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!

lemon sweet rolls with lemon cream cheese frosting

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…

lemon sweet rolls with lemon cream cheese frosting on a white plate

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!

Baking with Yeast Guide

Reference this Baking with Yeast Guide whenever you work with baker’s yeast. I include practical answers to all of your common yeast questions.

lemons on a white cutting board with a zester

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.

lemon sweet rolls in a glass baking dish

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!

lemon sweet rolls with lemon cream cheese frosting on a blue plate

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!

Follow me on Instagram and tag #sallysbakingaddiction so I can see all the SBA recipes you make. 

More morning sweetness: Homemade Orange Sweet Rolls, Chocolate Chip Cherry Sweet Rolls, Caramel Apple Cinnamon Rolls, Cake Batter Cinnamon Rolls, Blueberry Sweet Rolls with Lemon Glaze, Banana Chocolate Chip Cinnamon Rolls, Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls, S’mores Cinnamon Rolls, Strawberry Rolls with Sweet Lemon Glaze, and Easy Slow Cooker Cinnamon Rolls

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3 images of lemon sweet rolls

Lemon Sweet Rolls

  • Author: Sally
  • Prep Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
  • Cook Time: 25 minutes
  • Total Time: 2 hours, 5 minutes
  • Yield: 11-12 rolls
  • Category: Breakfast
  • Method: Baking
  • Cuisine: American

Description

Fluffy & soft lemon sweet rolls covered in a simple lemon cream cheese frosting. These rolls use my quick sweet roll dough – only 1 rise!


Ingredients

Rolls

  • 2 and 3/4 cups (344g) all-purpose flour (spoon & leveled)
  • 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)*
  • 1/2 cup (120ml) water
  • 1/4 cup (60ml) whole milk*
  • 2 and 1/2 Tablespoons (40g) unsalted butter
  • 1 large egg

Filling

  • 1/4 cup (60g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 3/4 cup (150g) granulated sugar
  • zest of 2 medium lemons*
  • 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 lemons*
  • optional: extra lemon zest for garnish

Instructions

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. After the dough has sat for 10 minutes, roll it out into a 14×8 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.

Notes

  1. Make Ahead & Overnight Instructions: 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.
  2. Yeast: If you replace Red Star Platinum with regular active dry yeast, you rise time may be 50% longer.
  3. Milk: I prefer whole milk in this dough, but lower fat or nondairy milks work in a pinch.
  4. Lemons: 1 medium-size lemon = approximately 1 tablespoon of lemon zest = 2 to 3 tablespoons of lemon juice.
  5. Reference my Baking with Yeast Guide for answers to common yeast FAQs.

Keywords: lemon sweet rolls

27 Comments

  1. I’ve made your Raspberry Swirl sweet rolls (the first recipe of yours that I tried – I have been hooked to your recipes ever since!) and they were delicious but these looks amazing – picking up some lemons on my way home from work tonight and making these this weekend! Thanks once again, Sally for giving us a special weekend breakfast!

  2. Do you think I could use this sweet roll dough instead of the dough recipe used for the raspberry swirl sweet rolls? I made those, and they were divine. The only thing that is keeping me from making them again is the second rise. I usually don’t have that much extra time to put into making sweet rolls.

    1. Definitely, Kelly! But the Raspberry Sweet Roll dough makes a little more, so when you use that filling for this particular dough recipe – you’ll have some leftover. Or just reduce the filling by 1/4. Might be easier to just make the entire filling recipe. Enjoy!

  3. Marlys Stellingwerf says:

    Sally,
    I made your Lemon Sweet Roll today. I miss read the part where you butter the dough then sprinkle the filling over it. I added the butter and filling together and spread it over the dough. Was worried but it turned out just fine. They are wonderful and my husband loved them! I am so bless to have found your website. I look forward to discovering all you delicious recipes. It brightens my day! Good Luck on the Cookbook. I gotta put in my order!

  4. Never would’ve thought to put lemons in a sweet roll! Can’t wait to try it for a spring tea time. Do you think Meyer lemons would be okay?

    1. Absolutely!

  5. This is my first time using yeast! I don’t know why I’ve been so intimidated by it (I felt this way about deep frying too, until I actually gave it a shot). I am looking forward to a delicious lemony treat tomorrow morning!

  6. Hi Sally-

    I made these last night for breakfast today. These rolls are amazing-and my ENTIRE Family of 5 loved them!! I was impressed at how easy the dough came together; I put them in my stand mixer and let the dough hook do the kneading for 3 minutes. Even rolling it out was easy. I made through step 5 last night and they doubled nicely this morning rising in a warm oven.

    Thank you for another great weekend breakfast recipe!!

  7. Marie from G says:

    We made these today and, wow, they were so so good! No complaints1 We´ll definitely make them again and again and again! Thank you!

  8. I tried this recipe today and the resulting lemon rolls were absolutely delicious! I have tried several of your recipes and it’s apparent that you spend a lot of time developing them as they always produce amazing results.

    I do have a question though. I’m thinking of doubling the recipe and baking the rolls in a larger pan. Do you have any idea as to how that would affect the baking time?

  9. I made these a few months ago, and they were TO DIE FOR! I make sweet treats (specialize in cupcakes) for a living, and I guess u could say that I have a natural knack when it comes kitchen creations. These rolls are outstanding-and I can’t say enough about how they completely trump any roll I’ve ever had (and NY has an AMAZING Cinnabon in NYC- But not THIS good!). They really are easy and delicious, and become a favourite from the very first bite. Tomorrow is my daughter’s birthday, and she could request just about anything from me for breakfast….. but she wants THESE.  😉 

  10. Hi Sally,

    I’ve tried making these rolls and the sugar is always melted to the bottom and creates a pool of sugar at the bottom. After baking, the bottom has a layer of caramelized sugar. How can I fix this problem?

    Thanks,

  11. Kathleen Saunders says:

    Do you think I could use orange/orange zest/etc. instead of lemon? My family likes a certain kind of orange roll but thanks to a celiac diagnoses I have to make them from scratch now and this recipe is closer to the rolls we buy than your actual orange roll recipe.

    1. Hi Kathleen! Yes, you can replace the lemon with orange.

  12. Have you ever made mini rolls? I wonder if I wanted to make twice as many at half the size…. would I roll the dough into a longer rectangle? Any suggestions for bake time?

    1. Hi Jaclyn! I haven’t, no. You can prepare the dough, cut it in half after it rests, then roll into two smaller rectangles (about half the size). The rolls will be smaller that way. Bake time will be a little shorter, but I’m not sure exactly how long.

  13. These are so good! I love the tang of the cream cheese and lemon in these sweet rolls-a fantastic balance. Thank you for another winner, Sally!

  14. Well, holy heck. If you like lemon, these are the rolls you want to make. Like….now. Especially when we are all stuck at home, having this burst of Spring today was especially welcome. I absolutely love these and will be making them again, as soon as I can find lemons!!

    Thanks so much for having all of these recipes available. I made these, the sandwich bread, and an herb garlic sea salt skillet rolls (which were amazing as sandwiches!!). I’ll be here a lot while we are down and already have your cookbooks in my cart on Amazon for when money is a bit more fluid. You’re amazing!!

  15. Hi Sally,

    I was just wondering if non-dairy milk can be used in this recipe? Thank you!

    1. It should work, Crystal.

  16. Hi Sally, I only have salted butter at the moment.. could I use that and reduce the salt? Thanks!

    1. Hi Miranda! You can use salted butter. I’ve done it with zero changes to this particular dough recipe.

  17. These rolls are THE BOMB! I’m not sure how this could be improved upon in any way!

  18. Sally I want to use my stand mixer, dough hook, do I keep to three to four minutes kneading? This is only my third attempt at yeast. I had 2 successful pizza dough attempts. Thank you for all your wonderful recipes and instructions.

    1. Glad you are loving my recipes! Yes, knead for the same amount of time if using the dough hook attachment.

  19. Hi Sally.

    May I begin by thanking you for yet another amazing recipe. I have been baking and following your blog since mid April.
    Your sweet scrolls are amazing. Your cinnamon scrolls and your plain cheesecake recipe have become sort after treats at gatherings. People commenting on the amount of technique required etc to create such perfection . The actions are buttery soft yet airy and light. It is amazing how earlier this year I was a home cook who feared yeast . You may laugh but I now have a “daily yeast ritual” where I try new ideas or another of your amazing recipes.
    These little babies are now proofing in the perfect environment of the oven ; another amazing tool you gave me.
    Anyway…. basically I would like to thank you for making me take risks and love baking. I aLso thank you for taking my sweet treats to hero status at family events. These lemon scrolls will be the next talked about item.

    The of reading and trying your recipes is that I have taken my baking skills to the next level.

  20. Oh my god oh my god these are delicious!!! Absolutely wonderful!!!! the dough itself was almost spongy and had such a lovely flavour. These are a new fav for sure. cannot state enough how much i loved these.

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