For the Dough
- 2 cups milk, 2%
- 1/2 cup canola oil
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
For the Filling
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon zest
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup butter, unsalted - softened
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
For the Icing
- 3 tablespoons butter, unsalted - softened to room temperature
- 4 ounces cream cheese, softened to room temperature
- 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar, divided
- 4-6 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, divided
- lemon zest, for garnish
*These values are approximate. Per serving, based on a 2,000 Calorie diet.
For the dough: Before applying heat, pour the milk, canola oil, and sugar into a large Dutch oven, whisking to combine. Heat the milk mixture over medium heat until it begins to simmer and bubble around the edges, whisking occasionally. (Do not allow the mixture to come to a rapid boil.)
Turn off the heat and allow the milk mixture to cool to lukewarm (warm, but not hot to the touch.)
Once mixture has cooled to lukewarm, sift the flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda over top.
Sprinkle the yeast over all and stir well with a wooden spoon until blended. The dough will be very sticky. Cover the Dutch oven with a clean towel, and allow the dough to rise until it doubles in bulk, about 2 hours.
For the filling: Prepare the filling by rubbing the fresh lemon zest into the sugar with clean fingers to release the oils from the zest. The lemon sugar should be an even pale yellow color when complete. Cream the lemon sugar with softened butter until fluffy. Cover the filling with plastic wrap and set aside.
For the icing: In a medium bowl, beat the softened butter and cream cheese until blended. Mix in half of the powdered sugar, along with half of the fresh lemon juice, mixing until smooth. Blend in the remaining powdered sugar and enough of the lemon juice to achieve a smooth icing with a thick yet pourable consistency. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set it aside while assembling the sweet rolls.
To assemble: Preheat the oven to 350º F.
Generously grease four 9-inch (glass or aluminum) pie plates with butter; set aside. (Smearing about a half of a tablespoon in total of cold butter onto the pie plates should be enough to sufficiently coat the interiors.)
Turn the risen sweet dough out onto a clean, well-floured work surface. Form the dough into a large ball. Cut the dough in half with a bench scraper or sharp knife. Return half of the dough to the pot while working with the other half.
Gently knead the working dough by folding it into thirds toward the center, pressing, turning, and repeating the process 2 or 3 more times. Lightly flour the top of the dough, and roll it evenly into a 12” x 8” rectangle. Dough will be about ¼ inch thick. If at any time the dough sticks to the rolling pin, sprinkle the dough with a little more flour.
Use an offset spreading knife to smear half of the filling over the dough, leaving a ½-inch margin clear around the edges.
Beginning with the long side of the rectangle farthest away from you, tightly roll the dough over the filling towards yourself. Take the time to roll it tight to ensure that the rolls won’t loosen and allow the filling to seep out while in the oven. If at any point the dough is sticking to the work surface, gently run a thin bench scraper underneath it to loosen without tearing the dough.
Once the dough has been rolled tight, pinch the edges and seams together to seal the buttery goodness of the filling inside.
Use a sharp knife to cut the roll into twelve 1-inch thick slices. Arrange the slices (cut side up) about an inch or so apart in the prepared pie plates. I find that 6 rolls fit nicely in each pie plate—one in the middle, and five around the perimeter.
Repeat with the process with the remaining sweet dough and lemon filling to make a total of 24 sweet rolls.
Once all the rolls are cut and nestled into their respective pie plates, allow them to rest for about 10 minutes to rise.
Bake the lemon sweet rolls for 16 to 18 minutes or until they are a light golden brown around the edges, and the centers are set, but not browned.
Remove sweet rolls from the oven to cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes before icing.
After the brief cooling period, pour the icing over warm sweet rolls, spreading to coat all exposed surfaces with the rolls with an offset spreading knife. Pouring the icing while the rolls are still warm will enable it to seep into the creases of the rolls, which is a very good thing. Garnish with additional lemon zest, if desired.
To serve warm Lemon Sweet Rolls, let the iced rolls rest for an additional 10 minutes prior to serving. Alternately, the sweet rolls may be cooled to room temperature before serving.
Store leftover Lemon Sweet Rolls tightly wrapped at room temperature for up to 2 days.
Recipe Notes: After the initial rise, place a lid on the pot, and refrigerate overnight. The dough is quite sticky, and will be easier to work with after being refrigerated. Refrigeration also slows the yeast, still allowing the dough to rise. The next morning, take the dough out of the refrigerator, and allow it to stand at room temperature while preparing the filling and icing. Afterward, proceed as directed in the recipe. The use of dark and/or nonstick pans is not recommended, as they cook the outside of the rolls too quickly, thus darkening/crisping the outsides before the centers are done. In lieu of the pie plates, the sweet rolls may also be arranged into two 9”x13”x2” baking pans. Baking time may need to be extended by 3 to 4 minutes when baking in larger pans. If the weather is hot and humid, leftover sweet rolls should be wrapped and stored in the refrigerator rather than on the counter.