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

123 Comments

  1. Layla @ Brunch Time Baker says:

    How much I adore lemons; I bet that lemon zest tastes amazing!! These rolls look delicious and super fluffy!

  2. Oh my love of lemons! Lemon is up there with chocolate and peanut butter. It is one of my favorite types of desserts! Lemon cake, lemon rolls, lemon bars, lemon cookies…you get the idea 😉 These look like sheer heaven. I will definitely be trying these puppies out! Thanks for (not surprisingly) another amazingly mouth-watering recipe Sally! You’re the best!

    1. Rachael, I’m the same way with lemon! It battles chocolate+pb for the #1 spot.

  3. Lisa @ Simple Pairings says:

    Sally, these look incredible! Lemon in baked goods is always so delicious. I’m sure these are so tasty, and perfect to start the day on a chipper note. Citrus has a way of doing that, doesn’t it? 🙂

    1. Chipper – exactly the word I would use to describe their taste! Thanks Lisa.

  4. Taylor @ Food Faith Fitness says:

    Oh. my. gosh. Lemon sweet rolls with cream cheese frosting!? These are a game changer.
    I may never make a cinnamon roll EVER AGAIN.
    These look so light and fluffy! And a nice way to bring a little feeling of Summer!
    Pinned!

  5. Chelsea @chelseasmessyapron says:

    Sally you are amazing!! I love lemon and in a sweet roll form?! ALL over that! It totally feels like Spring just looking at all your gorgeous photos!

  6. These looks so gorgeous sally! Can i let them rise twice tho? Thank you 🙂

    1. Hi Aurel. No, this dough is formulated for only 1 rise. If you’d like a little extra work, try this dough: https://sallysbakingaddiction.com/2012/12/16/raspberry-swirl-sweet-rolls/

  7. Averie @ Averie Cooks says:

    Ahhh I recognize this dough base…because…it’s in your cookbook that I just got and was studying your strawberry rolls just yesterday! 🙂

    And these rolls, they are SO SALLY! The lemon, the styling, the whole thing is just so you! I know you love your lemon desserts so very much and these are so fitting! pinned

    1. I’m so glad you got my cookbook! This is my favorite go-to dough recipe, I use it for the sticky pecan rolls on the next page too.

  8. Oh my goodness. These look incredible. Gorgeous–so spring-like. And that frosting. Mmmm. Drooling. Pinned! 🙂 Have a fantastic weekend, lovely lady!

  9. Chelsea @ Gal on a Mission says:

    Just looking at these delicious rolls are making me wish spring was here right now! I love how adorable these are, Sally! Pinned 🙂

  10. This is FANTASTIC!
    I can almost feel the taste!!!

  11. Angie Casanova says:

    I was waiting for this recipe, you’ve read my mind! Love lemon recipes (and you don’t use too much butter, great)!!. I live in Spain and ordered your cookbook on Amazon.com.uk, can’t wait for it to arrive. Thanks for such great recipes! 😉

    1. Thanks for ordering my cookbook Angie! Let me know what you try first.

  12. Cate @ Chez CateyLou says:

    These look amazing! Such a great idea to make lemon sweet rolls – I never would have thought of that!! That cream cheese icing looks divine! And you can see how soft and fluffy these are. Such a great weekend treat!

  13. Abbie @ Needs Salt says:

    These lemon sweet rolls look positively divine! I can only imagine how bursting with beautiful flavor these rolls are.
    Pinning (to a certain “Spring” board)!

  14. Kelly - LEFT SIDE OF THE TABLE says:

    I love that this is quick rise Sally! Yeast intimidates me… Probably because I have had one bad experience and that fear stays with me! Haha! Guess I should try a recipe like this. Totally crave something carby after a night out 😉 hard to change things up sometimes. Love how you came up with this by using what you had in your fridge. Those can be some of the best recipes! Thank you! And happy Friday 😀

    1. Kelly, use the step-by-step photos to help guide you. There is only 1 rise here. No punching the dough down, no endless kneading. You’ll love this working with this yeast dough. It’s simple, I promise!

  15. Ummmm…I would like to come over to your house for brunch! 🙂

    My mouth is completely watering…the whole time I am reading this I wonder why I do this to myself every morning! 🙂 This dough is great – I can imagine it would be easy to swap fillings too. (although lemon is near and dear to my heart!)

    1. I think the lemon filling has got to be my favorite so far!!

  16. Ceara @ Ceara's Kitchen says:

    These sweet rolls exude springtime and everything bright and beautiful that comes along with this time of year! Amazing 😀

  17. Ill take two (trays) please! Amazing!

  18. 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!

  19. I’ve always been afraid of using yeast. (I still am tbh). I guess I’ll just have to buck up and try these, because they look so scrumptious.
    *I did make the lemon loaf (from your book) yesterday. It’s nearly finished. So decadent. I love all your creativity. Have a fun wknd Sally

  20. Zainab @ Blahnik Baker says:

    Oh my!! This is like springtime in a dish and I just want to faceplant into it!! I love sweet rolls and all that lemon makes me love this even more!!

  21. Kailey Hoskins says:

    My goodness you have topped yourself again! I am really excited to try this recipe. I made your lemon blueberry cake yesterday, and it was even better than I expected! I’m really excited to see what you come up with this summer. Keep up the good work!

  22. You know, I have never been much for lemon flavored things (I don’t dislike them its just that there are so many other flavors I would pick first) but somehow you always manage to make it sound so good! Especially with these pictures my goodness!

  23. Hey Sally- I just received my pre-ordered cookbook and I LOVE IT! You are awesome! I was so excited to put my autographed bookplate inside it. I can’t wait to try a few recipes this weekend 🙂

    1. Thanks Grace! Let me know what you try first!

  24. Nora (A Clean Bake) says:

    What a treat! I am usually not one to choose citrus over chocolate, but I am so desperate for spring that I am craving everything lemon these days.

  25. Gorgeous photography! I love lemon desserts! I received your cookbook yesterday and I LOVE it! Can’t wait to fill the house with yummy smells

    1. Thanks Sharon! And let me know what you bake first from the book!

  26. Elaine @ Cooking to Perfection says:

    I love all of your sweet roll creations! I have always avoided yeast recipes, but you definitely share some easy ones. Can’t wait to try these.

    And congratulations on your NPR interview!!! That’s huge! So, so excited for all of the opportunities you have coming your way. 🙂

    1. Thanks so much, Elaine! I appreciate it so much.

  27. Melanie @ Carmel Moments says:

    Mmm…lemon. Can’t get enough of it lately. Makes for some really pretty desserts!
    Love the white plate too. Such a pretty design. I’d love to find a similar one.

    1. Thanks Melanie! I bought that plate at Home Goods a couple months ago.

  28. Lindsay @ Life, Love and Sugar says:

    These look awesome Sally! I love me some lemon!

  29. Caley Buxton says:

    Oh my goodness, Sally, these look heavenly! It’s snowing today and I’m home sick (my coworkers infected me! 😉 ), so I wish I had someone to make these for me :). As it is, I’m having a lot of tea and hot lemon water, but I’d rather be having hot lemon sweet rolls! 😉 Gorgeous photography, and I love the step-by-step rundown. I’m still waiting on my copy of your cookbook…I’m getting annoyed with the postal service 😉

    1. Caley, I thought of you when I posted this recipe today! I know how much you love lemon. I hope you feel better, sweet Caley. I know my cookbook will cheer you up – I hope it arrives tomorrow!

  30. 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!

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