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.
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.
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.
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.
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!)
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.
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.
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!
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