Ditch The Cinnamon And Try Lemon Rolls For A Fresh Twist

If you love cinnamon rolls and want to try a refreshing twist on the classic breakfast dish, look no further than your favorite citrus. Lemons make for a zesty complement to the yeasty dough and sweet icing combo, cutting through the pastry's richness and adding an element of freshness. To make lemon rolls, all you have to do is swap in lemon zest to replace the spice in your favorite cinnamon roll recipe.

Most traditional methods for making these treats call for a filling mixture of softened butter combined with brown or white sugar and cinnamon. The filling is then spread onto flattened yeast dough, rolled, and cut into pinwheels before baking. Making lemon rolls follows the same technique — of course, just incorporating freshly grated citrus zest into your filling instead of the cinnamon. 

It also helps to use white sugar instead of brown, since its lighter sweet taste pairs quite nicely with the freshness of lemon zest. After baking your lemon rolls in the oven until golden, the result will be a soft and chewy roll with wonderfully gooey, caramelized lemon filling. Another benefit when making these baked goods: Your house will smell like citrus heaven.

Get creative with this zesty breakfast treat

When making irresistible breakfast rolls from scratch, you can really lean into your culinary prowess — especially with this citrus remix. For instance, you could add lemon zest directly to the yeast dough before proofing it and rolling it out. This will add an extra brightness and tang with the candied filling once the lemon rolls are baked. 

The icing is another way to get creative, especially if you want to keep the lemon flavor more subtle. Simply make a traditional frosting by whisking powdered sugar and milk together, and then, for more of a tangy flavor, add in some lemon juice. Or, make a lemon cream cheese frosting. Once your lemon rolls are baked, be sure to let them cool slightly before applying the sugary coating. This will help create the ideal level of gooeyness, without them being overly messy or melty. 

You can also take inspiration from your favorite citrus-forward desserts like lemon bars or lemon meringue pie by opting for a creamy curd filling for add a decadent twist. Or, stick to the classic filling, then top the rolls with lemon curd once they come out of the oven. You could also replace the icing for dollops of meringue or tangy lemon curd whipped cream for a luxurious textural contrast to the bready, sweet treat. Finally, add more freshness by topping your rolls with seasonal fruit like blueberries or blackberries. 

More citrus variations for cinnamon rolls

The fresh, tart taste that lemon incorporates into this breakfast pastry is perfect to brighten any morning. If you don't have any lemons on hand, though, don't worry — there are no hard rules with these rolls, and other citrus like orange or grapefruit zest will work well, too. Just note that the flavor profile will differ slightly. Orange rolls will make for a sweeter tangy bite, while grapefruit will add a hint of bitterness. If you prefer a punchier tartness, play around with adding in lime zest, too. 

If you happen to have a couple types of citrus on hand, feel free to mix and match as well. For example, whisk together lemon and orange zest in your filling for a winning combination. Or prepare the rolls with lemon filling, then add a splash of grapefruit juice into the icing. And of course, though lemon rolls are an inventive departure from the cinnamon classic, you can always get spicy with your citrus; think: cardamom orange filling, or lemon with a pinch of nutmeg. Really, the options are refreshingly endless.