Lemon Sweet Rolls.
Fluffy & soft lemon sweet rolls covered in a simple lemon cream cheese frosting. These rolls use my quick sweet roll dough – only 1 rise!
Is there truly anything better than waking up to the smell of warm cinnamon rolls baking in the oven? No. At least that’s what I thought before I smelled the sunshine-sweet aroma wafting from my kitchen as these fluffy lemon rolls baked.
They’re springtime in a pan. Happiness in a fluffy spiral. Lemon cream cheese frosting, vanilla bean, lemon zest, and soft buttery dough all in one.
Move over Kevin, I think I’m in love with a sweet roll…
After a night out with friends last weekend, I woke up craving something carby. Kevin mentioned he could go for a giant cinnamon roll and… while I can ALWAYS go for a giant cinnamon roll, I had a better idea. Let’s use up all the lemons in the crisper drawer, the cream cheese sitting in the fridge, and my 1 vanilla bean leftover from a recent batch of very vanilla cupcakes.
Thus these Lemon Sweet Rolls + Buttery Lemon Vanilla Bean Filling + Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting were born. Geez, what a mouthful. A tasty mouthful.
If you are a yeast beginner, I have good news for you! These lemon sweet rolls use my quick-method sweet roll dough. You will find that the typical homemade dough recipe requires two rises. My favorite Raspberry Swirl Sweet Rolls require a first rise of about 1-2 hours. Then a second rise for another two hours. (But one bite of their fluffy dough and juicy middle and you’ll learn that the prep time is worth it!)
However, I have since developed a quicker dough recipe. A dough recipe with all the soft, fluffiness you’re craving but with only 1 quick rise time. Because of this shortcut, my homemade sweet roll dough is perfect for the baker who wants to learn how to work with yeast for the first time. Plus, it’s a perfect starting point for any sort of sweet roll you want to make… like sticky pecan, blueberry, cinnamon, and banana chocolate chip.
When it comes to sweet roll/cinnamon rolls, my secret weapon in the kitchen is Red Star Platinum Yeast. It is the only yeast that I use and I highly recommend it to anyone who asks. Why? Red Star Platinum takes the work out of bread making for you. Its careful formula strengthens your dough and makes working with yeast simple. And simple is always good, right? When it comes to baking – yes!
I ended up making two batches of these sweet rolls. The reason I made two batches was because I made them both differently. Testing and retesting is the only way I can develop the best of the best recipes. With my failed batch, I used my quick-method dough, but the filling is where I messed up. The filling didn’t have softened butter and not nearly enough lemon. It was like biting into a crispy sugar roll. Trust me, it wasn’t good. Batch #2. What a success! You’ll begin with my quick-method dough. Whip it up, roll it out and top with the filling. My lemon sweet roll filling is made from lemon zest, sugar, and vanilla bean. Simply stir them all together until the mixture is sandy. The sugar will help the lemon zest excrete some liquid, so the mixture will be fairly moist. The vanilla bean is purely for flavor; a touch of vanilla extract may be used instead as noted below.
Spread softened butter all over the rolled out dough and top with the lemon sugar filling. Roll the dough up tightly, cut into rolls, arrange into your pan, and let rise for 60-90 minutes until doubled in size. Turn the oven on, sprinkle the rolls with a little more lemon zest and bake until they’re lightly browned. The fresh lemon scent is glorious at this point! Spring has sprung in your kitchen.
Spending a few extra dollars to buy a vanilla bean and using it in the filling is sooo worth it.
Smothering every crevice of these sweet rolls is a light lemon cream cheese frosting. It’s not heavy in the slightest, nor will it take away from the sweet roll itself. I personally cannot imagine a cinnamon roll/sweet roll without some sort of glaze or frosting!
What I love most about these lemon sweet rolls is that each bite isn’t too tart. You won’t find yourself puckering up your lips from an overpowering sour lemon flavor. Rather, they are just sweet enough and just zingy enough. Finding the perfect balance of sweet and tart is tricky when it comes to lemon baked goods, but you guys – this recipe nails it!
Lemon Sweet Rolls
Yield: 11-12 rolls
Total Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes
Fluffy & soft lemon sweet rolls covered in a simple lemon cream cheese frosting. These rolls use my quick cinnamon roll dough - only 1 rise!
- 2 and 3/4 cups (345g) all-purpose flour (careful not to overmeasure)
- 3 Tablespoons (45g) granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 package Red Star Platinum Yeast or any instant yeast (1 packet = 2 and 1/4 teaspoons)1
- 1/2 cup (120ml) water
- 1/4 cup (60ml) milk2
- 2 and 1/2 Tablespoons (40g) unsalted butter
- 1 large egg
- 1/4 cup (60g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- 3/4 cup (150g) granulated sugar
- zest of 2 medium lemons3
- seeds scraped from 1/2 of a vanilla bean (or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract)
Cream Cheese Frosting
- 4 ounces (112g) cream cheese, softened to room temperature
- 1 cup (120g) confectioners' sugar
- juice of two medium lemons3
- extra lemon zest for garnish, optional
- Make the dough: Set aside 1/2 cup of flour. In a large bowl, toss the 2 and 1/4 cups flour, the sugar, salt, and yeast together until evenly dispersed. Set aside.
- Heat the water, milk, and butter together in the microwave until the butter is melted and the mixture is hot to touch. About 115°F (46°C). Stir the butter mixture into the flour mixture. Add the egg and only enough of the reserved flour to make a soft dough. I only needed 1/3 cup, but you may need the full 1/2 cup. Dough will be ready when it gently pulls away from the side of the bowl and has an elastic consistency.
- On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough for about 3-4 minutes. Place in a lightly greased bowl (I used non-stick spray) and let rest for about 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, make the filling: In a medium bowl, combine the sugar, lemon zest, and vanilla. Stir it around until the mixture becomes sandy. Some juices may be excreted from the lemon zest; that's ok.
- After the dough has sat for 10 minutes, roll it out into a 14x8 inch rectangle on a lightly floured surface. Spread the softened butter on top. Sprinkle the lemon sugar filling all over. Roll up the dough tightly. Cut into 11-12 even pieces and place in a lightly greased 9-inch round pan. I used a pie dish, lightly sprayed with nonstick spray. Sprinkle uncooked rolls with additional lemon zest at this point, if desired.
- Loosely cover the rolls with aluminum foil and allow to rise in a warm, draft-free place for 60-90 minutes. Here is what I do: heat the oven to 200°F (93°C). Turn oven off. Place rolls inside oven and allow to rise.
- After the rolls have doubled in size, preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Bake for 25-30 minutes until lightly browned. I covered the rolls with aluminum foil after 15 minutes to avoid heavy browning.
- Make the frosting: Right before serving, top your sweet rolls with the cream cheese frosting. Using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese on medium speed until smooth. Add the confectioners' sugar and lemon juice and beat on medium-high until creamy. Frost warm rolls and sprinkle with additional lemon zest, if desired.
- Rolls are best enjoyed the same day, but stay fresh and soft in a covered container at room temperature or in the refrigerator for 5 days. Rolls (with or without frosting) freeze well, up to about 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator and heat up however you prefer.
- Make ahead/overnight: This dough can be made the night before through step 5. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in the refrigerator overnight. The next morning, remove from the refrigerator and allow to rise at room temperature, about 1 hour.
- If you replace Red Star Platinum with regular active dry yeast, you rise time may be 50% longer.
- I always use skim milk or 1%. Any milk fat will be fine.
- *1 medium-size lemon = approximately 1 tablespoon of lemon zest = 2 to 3 tablespoons of lemon juice
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Try my Blueberry Sweet Rolls with Lemon Glaze next!