Filed under: Rolls
February 21, 2023

Lemon Rolls

The softest bread roll ever, filled with a tangy, sharp lemon curd. These lemon rolls are topped with a cream cheese glaze and more lemon curd.

5 from 11 votes
Yield: 12 large rolls
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I made many a roll trying to figure out how best to make a really lemony roll – cinnamon roll style but with lots of sharp lemon. The obvious way to go about this was to make a traditional cinnamon roll recipe, but skip the cinnamon, swap granulated sugar for the brown sugar, and add lemon zest. 

But I quickly discovered there’s not enough lemon in just the zest; using zest will only add the sweet part without the sharpness you get from lemon juice.

Instead I turn to my favorite way to consume lemon: lemon curd. My perfect, best lemon curd recipe ever: it’s lemony in the best ways, a bit sweet, definitely sharp and super smooth. It makes these rolls sharp and sweet, and with some extra curd on top – you’ll be sinking into the most lemony roll ever. 

 

Recipe Ingredients 

Flour: Ideally you’d use a high protein all purpose flour or a bread flour, this makes sturdy but fluffy rolls. 

 

Yeast: one packet of instant yeast (7g or 2 ¼ teaspoons), or if you are using active dry use 2 ½ teaspoons. 

 

Buttermilk powder: or milk powder, don’t skip this. It adds flavor but also adds to the texture of the rolls. 

 

Oil: any flavorless oil will do (or even olive, if you like the taste). 

 

Eggs: This recipe in particular can’t be made without eggs but you can use this sour cream cinnamon roll recipe instead (just the dough part) if you want them to be eggless. You don’t need to worry about the temperature of the eggs when adding. 

 

Water: the cup of water that goes into making the roux can be cold but the quarter cup you’ll use to activate the yeast should be warm to touch. 

 

Heavy cream: this is for the ‘bath’ the rolls get right before they got into the oven. It makes the rolls softer and the filling gooey. Credit to Tastes of Lizzy T for teaching me this trick.  

 

Lemon curd: make half of this lemon curd recipe. I can’t attest to other lemon curds, some might not have enough thickening agents in them, some too much. My recipe is pretty straightforward and quick, it also won’t leave you with any leftover egg whites. Plus it’s sharp and all around wonderful. 

 

Making the lemon roll dough 

Tangzhong (Roux) 

Tangzhong is a chinese bread making method that Japanese Milk Bread uses. It’s used because it pregelatinizes the starches in the flour, trapping the extra liquid though all the processes of bread-making which means, the rolls will rise taller, and stay moist and fresh longer. 

(In my trials, I left these rolls uncovered overnight on the counter. The next day I found them almost exactly as I’d left them, perfectly fluffy and not at all hardened or dry. I’ll never make bread rolls another way.) 

To do it, all you need to do is whisk together water and flour then cook them until you have a roux, or paste. 

 

Yeast 

It’s important not to use too hot water (it will kill the yeast and the bread won’t rise) so just use water that’s warm to touch, it shouldn’t burn when you put a finger in it. 

Some sugar sprinkled on top of the yeast activates it. 

The yeast might not fully foam unless you leave it for a while but you’ll see parts of it foaming and it should mostly dissolve. 

 

 

First rise 

Covered, the dough will take about 3-4 hours in a 65-70 F degree kitchen to fully double. Less if the kitchen is warmer. If you’ve forgotten about the dough it can overproof, and exhaust the yeast so there’s none left for the second rise or bake. If you’ve underproved it, it will spring back a lot (rather than be relaxed) but a longer second rise can help rectify it. 

 

Filling and Shaping Lemon Rolls 

First thing I need you to know (and be ok with): this is going to be a bit messy. Where traditional cinnamon rolls have a rather dry filling and slice cleanly under a bread knife, these lemon rolls are messy. There’s no way to get lemon curd in there without it seeping out and getting everywhere. 

Some unwaxed dental floss will be a much better tool rather than squishing the log but it’ll still get on your hands and the counter. Don’t worry, enough will still be in there (and we’re putting more on top!) 

 

Second Rise 

Knowing when the rolls are ready to bake, when the second rise is complete, is very important. The rolls won’t double at this stage but grow by about 30% and you can check if they are ready by using the poke test. 

If the rolls have large bubbles in them and look puffy, they’ve likely over proofed. There’s nothing to do about it now, you can bake them but they won’t be ideal. 

 

Baking the rolls 

Bread is done baking with the center temperature reaches 190 F. If you don’t have a thermometer you’ll go by what you see: are the tops nicely golden? Do you see any sign of un-doneness? If you aren’t sure, take a fork and prod between the layers. 

homemade lemon curd

Can we make ahead or overnight these lemon rolls? 

You’ve got two options for overnighting these:

 

Overnight the first rise: once you’ve made the dough, cover it with plastic wrap. I like to give it an hour at room temperature before setting it in the fridge, then leave it for 8-10 hours. 

In the morning, if it hasn’t doubled in size, leave it at room temp until it does (might take two hours as the dough first needs to come to room temp, then rise). Then proceed as instructed. 

 

Overnight the second rise: in this case you’ll do a first rise, shape and fill the rolls and place in the pan. You can leave them to begin rising for an hour at room temp, then stick them in the fridge overnight. Keep them sealed (a tight layer of plastic wrap). 

Bring the rolls and pan to room temperature and check for readiness by poking the side of one of the rolls with your finger, if it springs back it needs more time at room temperature. If it leaves an indentation and slowly moves back, it’s ready to bake. 

 

Cream Cheese Glaze for Lemon Rolls (and more Lemon Curd!) 

Oh please don’t skip this! The combination of the cream cheese glaze and lemon curd gives these lemon rolls a sense of cheesecake on a roll flavor and it’s wonderful. I like to put the glaze first then the lemon curd on top, after some time the lemon curd goes from shiny and wet to matte and set so it’s not as messy. Plus the added lemon curd really enhances that lovely lemon!



Lemon Rolls

The softest bread roll ever, filled with a tangy, sharp lemon curd. These lemon rolls are topped with a cream cheese glaze and more lemon curd.
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Rise & Rest Time: 5 hours
Yields: 12 large rolls
5 from 11 votes

Ingredients

Lemon Roll Dough

  • 240g or 1 cup water temperature doesn’t matter
  • 40g or ⅓ cup all purpose flour
  • 7g g instant yeast or 1 packet
  • ¼ cup warm water
  • 500g or 4 cups g all purpose flour
  • 100g or ½ cup granulated sugar
  • zest of 1 large lemon or two small
  • ½ tsp fine sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 55g or ¼ cup canola oil or any other flavorless oil
  • 3 tablespoons buttermilk or milk powder

Lemon Curd Filling

  • ¾ cups lemon curd
  • 1 tablespoon tapioca starch or cornstarch
  • 120g or 1/2 cup heavy cream for the 'bath'

Topping

  • 3 tablespoons cream cheese any kind
  • 130g or 1 cup powdered sugar
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • 2-3 tablespoons whole milk
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • Pinch fine sea salt
  • More Lemon curd to spread on top

Method

  • First make the lemon curd. It can be kept in the fridge until you need it for the rolls.

Make the dough

  • In a small pot, add the flour and water (the first cup) and whisk. Turn the heat to low and cook for a few minutes, whisking until you have a thick paste. This is your roux, set aside.
  • Add the quarter cup of warm water to the bowl of a stand mixer and over it sprinkle the yeast, and over that a bit of the sugar. Stir to combine. Set aside for a few minutes to dissolve and foam while you prep the rest of your ingredients.
  • Over the yeast add the flour, then the rest of the ingredients, cracking the eggs on one side of the bowl. On the other side add the roux (we’re trying to avoid the eggs touching the roux in case it’s still hot). Attach the dough hook and begin kneading on low, then work up to medium (if you have a kitchenaid speed 6 is the most you’ll get to). Once the dough starts to come together in a very soft, slouchy ball. This will take 5-7 minutes.
  • Set the dough in an oiled bowl, move it around to cover it with the oil then cover it and set it aside to rise for a few hours. (In the winter the first rise usually takes me 3-4 hours, in the summer 2). When it’s doubled in size it’s ready to be shaped into rolls.

Fill and shape the rolls

  • Grease the bottom and sides of a 9x13” cake pan.
  • Stir the curd with the starch.
  • Flour a countertop and set the dough over it. Roll it out until you have a rectangle that’s about 12x16”. Spread the curd over the dough, leaving space without curd on the edge of one of the longer sides (this will make it easier to get the log to seal). Roll up the log, starting with the curd filled side and ending where there is none.
  • Use dental floss to slice the log into 1.5” rolls and set them on the pan, leaving space between them. This will be messy and some of the curd will spill out, it’s ok.
  • Cover the pan lightly with a cloth and let the rolls rise for about another hour, until you can press the dough on the side of one of the rolls and it doesn’t spring back but leaves a small indentation.
  • Preheat the oven to 350 F. Pour the heavy cream in the spaces between the rolls.
  • Bake the rolls for about 25-40 minutes, until nicely golden on top.

Glaze the rolls

  • You can glaze the rolls immediately, it’ll melt over the rolls and give a thin layer, or you can wait until they cool to keep it a thicker topping.
  • Whisk the cream cheese, vanilla, and lemon juice (add a pinch of fine sea salt) until the cream cheese is smooth. Add the powdered sugar and whisk. Add milk, a tablespoon at a time until you have a thick but pourable glaze. Spread over the rolls.
  • Spread lemon curd over the glaze. Serve immediately or not (they keep very well, somewhere cool).

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Recipe Reviews




  1. 5 stars
    My bf and I made these last night and aside from us underbaking them (totally our fault) , they turned out amazing. The dough is incredibly soft with the roux and the lemon flavor is incredibly intense. 10/10 would make these again. If you don’t have a kitchen aid, the dough is very hard to knead though, as it is so “wet”. I had to add more flour, but that worked really well. Thank You Sam, you are my fave instagram baker

  2. 5 stars
    These are AMAZING!!! Made them for my mom for her Mother’s Day breakfast and she is obsessed. I definitely over proofed them on the second rise (overnight, and I think I let them rise for too long before putting in the fridge) but family said they were still good so I’m happy:)

  3. 5 stars
    I made these for Easter and my in laws thought they were absolutely delicious! They raved about them! I also made the lemon curd and had leftovers so I made your lemon curd stuffed cookies and they were scrumptious as well! Your recipes are innovative, and your instructions are so helpful!

  4. Saving this to make when our local mandarin oranges are in season! Will adapt the curd for them and give them a try! Everything you create is exceptional

  5. 5 stars
    These were sooooo good! Best rolls I’ve ever made. And I will never make lemon curd any other way. So easy.

  6. 5 stars
    These lemon rolls are the lightest and fluffiest rolls I have ever eaten. And so lemony! Just wonderful. And the milk powder makes a huge difference I find. Thank you so much for the recipe. Won’t be the last time I baked them!

  7. I made the rolls this afternoon and they are now in the fridge overnight for baking tomorrow morning! I cannot wait. I love anything lemony!

  8. Yet another bookmarked recipe! I love how the dough is gently yellow, and that photo with the lemon curd in a mason jar is just sunshine in a photo.