These. are. AMAZING. I first made them for Christmas morning last year but they are so labor intensive and terribly indulgent that I have yet to make them again! For a holiday or special occasion, they are definitely worth the trouble.
Recipe Note: I love to zest lemons since I started using a micro-fine cheese grater instead of a citrus zester (SO much easier), but that Christmas batch was way too lemon-y for even my lemon-loving tastebuds, so just be mindful that this recipe layers the citrus flavor repeatedly – in the batter, the filling, and the glaze. Scale back accordingly. You can always top them off with some zest like we did (above).
Sticky Lemon Rolls with Lemon Cream Cheese Glaze
Makes 12 large breakfast rolls
Lemons, for dough, filling, glaze, and garnish
3 large lemons, at room temperature
For the dough:
1 envelope (0.25 ounces, or 2 1/2 teaspoons) active yeast
3/4 cup milk, warmed to about 100°F (warm but not hot on your wrist)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, very soft, plus 3 tablespoons more for roll assembly
1/4 cup white sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
2 large eggs
For the sticky lemon filling:
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon freshly-ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger
For the lemon cream cheese glaze:
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
Prepare the lemons:
Zest and juice the lemons. Divide the zest into three equal parts. One part will be used in the dough, a second part in the filling, and the final part will be sprinkled on top of the baked rolls for appearance and flavor.
Divide the juice into two equal parts, and set aside. Half of the lemon juice will be used in the lemon-sugar filling for the rolls. The other half will be used in the glaze.
Make the dough:
In the bowl of a stand mixer sprinkle the yeast over the warmed milk and let it sit for a few minutes or until foamy. With the mixer paddle, stir the softened butter, sugar, vanilla, and one cup of the flour into this milk and yeast mixture. Stir in the salt, nutmeg, and one part (1/3) of the 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.
(If you do not have a stand mixer, stir together the ingredients by hand, then turn the soft dough out onto a lightly floured countertop. Knead the dough by hand (see this video for explicit instructions) for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the dough is smooth, pliable, and stretchy.)
Lightly grease 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 one hour.
Make the filling:
In a small bowl, mix 1 cup sugar with the nutmeg and ginger, then work in the second part of the lemon zest (1/3) with the tips of your fingers until the sugar resembles soft sand. Slowly pour in one part (1/2) of the lemon juice, stirring. Stop when the sugar and lemon juice form a thick, clumpy mixture like wet sand. (You may use all of the reserved half of the lemon juice; you may stop before completely adding that half of the lemon juice, depending on how much juice you got from your lemons.)
Assemble the rolls:
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 the dough evenly with 3 tablespoons of very soft unsalted butter, then spread the lemon-sugar mixture over top. Roll the dough up tightly, starting from the top long end. Stretch and pull the dough taut as you roll, to keep the lemon sugar firm inside. Cut the long dough roll into 12 even rolls. Pinch the bottom of each roll closed to help keep the lemon sugar inside, and place each one, open and 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 or a towel, 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 before proceeding with baking.)
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.
Make the glaze:
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 remaining part lemon juice and blend until well combined. Add the powdered sugar and blend until smooth and creamy.
Finish the rolls:
When the rolls are done, smear them with the cream cheese glaze, and sprinkle the final part (1/3) of the lemon zest over top to garnish. Let cool for at least 10 minutes before serving, but do serve while still warm.