The very first recipe I really ever crafted to call my own was for sticky buns. It was derived from a maple sticky bun recipe in an old issue of Bon Appetit, but I made some significant alterations, and it became my signature masterpiece. But sticky buns aren’t something you can just whip up anytime you’d like, so I reserve that recipe for special occasions.
When I came across a recipe on The Kitchn for Sticky Lemon Rolls with Cream Cheese Glaze, I was pretty sure I’d have to wait for a time to make them, where the occasion or consuming parties were worth the effort. Don’t get me wrong – I’d bake for 10 hours a day if I could, but my schedule won’t allow such indulgences, so I have to pick and choose when I put baking first. Well, Easter was the ideal situation. I’d be home with my family and AW, celebrating one of the greatest holidays of the year. The people and the occasion were special, and so the Lemon Sticky Buns would come to be.
I made them and chilled them the night before we were going to eat them, because I didn’t want to have such a lengthy waiting period when we were all good and hungry after Sunday morning church. So after the service, AW and I rushed home to pop them in the oven, and by the time the rest of the family had returned, the rolls were coming out of the oven smelling like something awfully delicious. Once smothered with the lemony cream cheese frosting, they looked pretty darn delicious too. Between the five of us, we polished off six very hefty buns, though I’m fairly confident I could have probably eaten another one, maybe even two! They were absolutely fabulous – more than worth the time and the effort I put in to make them. They were very lemony, but not in an overpowering way – the lemon came at you in several ways: in the dough, subtle and yeasty; in the filling – tart and sugary sweet, and in the creamy cream cheese frosting.
THESE WERE SO GOOD. And I substituted some whole wheat flour (as has become my baking habit of late), so I could pretend they were ever so slightly better for me.
The dough is kind of like a brioche dough, because you add butter and water to the initial yeast mixture, and I left mine have a cold rise overnight. The dough is very dense and rich, though it puffs up quite nicely in the oven.
Sticky Lemon Rolls with Lemon Cream Cheese Glaze
Makes 12 large breakfast rolls
Lemon Roll Dough
1 envelope (0.25 ounces, or 2 1/2 teaspoons) yeast
3/4 cup milk, warmed to about 100°F or warm but not hot on your wrist
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, very soft
1/4 cup white sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
2 lemons, zested
Sticky Lemon Filling
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon freshly-ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger
2 lemons, zested and juiced
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, very soft
Lemon Cream Cheese Glaze
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
Juice of 1 lemon
1 cup powdered sugar
1 lemon, zested
In the bowl of a stand mixer sprinkle the yeast over the warmed milk and let it sit for a couple of minutes. With the mixer paddle, stir in the softened butter, sugar, vanilla, and one cup of the flour. Stir in the salt, nutmeg, and lemon zest. Stir in the eggs and enough of the remaining flour to make a soft yet sticky dough.
Switch to the dough hook and knead for about 5 minutes, or until the dough is elastic and pliable.
Spray the top of the dough with vegetable oil, and turn the dough over so it is coated in oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a towel and let the dough rise until nearly doubled – about an hour.
In a small bowl, mix the sugar with the nutmeg and ginger, then work in the lemon zest with the tips of your fingers until the sugar resembles wet, soft sand. Stir in the juice of 1 lemon. (Reserve the juice of the second lemon for the glaze.)
Lightly grease a 13×9 inch baking dish with baking spray or butter. On a floured surface pat the dough out into a large yet still thick rectangle — about 10×15 inches. Spread evenly with the softened butter, then pour and spread the lemon-sugar mixture over top. Roll the dough up tightly, starting from the top long end. Cut the long dough roll into 12 even rolls, and place them, cut side up, in the prepared baking dish.
Cover the rolls with a towel and let them rise for an hour or until puffy and nearly doubled. (You can also refrigerate the rolls at this point. Cover the pan tightly with plastic wrap, and place it in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. When you are ready to bake the rolls, remove the pan from the fridge, and let them rise for an hour.)
Heat the oven to 350°F. Place the risen rolls in the oven and bake for 35 minutes or until a thermometer inserted into a center roll reads 190°F.
While the rolls are baking, prepare the glaze. In a small food processor (or with a mixer, or a sturdy whisk), whip the cream cheese until light and fluffy. Add the lemon juice and blend until well combined. Add the powdered sugar and blend until smooth and creamy.
When the rolls are done, smear them with the cream cheese glaze, and sprinkle the zest of 1 additional lemon over top to garnish. Serve while warm.
If you’ve got the time, or any number of people particularly fond of lemon, these sticky buns are for you! They’re super sticky, super sweet, and SUPER delicious — definitely one of my favorite creations in a while. There’s still more to come from the weekend, including another really fantastic treat, but that’s for another day and time. For now…
With love, and sugar. Please enjoy!