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A few times a year my Mom would buy the orange breakfast rolls that popped out of a can and required glaze. Compared to our usual breakfast fare– Cheerios, Rice Krispies, raisin bran, oatmeal– those little buns inspired a frenzy in our household that rivaled the sugar high they created once we wolfed them down. Warm, sweet, sticky and with just a hint of citrus… I can still remember the smell of the orange glaze hitting the hot rolls.

With a few Meyer lemons in the refrigerator, I decided to research some lemony brunch recipes to try. I have been reading about quick breads, pancakes, muffins, French toast… but when I remembered those orange rolls, I knew I had a worthy project. My Meyer lemon breakfast rolls are a nod to the orange buns in a tube: gooey and citrusy, the kind of treat you start eating when they’re still just a little too hot because you can’t wait another minute for a bite. Made with a basic enriched bread dough, lightly spiced cream cheese filling and a bright lemon glaze, they can be put together one day and baked the next. No need to rise at three to get these on the breakfast table. So why Meyer lemons? Using Meyers cuts down on some of the acidic bite you might get using regular lemons, but updates the orange buns by which I was inspired; Meyer lemons naturally have a slight orange note to their flavor, so it seemed like the natural choice to make a lemon version of an orange roll. I chose to use cream cheese instead of the butter filling common in breakfast rolls; it accentuates the tanginess of the lemons, and adds a flavor I love in other breakfast breads. The glaze seems like it will be very sweet, but it is really balanced by the lemon juice and pinch of salt, and the rolls go from a good idea to an inspired, brilliant idea when you drizzle it over the top. The hot bread sizzles and becomes shiny as your kitchen fills with the smell of bright citrus– really, don’t skimp on the glaze.

While Meyer lemons are still available, grab a few and make some of my breakfast rolls. They are spot-on for any Sunday brunch, and I’m already thinking another batch may make an appearance for Easter. Like the orange rolls I grew up with, they’re not for every weekend… but the Meyer lemon season is short, and they are a marvelous treat, and I am very excited to share with you. I can already envision making them for my family, recreating the anticipation and frenzy of those breakfasts of our youth.

Meyer lemon breakfast rolls

Meyer Lemon Breakfast Rolls (makes about 15)

For the dough:

  • 3 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 c. sugar
  • 2 1/4 tsp. active dry yeast
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • zest of two Meyer lemons
  • 1 T. Meyer lemon juice*
  • 1/2 c. less 1 T. whole milk (read directions)
  • 8 T. unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into pieces
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature

For the filling:

  • 5 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/2 c. brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • pinch of kosher salt

For the glaze:

  • 1/4 c. Meyer lemon juice*
  • zest of one Meyer lemon
  • 2 c. confectioner’s sugar, sifted
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • pinch of kosher salt

Day 1: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine 3 c. flour, sugar, yeast, salt and lemon zest. Mix to combine. To a Pyrex-style measuring cup, add the lemon juice and fill to the 1/2 c. line with whole milk. The milk will thicken and maybe separate, and that’s okay– you have just created sour milk, a nice substitute for buttermilk in many recipes. Add the soured milk and cubes of soft butter to the dry ingredients and turn on the mixer, low speed. Lightly whisk the eggs and add to the mixer as it runs. Walk away if you need to, but let the mixer go on low-medium speed for at least 5 mins.

Assess whether the dough is too sticky to handle and add 1/4 c. more flour if necessary. Remove the dough (it should be in a ball around the hook) from the mixer bowl and knead with your hands for a minute, then create a ball again. Place a small amount of neutral oil in the bottom of a glass or ceramic bowl; make sure the dough is entirely coated (lightly) with oil. Cover with a tea towel and allow to rise in a warm spot for about 3 hours.

While the dough rises, make your filling. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix until smooth. Refrigerate until you are ready to roll the dough, though it is helpful to bring the filling to room temperature by removing it from the refrigerator about 40 mins. before you need to use it.

Lightly flour a bread board or large cutting board. Turn the dough out and roll into a large rectangle, about 10″ x 15″. This dough rolled like a dream for me; I probably could have just patted it into a rectangle with my fingers! Starting at one short end, spread the cream cheese filling over the surface of the dough, leaving 1-2″ of dough open at the other short end. The filling should completely and evenly cover the rest of the dough. Starting at the filling-covered short end, roll the dough into a tube. Pull the clear end up and over the roll and pinch to seal. Refrigerate or freeze the dough for about 20 mins. before cutting.

Cut the cold filled dough in half through the middle to make two tubes of uncut rolls, about 8″ long apiece. Then, cut each tube again in half, then each of your four tubes into 4 pieces. (I know this does not add up to 15– I had two stub ends that I combined to make one bun.) The key is consistent thickness, so work slowly. It does get messy. I used a bread knife cleaned between cuts, and have seen other methods using bench scrapers and plain dental floss to make the cuts. I was not that concerned with perfection… but if you are, there are some good instructions on the web. When you have about 15 similar-sized buns, place them in a 9″ x 13″ baking pan in five rows of three. (My dough was so buttery, I did not grease the pan, but you can spray or oil it lightly if you are concerned about sticking.) Push the rolls right up against each other so they fit snugly in the pan. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Day 2: Remove the pan from the refrigerator and loosen the plastic wrap so it covers the pan lightly. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Allow the buns to warm up and rise for about an hour at room temperature. Bake at 325 for 10 mins. Increase the temperature to 375 degrees and bake for another 15-20 mins., rotating the pan once midway through, until the Meyer lemon rolls are golden brown and the center ones are cooked through.

Mix up the glaze by combining all ingredients in a small bowl. Drizzle the glaze, yes all of it, over the rolls, as soon as they come out of the oven. Use a bread knife or spoon to pull the rolls away from the side of the pan so the glaze drips down around all sides. The glaze will harden slightly as the buns cool. Serve immediately.

gooey Meyer lemon goodness

*I had some really adorable, tiny Meyers to use for this recipe. Each gave about 1 T. juice, so I used one lemon for the bread and three for the glaze. If your Meyer lemons are larger, you may need only a couple total. If that’s the case, use the zest of one in the bread and the other in the glaze.