermometer is best, but if you don’t have a thermometer, you will need to test the milk with your finger. Place a finger in your warmed milk. It should feel “just warm” but not hot. If you cannot comfortably keep your finger inside the milk, it is too hot.
Make sure the bowl you let your dough rise in, is big enough for your dough to double in size.
If you do not have a stand mixer, mix the ingredients with a hand mixer in a large bowl, then turn the sticky dough out onto a lightly floured surface to knead by hand until the dough is smooth, pliable, and stretchy.
If you want to make the rolls a day in advance, after you’ve assembled your rolls and placed them in a pan. Do not let them rise! Cover the pan tightly with plastic wrap and place them in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. When you are ready to bake the rolls, remove the pan from the fridge, loosen the plastic wrap, and let them rise for at least an hour, until doubled in size. Bake as directed.