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Lemon Poppy Seed Sweet Rolls

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Sweet and tart yeasted lemon poppy seed rolls filled with a buttery sweetened lemon poppy seed filling and topped with a tangy cream cheese frosting.

A lemon poppy seed roll on a plate, spread with lemon cream cheese frosting.

Welcome to #LemonWeek 2022 hosted by Rebecca from Devour Dinner and me! This week is sponsored by Rodelle and La Tourangelle. I may have received product samples from these sponsors to help in the creation of my recipes. All opinions are my own. Come join me and my fellow Lemon Week bloggers as we bring you recipes from appetizers to drinks to entrées and desserts!

The last day in Lemon Week 2022 is quite possibly my favorite from the whole bunch. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a sucker for anything lemon, specifically lemon poppy seed, or because bread is part of my baking love language.

It’s hard to be sure.

But today’s easy lemon poppy seed rolls are so simple, so supple, and so lemony and poppy seedy that you are going to flip for this new addition to your weekend breakfast routine. I can’t wait for you to pull these out of the oven and dive in!

A hand reaching in to take apart a lemon poppy seed swirl roll with cream cheese frosting.

INGREDIENTS

One of my favorite things about these lemon poppy seed sweet rolls is how the same theme is carried through each component.

Lemon zest is used in the dough, the filling, annnnd the frosting making for a bright and citrusy sweet roll with serious lemon flavor.

An overhead shot of lemon poppy seed rolls that have been covered in a cream cheese frosting.

The poppy seeds are incorporated into both the dough and the filling, which looks absolutely beautiful, and gives a really cohesive texture.

You’ll also see one of the best ingredients EVER used in every single component: butter! Because butter is better, right!? It’s worked into the enriched lemon dough, the buttery citrus filling, annnd the creamy layer of cream cheese frosting.

DOUGH

This dough, like every sweet roll dough before it, is an enriched dough. That means it features the addition of fats (butter and egg), sugar, and dairy (milk) to give it a sturdy and rich texture that holds up to rolling and baking with ease.

Not to mention the soft texture and buttery flavor!

A close up of a pan of lemon poppy seed rolls with cream cheese frosting.

In order to make this lemon poppy seed dough, you’ll need some pretty standard ingredients. This includes yeast, warm milk (and water), sugar, salt, vanilla, egg, flour, and softened unsalted butter.

Those ingredients form the base dough, but we also add in some lemon zest and poppy seeds to give it the signature flavor we’re going for.

FILLING

Now for the filling, we’re talking about some pretty simple ingredients once again. You’ll see some butter make an appearance (this time melted), as well as lemon zest, poppy seeds, and sugar.

This forms a citrusy and buttery filling that gives these sweet rolls a soft texture and some extra sweetness. Because we all like things on the sweet side here, right?

FROSTING

As a finishing touch, the still-warm rolls are topped with a bright and delicious layer of lemon cream cheese frosting. This is a variation of my homemade cream cheese frosting, adapted to give it that strong citrus flavor and scent.

I actually think I’ll be using this delectable frosting on a lot more baked goodies, since I don’t think it has to stick to just lemon flavored bakes to be delicious.

I think it would be amazing in place of the buttercream on top of my lemon blueberry cupcakes, or spread onto a freshly baked pan of baked blueberry french toast OR my strawberry lemonade quick bread. Talk about scrumptious!

HOW TO MAKE LEMON POPPY SEED ROLLS

These poppy seed rolls are made in three basic steps: the dough, the filling, and the frosting. Once the dough has been made and risen, the rest is easy peasy and will come together SO fast.

One of the many reasons I love this recipe is that it can easily be made ahead. You can prep the dough a day or so beforehand and then pull everything together on the day you want to bake.

This makes it perfect for company, or even as a special Saturday morning breakfast with some hot coffee (or hot chocolate for the kiddos).

MAKE THE DOUGH

To make the rich dough for these lemon poppy seed rolls, you’ll start off by spraying a baking dish with some non-stick spray. I recommend using an 8″ cake pan or pie plate, but an 8″ or 9″ baking dish will work too.

Add your warm water to a small bowl and sprinkle the yeast on top of the water. Stir with a fork, and allow to proof for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, add your warm milk to the bowl of a stand mixer. Then, add in your sugar, salt, vanilla, and lemon zest. Stir with a wooden spoon or spatula to combine.

Add the egg, followed by the proofed yeast and water, and mix until everything is combined.

Using the dough hook attachment, gradually stir the flour into the wet ingredients. You can do this by hand too, just by adding everything to a large bowl and using a wooden spoon (or spatula) and a little elbow grease (this is my preferred method).

Start off by adding just 2 cups of flour and the poppy seeds, and allow the dough to come together. Once the dough is mostly together, add the softened butter and continue to mix.

Once the butter is mostly incorporated, add the remaining ½ cup of flour and mix until the dough comes together in a solid mass. If the dough is still too sticky, add some additional flour 1 tablespoon at a time.

Do not exceed 2 and ¾ cup of total flour, as it can get pretty tough if you add much more. As always, be sure that you’re measuring your flour properly, as that can leave some serious margin for error!

A sweet roll dough that has come together into a solid mass.

You’ll know your dough is ready when it easily pulls away from the sides of your bowl and dough hook or spoon.

ALLOW THE DOUGH TO REST

Once your dough comes together, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead it by hand until smooth and elastic. It should feel sort of like PlayDoh, and should “snap” when you pull it apart (showing elasticity).

Allow your dough to rest for 10 minutes while you get started on the lemon poppy seed filling. This is the first rise of your dough.

MAKE THE FILLING

Grab yourself a medium bowl and add the melted unsalted butter, sugar, poppy seeds, and lemon zest needed to make the filling portion.

Stir everything together with a spatula until combined and set aside while you get started on rolling out the dough.

ROLL OUT THE DOUGH

After your dough has rested for the full 10 minutes, roll the dough out into a rectangle roughly 9″ x 12″ in size using a rolling pin. The dough will still be pretty elastic, so keep it mind that it might keep shrinking back on you.

Rolling a lemon poppy seed dough into a large rectangle.

Practice your patience and keep going, because the reward is oh-so-worth-it.

SPREAD THE FILLING

Once the dough has been rolled into a large rectangle, you’re ready to spread the lemon poppy seed filling all over.

Spreading a lemon poppy seed filling over a sweet dough that has been rolled into a rectangle.

Spread it evenly, all the way to the edges of the rectangle on all four sides. It’s not like with cinnamon rolls where you leave a large border, since this filling won’t ooze in the same way a classic cinnamon filling will. Still, leaving a bit off the edges it totally fine.

ROLL AND CUT THE DOUGH

Once the filling has been spread evenly over the dough, start with one of the long sides, and roll the dough into a tight 12″ log.

Rolling a lemon poppy seed dough into a log.

Use a sharp serrated knife to cut the log into 6 even slices (these will be your rolls).

ALLOW THE ROLLS TO RISE

Place your slices cut side down on the prepared pan, and fluff them with your fingers slightly to reshape them into rounds. I recommend placing one in the center, and placing the remaining five in a ring around the central roll.

Lemon poppy seed rolls arranged in a pie plate.

Cover the rolls loosely with foil or a damp kitchen towel and allow to rise for 1 and ½ hours. They should be slightly puffy compared to the original unrisen rolls.

BAKE THE ROLLS

Once the rising time is complete, preheat your oven to 375°F (191ºC) and bake the rolls for 30-32 minutes, or just until they just begin to brown very lightly on top.

If your rolls are getting too brown, you can cover them with foil to slow down the browning a bit.

Lemon poppy seed sweet rolls that have been baked until light brown.

Once the rolls are baked through, remove from the oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes. In the meantime, get started on some of that amazing lemon cream cheese frosting! I hereby grant you permission to lick the beaters. Got it?

TOP WITH FROSTING

Add your softened cream cheese, room temperature butter, and lemon zest to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment OR a large bowl with a handheld mixer.

Mix on medium-high speed until everything is smooth and well combined. Then, turn the mixer speed down to low and start adding the powdered sugar and salt. Continue mixing until smooth and creamy.

A bowl of lemon cream cheese frosting with an offset spatula inside of the bowl.

Spread the lemon cream cheese frosting onto the slightly cooled (but still warm) lemon poppy seed rolls and serve immediately. They are SO amazing warm, with slightly melty cream cheese frosting.

If you’re making these for a friend, I insist that you make a double batch for the sole purpose of being able to enjoy at least one fresh out of the oven. In fact, you’ll have to have one for every person in the house, because as soon as they smell these they are going to come running!

Lemon poppy seed rolls that have been spread with a lemon cream cheese frosting.

If you want your frosting a bit thinner, you can use water, milk, cream, or lemon juice to thin the consistency a bit. Keep in mind that once you spread it on the warm rolls, the frosting will thin a bit, so you don’t want to make it too runny.

STORING LEFTOVERS

Once your rolls are completely cooled, store them in an airtight container. You can keep them at room temperature for up to 3 days OR in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

To reheat your rolls, place them in the microwave and heat for 8-10 seconds before serving. This short time makes them perfectly warm and melty, versus heating them longer and scorching your tongue.

A lemon poppy seed roll on a plate, topped with cream cheese frosting.

CAN I MAKE THESE ROLLS AHEAD OF TIME?

If you want to make these sweet rolls ahead of time, you can absolutely do that. All you have to do is prepare up to the dough rolling stage and simply cover with plastic wrap and allow them to rest in the refrigerator overnight (and up to 18 hours).

In the morning, when it’s game time, remove your lemon poppy seed rolls from the fridge and allow to rise in a warm environment for about 1 hour.

Sweet rolls with poppy seeds in a pie plate.

Continue with the next step in the process by baking the rolls until fluffy and very lightly browned on top. Then, once cooled top with the lemon cream cheese frosting and go from there!

FREEZING

If you want to make these poppy seed rolls WAY in advance, you could opt to freeze them instead. They freeze really well, either baked or unbaked, so you I’ll leave it up to you which you would prefer!

Baked rolls are a bit easier to prepare once you’re ready to eat, as you just thaw and warm. Unbaked rolls do taste the best and “freshest” since they are baked on the day you plan to serve them. It really depends on what you’re going for!

Quick and easy? Bake and freeze. Fresh baked taste? Freeze and then bake. Simple!

A side view of lemon poppy seed rolls in a pie plate.

To freeze rolls that have been baked, allow them to cool completely to room temperature first. Then, wrap in several layers of plastic wrap or foil and freeze for up to 2-3 months. When you’re ready, thaw them overnight in the refrigerator and warm before enjoying.

To freeze unbaked lemon poppy seed rolls, prepare up until rolling and slicing the dough into rolls. Then, bake for 10 minutes at 375°F (191°C). Allow them to cool completely, cover tightly with plastic wrap or foil, and then freeze.

When you’re ready to bake your frozen sweet rolls, allow them to thaw in the refrigerator overnight. Finish baking for the remaining 20-25 minutes, and then top with the lemon cream cheese frosting and serve.

An overhead shot of a lemon poppy seed roll covered with cream cheese frosting.

Now that you’ve enjoyed a freshly baked batch of these fragrant, fresh, and citrusy lemon poppy seed rolls, you’re ready to try a few of my favorite sweet roll recipes. They are perfect for gifting, or for freezing for an easy treat on a rainy afternoon.

Looking for more cinnamon roll recipes? Try any of these recipes next: traditional homemade cinnamon rolls are always a fun place to start (a small batch version as well as a mini cinnamon roll recipe!), sourdough cinnamon rolls are a classic, and have a delicious tang to them. I am also obsessed with these caramel rolls with salted caramel sauce, AND OF COURSE, coffee rolls. Because dessert + coffee is a winning combo every single time.

Friday #LemonWeek Recipes

Lemon poppy seed rolls that have been spread with a lemon cream cheese frosting.
5 from 11 votes
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Lemon Poppy Seed Sweet Rolls

Sweet and tart yeasted lemon poppy seed rolls filled with a buttery sweetened lemon poppy seed filling and topped with a tangy cream cheese frosting.
Prep Time20 mins
Bake Time34 mins
Resting Time1 hr 30 mins
Total Time2 hrs 24 mins
Recipe Author Lynn April
Servings: 6 rolls

Ingredients

LEMON SWEET ROLL DOUGH

  • ¼ cup (60mL) warm water
  • 1 and ⅛ teaspoons (4g) dry active yeast or half of one packet
  • ¼ cup (60mL) warm milk
  • ¼ cup (50g) granulated sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 Tablespoons poppy seeds
  • 2 and ½ to 2 and ¾ cups (300-330g) all purpose flour be sure to measure properly
  • 3 Tablespoons (43g) unsalted butter softened to room temperature and cut into 4-6 pieces

LEMON POPPY SEED FILLING

  • 3 Tablespoons (42g) unsalted butter melted
  • cup (67g) granulated sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon poppy seeds
  • zest of 1 lemon

LEMON CREAM CHEESE FROSTING

  • 2 ounces (56g) cream cheese softened to room temperature
  • 2 Tablespoons (28g) unsalted butter softened to room temperature
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • ¾ cup (90g) powdered sugar
  • teaspoon salt
  • 1 to 2 Tablespoons (15-30mL) liquid for thinning1 optional

Instructions

LEMON SWEET ROLL DOUGH

  • Spray a baking dish (I like an 8" cake pan or pie plate) with non-stick spray. Set aside.
  • Place warm water in a small bowl. Sprinkle the yeast on top of the water. Stir around with a fork or spoon and allow to rest and activate for 10 minutes. 
  • Pour the warm milk into a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, then add the sugar, salt, vanilla extract, and lemon zest and stir with a wooden spoon or a spatula. Add the egg and the yeast mixture and mix again until everything is combined.
  • Gradually stir in flour. If using a stand mixer, use your dough hook. If mixing by hand, continue to use a wooden spoon or spatula. Add 2 cups of flour and the poppy seeds, allow dough to come together, then add the softened butter and continue to blend.
  • When butter is mostly incorporated, add the remaining ½ cup of flour and blend until dough has completely come together. If the dough is still too sticky, add flour one Tablespoon at a time, not exceeding 2 and ¾ cup total of flour. When the dough is ready, it should easily pull away from the sides of your bowl and dough hook or spoon.
  • Turn out dough on a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic. Your dough should feel like PlayDoh to the touch and “snap” when you pull it apart. Allow dough to rest for 10 minutes while you prepare the filling. 

LEMON POPPY SEED FILLING

  • In a medium size bowl, combine the butter, sugar, poppy seeds, and lemon zest. Stir with a spatula until combined.
  • Using a rolling pin, roll the dough out into a rectangle 9" x 12" in size. Dough will be very elastic, so be patient and keep rolling. Using a spatula, spread the filling evenly over the dough, all the way to the edges of the rectangle on all four sides. 

ASSEMBLE AND BAKE THE DOUGH

  • Starting with one of the 12" sides, roll the dough up into a tight 12" log. Using a sharp serrated knife, cut the log into 6 even slices. Place the slices cut side down in the prepared pan (one in the center with five around it), then cover loosely with foil or a kitchen towel and allow to rise for 1 and ½ hours. 
  • When roll dough has risen, preheat the oven to 350ºF (177ºC). Bake the rolls for 30-32 minutes or until rolls just start to brown on top. You can cover the rolls with foil to prevent browning, if desired. Remove from oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes while you prepare the cream cheese frosting. 

LEMON CREAM CHEESE FROSTING

  • In a large bowl with a handheld mixer or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter, cream cheese, and lemon zest on medium-high speed until smooth.  
  • Turn the mixer speed down to low and add the powdered sugar and salt and continue mixing until smooth. 
  • Spread cream cheese frosting onto slightly cooled rolls and serve rolls immediately. Leftover rolls stay fresh in an airtight container at room temperature up to 3 days or in the refrigerator up to 5 days. Reheat in the microwave for 8-10 seconds before serving. 

Notes

  1. To thin frosting: you can use water, milk/cream, or lemon juice if you want your frosting to be thinner.
  2. Make ahead: this dough can be made the ahead of time through step 1 of the “assemble and bake dough” instructions. Cover rolls with plastic wrap and allow to rest in the refrigerator overnight. In the morning, remove from the refrigerator and allow to rise in a warm environment, about 1 hour. Continue with step 2 in the “assemble and bake dough” instructions.
  3. To freeze: baked rolls freeze well, up to 2-3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator and warm before enjoying.
  4. To freeze unbaked rolls: bake the rolls in step 2 in “assemble and bake dough” instructions for 10 minutes at 350°F (177ºC). Allow to cool completely, cover tightly, then freeze. Remove the rolls from the freezer and allow to thaw in the refrigerator overnight. Finish baking for the remaining 20-25 minutes before frosting and serving. 
  5. Nutritional information: all nutritional values are approximate.
Did you make this recipe?Mention @freshaprilflours on Instagram or tag #freshaprilflours!
Serving: 1roll | Calories: 516kcal | Carbohydrates: 78g | Protein: 10g | Fat: 19g | Saturated Fat: 10g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 5g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 70mg | Sodium: 329mg | Potassium: 167mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 35g | Vitamin A: 529IU | Vitamin C: 0.1mg | Calcium: 128mg | Iron: 3mg

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5 stars
These are the most perfect sweet rolls! I love the lemon poppy seed flavor.. a summer must make!

I don’t know how I never thought of this, but I cannot wait to try these!

5 stars
I love how you incorporated the poppy seeds into the dough and the filling, the zest into all three components and I couldn’t agree more, that more butter is always better! Making these tomorrow!

5 stars
What a marvelous recipe. Thanks for sharing

5 stars
Oooh! I’ve been looking for something good to make this weekend and these sound delish!

5 stars
Seriously the most beautiful sweet rolls EVER and looooook at that frosting (drooly face!!)

5 stars
What a perfect take on breakfast buns! Very cool recipe!

5 stars
I think I will make a batch of these this weekend. They look so good!

Now, I have never thought to make these..I can’t figure out why because I love lemon poppy seed everthing!

5 stars
I love orange rolls but considering I love lemon baked goods even more, this is a real winner.

5 stars
I’d love these for breakfast any time!

5 stars
Oh friend, why don’t I live next to you to enjoy such delicious recipes. WOW! I need these in my life.

I’m loving your tips to making these beautiful rolls. Can’t wait to make them myself.

5 stars
These rolls with yummy cream cheese frosting are the best ever! I am absolutely in love with these lemon poppy seed rolls. Thanks for the great tips too!