Let me teach you how to make the softest, fluffiest lemon sweet rolls covered in a tangy lemon cream cheese frosting. These rolls use my quick sweet roll dough, which only requires 1 rise! You know what they say: when life gives you lemons, you should definitely make lemon sweet rolls.
This recipe is brought to you in partnership with Red Star Yeast.
Is there anything better than the smell of warm cinnamon rolls baking in the oven? Obviously not! (Though the case could be argued for the smell of warm chocolate chip cookies.) At least that’s what I thought before I smelled the sunshine-sweet aroma wafting through my kitchen as these fluffy lemon rolls baked.
These are simply springtime in a pan. Happiness in a fluffy spiral. Lemon cream cheese frosting, vanilla extract, lemon zest, and soft buttery dough… all in one pan!
So Much to Love About These Lemon Sweet Rolls
- Rolls are soft and fluffy, with a gooey lemon-vanilla sugar swirl that *caramelizes* on the bottom… tastes like candied lemons!
- Topped with creamy lemon cream cheese frosting
- Only 1 rise time!
- Easy enough for yeast beginners
- Great make-ahead, freezer-friendly recipe
Yeast Beginners, Rejoice: Only 1 Rise!
If you are a yeast beginner, I have good news for you! These lemon sweet rolls use my quick-method sweet roll dough, which I tested extensively to create my easy cinnamon rolls. A typical homemade sweet roll recipe requires 2 rises. My favorite raspberry swirl sweet rolls require a first rise of about 1–2 hours, and then a second rise for another 2 hours. (But one bite of that fluffy dough and juicy filling and you’ll agree 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 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 blueberry sweet rolls or this giant cinnamon roll cake.
Key Ingredients to Use for the Dough:
Here’s my #1 tip: I recommend using a strong and dependable yeast. Platinum Yeast from Red Star is a premium instant yeast, which cuts down on rise time. Its careful formula contains natural dough strengtheners and makes working with yeast simple. And simple is always good, right? See recipe Note if using active dry yeast instead.
Here’s the rest of the lineup of ingredients for this rich dough:
- Flour: Flour provides the dough structure. All-purpose flour is best for these lemon sweet rolls. You could also use bread flour—the rolls will be chewier.
- Sugar: You need white granulated sugar in the dough, both for flavor and to feed the yeast.
- Salt: For flavor, and to balance the sweet.
- Lemon Zest: A little lemon zest adds flavor to the dough.
- Whole milk: Whole milk is ideal for the richest-tasting sweet rolls. Buttermilk works just as well without any changes to the recipe. Many readers have successfully substituted nondairy milks. In a pinch, you can use low-fat milk, but avoid using nonfat milk.
- Butter: This is a rich dough, meaning it has fat to help guarantee softness.
- Egg: Like butter, an egg promises a softer, richer dough. It also works to bind ingredients together.
New to Baking With Yeast?
How to Make Lemon Sweet Rolls
The first step is to mix your dry ingredients together in a big bowl, and this includes the flour, sugar, and salt. After that, warm the milk and butter together, and then whisk in the yeast until it has dissolved. Then you know it can start working its magic in your dough! Pour this mixture over the dry ingredients, add the egg and then mix everything together. You do not need a stand mixer for this recipe, though you could certainly use one if desired.
Transfer the dough to your work surface, and then knead by hand for 3–5 minutes until it’s soft and smooth. My video tutorial for How to Knead Dough is helpful here.
Let the dough rest for 10 minutes as you prepare the filling—this gives the dough’s gluten a chance to settle and relax, which will make rolling out much easier.
Lemon Vanilla Filling
Grab these ingredients:
- Butter: Use super-soft butter for the filling—not too hard, not too melty. If you forgot to get it out of the refrigerator earlier, here’s my trick for how to soften butter quickly.
- Sugar: Use white granulated sugar in this filling, which sweetens without overpowering the delicate flavors of lemon and vanilla.
- Fresh Lemon Zest: Zest 1–2 medium-size lemons to yield 1 packed Tablespoon of zest. (Set aside the lemons because you’ll need lemon juice for the icing.)
- Vanilla Extract: A little vanilla extract adds impeccable flavor. If you have it, you can use vanilla bean paste instead.
Mix together the sugar, lemon zest, and vanilla in a small bowl. It will form a sandy mixture. The sugar will help the lemon zest excrete some liquid, so the mixture will be fairly moist. This lemon-sugar combo results in the most incredible caramelization on the bottoms of the rolls after baking!
Roll out the dough, spread with softened butter, and sprinkle the lemon-vanilla-sugar mixture all over the top.
Roll the dough up tightly, use a sharp knife to slice the log into 10–12 rolls, and arrange them in a lightly greased pan (I typically use a 9-inch pie dish sprayed with nonstick spray). Loosely cover the pan of lemon sweet rolls, and let rise for 60–90 minutes until about doubled in size.
Just wait till you smell them baking!
Lemon Cream Cheese Icing
While you’re waiting for them to bake, distract yourself by making the lemon cream cheese frosting to slather all over the warm rolls. You need:
- Cream Cheese: Use the brick-style cream cheese, not the spreadable kind that comes in a tub. (Save that for homemade bagels!)
- Butter: To help smooth out the cream cheese. Between the dough, filling, and icing, this recipe requires 1 stick (8 Tablespoons/1/2 cup/113g) of butter total.
- Confectioners’ Sugar: Just enough to balance out the tart lemon and tangy cream cheese.
- Lemon Juice: Give 1 of the zested lemons from earlier a good squeeze!
Beat the ingredients together with an electric mixer, then slather the icing all over the top of the baked rolls while they’re still warm. The creamy frosting will melt into each and every nook and cranny of these delicious lemon sweet rolls.
If you prefer a lighter topping, use the lemon glaze from my strawberry sweet rolls recipe instead.
These soft and fluffy lemon sweet rolls are like a spring and summer version of classic cinnamon rolls. You’ll love the caramelized lemon sugar inside and under the baked rolls! Covered in a simple lemon cream cheese frosting, these rolls use my quick sweet roll dough—only 1 rise.
- 2 and 3/4 cups (344g) all-purpose flour (spooned & leveled)
- 1/4 cup (50g) granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 3/4 cup (180ml) whole milk
- 3 Tablespoons (43g) unsalted butter
- 2 and 1/4 teaspoons Platinum Yeast from Red Star or any instant yeast (1 standard packet)
- 1 large egg, at room temperature
- 1/4 cup (4 Tbsp; 56g) unsalted butter, extra softened
- 3/4 cup (150g) granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (or vanilla bean paste)
- 1 Tablespoon lemon zest (packed Tablespoon, it’s a lot of zest!)
Lemon Cream Cheese Icing
- 4 ounces (113g) full-fat brick cream cheese, softened to room temperature
- 1 Tablespoon (14g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- 3/4 cup (90g) confectioners’ sugar
- 2 Tablespoons (30ml) lemon juice
- optional: extra lemon zest for garnish
- Make the dough: Whisk the flour, sugar, salt, and lemon zest together in a large bowl. Set aside.
- Combine the milk and butter together in a heatproof bowl. Microwave or use the stove and heat until the butter has melted and the mixture is warm to the touch (about 110°F/43°C, no higher). Whisk in the yeast until it has dissolved. Pour mixture into the dry ingredients, add the egg, and stir with a sturdy silicone spatula or wooden spoon, OR use a stand mixer with a paddle attachment on medium speed. Mix until a soft dough forms.
- Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface. Using floured hands, knead the dough for 3–5 minutes. You should have a smooth ball of dough. If the dough is super soft or sticky, you can add a little more flour. Place in a lightly greased bowl (I use nonstick spray), cover loosely, and let the dough rest for about 10 minutes as you get the filling ingredients ready.
- Fill the rolls: After 10 minutes, roll the dough out in a 14×8-inch (36x20cm) rectangle. Spread the softened butter on top. Mix together the sugar, vanilla, and lemon zest. Sprinkle it all over the dough. Roll up the dough to make a 14-inch log. Cut into 10–12 even rolls and arrange in a lightly greased 9- or 10-inch round cake pan, pie dish, or square baking pan.
- Rise: Cover the pan with aluminum foil, plastic wrap, or a clean kitchen towel. Allow the rolls to rise in a relatively warm environment for 60–90 minutes or until double in size. (For a tiny reduction in rise time, see my answer to Where Should Dough Rise? in my Baking With Yeast Guide.)
- Bake the rolls: After the rolls have nearly doubled in size, preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Bake for 24–25 minutes, or until lightly browned. If you notice the tops are getting too brown too quickly, loosely tent the pan with aluminum foil and continue baking. If you want to be precise about their doneness, the rolls’ internal temperature taken with an instant-read thermometer should be around 195–200°F (91–93°C) when done. Remove pan from the oven and place pan on a wire rack as you make the icing. (You can also make the icing as the rolls bake.)
- Make the icing: In a medium bowl using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, beat the cream cheese on high speed until smooth and creamy. Add the butter and beat until smooth and combined, then beat in the confectioners’ sugar and lemon juice until combined. Using a knife or icing spatula, spread the icing over the warm rolls and serve immediately. If desired, garnish frosted rolls with a light sprinkling of lemon zest.
- Cover leftover frosted or unfrosted rolls tightly and store at room temperature for up to 2 days, or in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
- Make Ahead & Overnight Instructions: This dough can be made the night before through step 4. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest in the refrigerator overnight. The next morning, remove from the refrigerator and allow to rise in a warm environment, about 1 hour. Continue with step 6.
- Freezing Instructions: Baked rolls can be frozen up to 2–3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator and warm up before enjoying. You can also freeze the unbaked rolls and here’s how: bake the rolls in step 6 for only about 10 minutes at 375°F (190°C). Cool completely, then cover tightly and freeze. To serve, take the pan of rolls out of the freezer and put into the refrigerator a few hours before serving. Then, finish baking them for the remaining 15–18 minutes.
- Special Tools (affiliate links): Rolling Pin | Citrus Zester | Citrus Juicer | Vanilla Bean Paste | 9-Inch Round Cake Pan or 9-Inch Round Pie Dish | Instant-Read Thermometer | Icing Spatula
- Yeast: I highly recommend instant yeast. If you only have active dry yeast, you can use that instead. Active dry and instant yeast can be used interchangeably in recipes (1:1). Active dry yeast has a moderate rate of rising and instant dry yeast has a faster rate of rising; active dry yeast will take longer to raise the dough. Reference my Baking With Yeast Guide for answers to common yeast FAQs.
- Milk: This recipe used to call for 1/2 cup (120ml) water and 1/4 cup (60ml) milk. The rolls taste much richer using all milk, and that is what I recommend. Whole milk or even buttermilk are ideal for this dough. If needed, you can substitute 3/4 cup (180ml) lower-fat or nondairy milk.
Keywords: lemon sweet rolls