Adding fresh lemon to homemade cinnamon rolls is a great way to infuse a cozy classic with a little sunshine and zesty flavor. These lemon cinnamon rolls are so soft and delicious, and they’re an especially perfect treat for spring!

glazed lemon cinnamon rolls in a pan

Just to be clear, these are not lemon sweet rolls, they’re lemon-scented cinnamon rolls! I’ve taken classic cinnamon rolls and added plenty of lemon zest to the gooey cinnamon filling, and iced the baked cinnamon rolls with a sweet and zesty lemon glaze. 

And in case you aren’t aware— lemon + cinnamon is a match made in heaven. The combination is warm and cozy, but also bright and fresh. These rolls are simply divine! And they’re perfect for chilly spring mornings when you’re craving something cozy. Though honestly, these lemon cinnamon rolls are a delicious treat any time of the year, for any occasion!

lemon cinnamon roll with a bite taken out of it showing gooey inside

Table of Contents

Ingredients you’ll need

lemon cinnamon rolls ingredients

How to make lemon cinnamon rolls

  1. Prepare dough. Melt the butter, then add butter and cinnamon and heat for just a minute or two (until 120-130°F). Add some of the flour to a large bowl along with yeast and salt, then add eggs and the milk mixture. Knead with a mixer dough hook or by hand, adding more flour until dough is smooth and elastic.
  2. Let rise. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour. dough in a bowl and rolled cinnamon roll dough
  3. Fill with cinnamon and lemon zest. Roll dough out to a large rectangle, brush with melted butter, and sprinkle with brown sugar, ground cinnamon and fresh lemon zest. Roll up and slice into 12 rolls.cinnamon roll dough with filling and sliced into rolls
  4. Let rolls rise. Place rolls in a 9×13-inch baking dish. Let them rise again until puffed and almost doubled.
  5. Bake. Bake in the oven at 350°F until tops are golden brown, about 20 minutes.baked unfrosted cinnamon rolls
  6. Top with icing. Whisk powdered sugar, lemon zest and lemon juice together to make a thick glaze. Pour over cooled or slightly warm cinnamon rolls.
  7. Enjoy! Cinnamon rolls are best enjoyed freshly baked.

baking tip:The best way to slice cinnamon rolls

While you can certainly use a knife to slice a log of cinnamon roll dough into individual rolls, I find that it can result in squashed and lopsided rolls if your knife isn’t quite sharp enough.

My favorite way to slice cinnamon rolls is with unscented dental floss or clean thread. Measure out about 12-15 inches,  slide it under your dough so that it’s centered, wrap it around the top and pull tight in one quick motion. The floss/thread should cut cleanly and easily right through the dough. Repeat at even intervals.

How to help your dough rise faster

Once the dough is mixed, you can cover it with a towel or plastic wrap and set it on the kitchen counter to rise, and that will work just fine. But often I’m making cinnamon rolls when my kitchen tends to be a bit cooler, and that will slow down the rise. To help your dough rise faster, here’s a few warmer suggestions:

  • Oven: Heat your oven to its lowest setting for a few minutes, then turn it off. Place the covered dough on the center rack and close the door.
  • Microwave: Heat 1 cup of water in your microwave for 2 minutes. Remove water and place the covered dough in the microwave and close the door.
  • Other: I’ve also risen bread on top of a warm oven, running dryer machine, and even on a chair set over a heater vent.
close up of glazed lemon cinnamon rolls in a pan

Make-ahead instructions

Want to prep your rolls the night before? No problem! After you’ve placed the shaped rolls in the pan, cover with plastic wrap and set in the fridge for up to about 12 hours. Take them out of the fridge about 1-2 hours before baking. They need to completely come back to room temperature and even rise a little more before baking. So make sure you plan for that. 

Flavor variations

Even if you don’t end up trying this recipe, I hope I’ve shown you just how adaptable cinnamon rolls can be! Here are a few additional variations I can think of, but feel free to get creative on your own too.

  • Use other citrus instead of lemon, such as orange, blood orange or grapefruit.
  • Include additional spices, like nutmeg or cardamom.
  • Add fresh or frozen blueberries

Recipe FAQs

What kind of yeast should I use?

Active-dry yeast or instant yeast  (also known as quick-rise or rapid-rise) will both work for this recipe. If you use instant yeast, you may only need about half of the rising time. Otherwise, results are the same. This recipe has not been tested with fresh yeast.

Don’t I need to soak yeast in warm water first?

I learned the “dry blend method” for this recipe from Red Star Yeast, and I love that it saves a bit of time! If you are confident that your yeast hasn’t expired, you do not need to complete this step when making bread. Rehydrating yeast in water does speed activation along, however if you combine all dry ingredients with liquids heated to 120-130°F (which is much warmer than “warm water”) it accomplishes the same thing.

Why is there a range for the amount of flour needed?

The amount of flour you’ll need for these rolls will vary depending on many factors, which is why I give a range of 3 – 3½ cups. You’ll know you’ve added enough flour when the dough is still very soft and tacky to the touch, but you can handle it without the dough sticking too much to your hands. Adding too much flour will make your rolls tough and dense, so use only as much as you need.

What is the best way to store cinnamon rolls?

Cinnamon rolls are best served the day they’re baked, but will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days. To make them soft and fluffy again, I warm them individually for a few seconds in the microwave before serving.

More cinnamon roll recipes

Get the recipe

glazed lemon cinnamon rolls in a pan
4 from 1 review

Lemon Cinnamon Rolls

Servings: 12 rolls
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Rise Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours 25 minutes
Adding fresh lemon to homemade cinnamon rolls is a great way to infuse a cozy classic with a little sunshine and zesty flavor. These lemon cinnamon rolls are so soft and delicious, and they’re an especially perfect treat for spring!

Ingredients
 

For the dough:

  • ¼ cup (60 grams) unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup (85 grams) honey (85 grams)
  • cup (182 grams) whole milk (160 ml)
  • 3-3 ½ (360-420 grams) all-purpose flour (see Notes)
  • 1 packet (7 grams) active-dry yeast (2 ¼ teaspoons)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs

For the filling:

  • ¼ cup (60 grams) unsalted butter , melted
  • cup (66 grams) packed light or dark brown sugar
  • Zest of 2 lemons
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

For the glaze:

  • 1 ½ cups (170 grams) powdered sugar
  • 2-4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • Zest of 1 lemon

Instructions
 

To make cinnamon rolls:

  • Melt butter in a small saucepan set over medium low heat. Add honey and milk and head for just a minute more, or until temperature is between 120-130°F. (For most accuracy, use an instant read thermometer.)
  • In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine 1 ½ cups of the flour with the yeast and salt. Add the milk mixture and mix until combined. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing after each.
  • With the mixer on low, add the remaining flour ¼ cup at a time until dough clears the side of the bowl but is still slightly sticky to the touch. You may not need all 3 ½ cups of flour (see Notes). Continue to knead the dough in the mixer until it is smooth and very elastic, a few minutes more.
  • Place dough in a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.
  • Gently punch down dough and knead a few times. Cover it with the plastic wrap and let it rest for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, prep the filling ingredients.
  • On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a long rectangle approximately 10×15 inches. Drizzle with the melted butter and sprinkle with the brown sugar, lemon zest and cinnamon. Starting with a long end, tightly roll up the dough into a long log. Use a sharp knife or unscented dental floss or thread to cut dough into 12 rolls.
  • Place rolls in a greased 9×13-inch pan. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, about 30-45 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350°F.
  • Bake lemon cinnamon rolls until golden, about 25 minutes. Let cool slightly, then drizzle with glaze.

To make glaze:

  • Whisk together the sifted powdered sugar with enough lemon juice to make a thick but pourable glaze. Stir in lemon zest.

Notes

  • What kind of yeast is best? Active-dry yeast or instant yeast  (also known as quick-rise or rapid-rise) will both work for this recipe. If you use instant yeast, you may only need about half of the rising time. Otherwise, results are the same. 
  • Why is there a range for the flour? The amount of flour you’ll need for these rolls will vary depending on many factors, which is why I give a range of 3 – 3½ cups. You’ll know you’ve added enough flour when the dough is still very soft and tacky to the touch, but you can handle it without the dough sticking too much to your hands. Adding too much flour will make your rolls tough and dense, so use only as much as you need.
  • Do not heat liquids to over 140°F. When heating butter, milk and honey be sure to keep the temperature below 140°F, otherwise you will kill the yeast and prohibit the rolls from rising properly.
Calories: 194kcal, Carbohydrates: 28g, Protein: 2g, Fat: 9g, Saturated Fat: 5g, Cholesterol: 49mg, Sodium: 214mg, Potassium: 45mg, Fiber: 1g, Sugar: 27g, Vitamin A: 298IU, Vitamin C: 1mg, Calcium: 30mg, Iron: 1mg
Cuisine: American
Course: Breakfast
Author: Annalise Sandberg
Have you tried this recipe?I’d love to hear about it! Leave a rating and review below, or take a photo and tag it on Instagram @completelydelicious with #completelydelicious.

This recipe was originally published March 2015. Photos have been updated, and wording in the recipe improved.