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  • Writer's pictureNikki Bidun

Lemon Vanilla Rolls

Updated: Jan 15, 2023

This is definitely a project bake. But the result is certainly worth it. They are small batch, so perfect for serving a few friends.

Jump to recipe: Lemon Vanilla Rolls

What is in these rolls?

There are three main components here:

- the dough

- the filling

- the frosting

The dough is a brioche dough, which means that it takes a little longer to rise because it has butter and eggs in it. There is a workaround here that I will mention later on.

This recipe was created out a need to make use of some on-the-edge lemons, so it is very citrusy. Adding vanilla helps balance that out a little bit, but I wouldn't describe these as overly-sweet.

A summary of the process:

The main steps are

- making the dough

- proving the dough

-making the filling

-shaping the rolls

-proving the rolls

-making the frosting

-baking and frosting

If you decide to use store-bought dough, the process with definitely be shortened, but if you are looking for a weekend baking project, making the

dough from scratch is a worthwhile endeavor.

More on brioche dough...

Brioche is a labor and it is well worth it. If you want these rolls in a pinch, store bought dough works excellently as well! The recipe I'm using here is adapted from Cloudy Kitchen's Small Batch Cinnamon Rolls, with some modifications that I found fit this recipe better. If you are looking for more baking projects, she has an excellent page!

I've never made bread before, what are some tips?

There are some keys when making bread, here are the things to look out for when making a brioche dough like the one in this recipe.

  1. Mixing the dough: it is possible to make brioche dough without an stand mixer but it is a very messy and physically demanding process. The dough is much looser that other bread doughs because of the extra fat added into it. It is also important to note that you will have to mix it for a while regardless of which method you use. It takes about 10 minutes to knead in the stand mixer before you put it away to prove. It might be 15-20 minutes if doing it by hand.

  2. How do I know when I've kneaded my dough enough?: Brioche dough is usually very stretchy. If you tear off a nugget of dough and stretch it to form a "window pane" you should be able to see some of the gluten strands against a light. The dough will also have a smooth skin, so it will be much easier and less sticky to handle.

  3. What is proving? Proving bread dough is when you let your dough relax and allow your yeast to activate and make your dough rise.

  4. How do I know it's proved enough?: the general rule for dough is when it doubles in size. You should notice that the dough has gained volume considerably since when you first put it in. This does take time, for this recipe there are 2 proves. This means that the dough will have time to relax between each time you handle it so it is not chewy or tough.

  5. How do I know my bread is baked? Normally when checking if bread is baked, you would be able to knock on the bottom of a loaf and check if it's hollow. Since we are baking buns, we won't be able to do this. The first thing to check for is color. These buns are done when the edges of the swirls are golden in color. The center of the swirl should not indent when lightly prodded. If you have a food thermometer, the center of a roll should read 190ºF.

  6. How to store bread? Bread should be store at room temperature in an air-tight container or plastic bag. Putting bread in the fridge will dry it out and it will get stale much faster. If you don't plan on eating it right away, freeze for up to a month (for these rolls, it's best to eat them as soon as possible)

Lemon Vanilla Rolls

Makes 9 rolls

If making brioche from scratch: 4 hours

If using store bought dough: 1 hour


- 1 sheet of pre-made dough or 1 batch Homemade Brioche Dough (below)

Homemade Brioche Dough

- 2 1/2 cups (290 g) all purpose flour

- 2 1/2 tbsp (30 g) granulated sugar

- 1 tsp instant yeast

- 1/2 tsp kosher salt

- 1/2 cup (120 g) whole milk

- 1 tsp vanilla

- 1 tbsp grated lemon zest (about 1 lemon's worth)

- 1 large egg

- 1/4 cup (60 g) unsalted butter at room temp

cut into chunks

Lemon Filling

- 6 tbsp butter, softened

- 1 cup granulated sugar

- 2 tbsp grated lemon zest

Lemon Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting

- 8 oz softened cream cheese

- 1 1/4 cup powdered sugar

- 2 tbsp lemon juice

- 2 tsp vanilla


If you are using pre-made dough, skip ahead to step 3.

  1. Brioche Dough: If you haven't made bread before, take a look at the notes here. To the bowl of a stand mixer add 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour and 2 1/2 tbsp granulated sugar. On one side of the bowl add 1 tsp instant yeast, and on the other add 1/2 tsp kosher salt (adding the salt right on top of the yeast will kill it immediately so it is best to keep them separate as long as possible before mixing the dough). Add in 1/2 cup whole milk, 1 tsp vanilla, 1 tbsp grated lemon zest and 1 large egg. Using a dough hook, mix for about 6 minutes on medium-low speed until all ingredients have formed a coherent dough. It will still be sticky, but it should be pulling away from the sides of the mixture.

  2. Keeping the speed of your mixer on low, add in a few chunks of the 1/4 cup softened butter at a time. Wait a bit between additions until everything is amalgamated. Once all the butter is incorporated, put dough into a lightly oiled or buttered large mixing bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Keep in a warm place for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours until the dough has nearly doubled in size. In the meantime, prepare the filling.

  3. Make the filling: this is not really a step but it important to make sure you have things in order. Add 1 cup granulated sugar to a small bowl. Add in 2 tbsp grated lemon zest. Using your fingers, rub the lemon zest into the sugar so the oils are released and you can smell a powerful citrusy aroma. Make sure that your 6 tbsp butter is softened to a spreadable consistency and you have a knife or palette spatula to spread it with.

  4. Shaping the rolls: Grease an 8"x8" square baking dish or a 9" circular one with butter so all the corners and edges are covered. Line the bottom with parchment paper. Lightly flour a counter top. Roll your proved brioche dough (or remade dough sheet) into a square. It should be about 1/2" thick. Using a palette spatula or a butter knife, evenly spread the 6 tbsp softened butter onto the square of dough. Make sure you have an even layer and the butter reaches the edges. Then sprinkle your lemon sugar mix evenly over the butter. You do not need to use all of it but make sure that there are no naked spots with just butter. Tuck the edge of one side over the dough and roll into a tight spiral. Take your time and make sure that all sides are even before making another roll. Pinch the ends of the dough so the borders are meshed into the side of the dough tightly. You should have a tight cylinder of dough with lemon filling on the inside. Measure out the rolls. Lightly mark the cylinder into thirds, then into thirds again until you have nine even pieces. Using an extremely sharp knife, cut the cylinder into the marked pieces. Fit the rolls into your prepared pan cut-side up and evenly spaced. Cover with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and keep in a warm place for 30 minutes. In the meantime, prepare the Lemon Vanilla Frosting

  5. Make the Lemon Vanilla Frosting: In a mixing bowl, add 8 oz softened cream cheese, 1 1/4 cup powdered sugar, 2 tsp vanilla and 2 tbsp lemon juice. Using a hand mixer or a spatula, mix until a thick, paint-like consistency is formed. Taste. Add more lemon juice as needed. If too thick, add 1 tsp of water until spreadable. If too thin, add a touch more powdered sugar, or put in the fridge for a few minutes.

  6. Bake and frost: Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Uncover your rolls and bake for 25-30 minutes until the edges of the swirl are golden and the centers are not soft when lightly prodded. If you have a food thermometer it should read 190ºF. Take the rolls out of the oven and let cool 5-7 minutes. Spoon frosting generously over the rolls and swirl until all areas of the rolls are evenly covered (this part is up to your preference so you can add more/less if you'd like). These are best fresh, but if storing for later, wait until cool before putting in an air-tight container or plastic bag.

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