lemon cheesecake morning buns

The problem with sweet rolls is that they are a breakfast food that is too complicated to make in time for breakfast. What with all the yeasty risings, they just can’t happen first thing in the morning. 

Sure, there are makeshift solutions. Shaped rolls can be proofed in the fridge overnight and then baked first thing in the morning. Or already-baked rolls can be wrapped in foil and then, come morning, warmed in the oven. But both of those solutions are, I think, suboptimal. Dough made with commercial yeast is not enhanced by a refrigerated timeout—the dough often overproofs, turning bloated and sour—and reheated rolls feel second best. There’s nothing quite like freshly-baked sweet rolls, period.

All my sweet roll angst came to the forefront when, just the other day, I read this title: lemon cheesecake morning buns. Fresh rolls? In the morning? With lemon? Ooh-la-la!

Then a snowstorm hit, and a hot oven and freshly baked goods seemed the right thing to do. I had my husband pick up a couple lemons and some cream cheese, and that night after supper, I mixed up the dough, the cream cheese filling, and the lemon glaze. A couple hours later, after reading to the kids and popping them into bed, I hustled back out to the kitchen to assemble the rolls and pop them into the fridge. (Yes, yes. I know what I said about yeast doughs chilling in fridges, but this yeast dough is only mildly yeasted, plus, it boasts baking powder and baking soda. The nighttime rest left it only slightly puffed and with no ill-flavor effects.) That night I went to bed excited. Breakfast was gonna be delicious!

And it was. The rolls were delightful: lemony and cheesy, light and tender. We each had two.

Later, I had another one. Cooled, it tasted even better, I thought. Like a lemon cheese danish.

So now I have a solution to the sweet rolls-for-breakfast conundrum. It’s not the classic sweet roll, but hello, LEMON AND CREAM CHEESE? ‘Nuff said.

Lemon Cheesecake Morning Buns
Adapted from Julie of Willow Bird Baking (via Becky of Chicken Wire and Paper Flowers).

The only change I made was to reduce the butter. I know! I know! Me, Jennifer, the butter queen cutting back the butter! It’s crazy! But seriously, a whole stick of butter with pound of cream cheese for just the filling? Even for me, it seemed like overkill. So I cut it in half and didn’t miss it.

I’ve broken the recipe into three stages: early evening, bedtime, and morning. It may look complicated, but taken one step at a time, it’s not. Also, the first step involves the biggest mess. If you do it immediately after supper, you can add the dirty dishes to the supper pile and better utilize the dishwasher’s services. If you’re sneaky, they won’t even know they’re being taken advantage of.

Part One: Early Evening 
For the dough: 
¼ cup warm water
1 tablespoon yeast
5 cups flour
1 teaspoon each baking soda, baking powder, and salt
3 tablespoons sugar
2/3 cup (10 2/3 tablespoons) butter
2 tablespoons white vinegar
2 cups, minus 2 tablespoons, milk

In a small bowl, combine the water and yeast. Set aside. Measure the vinegar into the bottom of a two-cup measure. Top it off with milk.

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda and baking powder, salt, and sugar. Using your fingers, cut in the butter. Stir in the milk and dissolved yeast. The dough will be sticky—there is no need to knead it. Cover with a cloth and set aside.

For the cream cheese lemon filling:
1 pound cream cheese
½ cup sugar
1 egg
zest of one lemon
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
4 tablespoons butter, softened

In a bowl, beat together the cream cheese, sugar, egg, and lemon zest and juice. Cover with plastic and set aside. (The butter is applied separately from the filling.)

For the lemon glaze:
2 cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon vanilla
¼ cup milk
lemon zest, for garnish

Whisk together the sugar, lemon juice, vanilla, and milk. Cover tightly and store in the refrigerator. 

Part Two: Bedtime
To assemble:
Turn the dough out onto a floured counter. Knead very briefly. Roll the dough into a large rectangle about 1/8 inch thick. Spread with the 4 tablespoons of softened butter and then with the cream cheese filling. Roll the dough up as you would for sweet rolls and cut into 24 pieces. Place the rolls into two, greased 9×13 pans. Cover tightly with plastic and store in the refrigerator.

Part Three: In the Morning 
To bake and serve:
Turn the oven to 350 degrees. Remove the rolls from the fridge and let sit on the top of the oven while it preheats. Bake for about 25 minutes until the rolls are puffed and golden brown. While still warm, drizzle with the glaze and sprinkle with lots of fresh lemon zest. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Updated March 27, 2015: I made these without the nighttime rest in the fridge. In fact, I pushed the recipe through in three hours from start to finish. The resulting buns were good, but not as good. Which leads me to think that the slower method is better…?

This same time, years previous: in the eyes of the beholder, homemade Twix bars, and dulce de leche coffee.


  • Rachel

    Thanks–I wondered about chilling the cream cheese mixture. I was taught to make cinnamon rolls by my mom, who is the ultimate master of amazing rolls, and hers always roll tightly and beautiful. So whenever mine aren't that way, I assume I'm not doing it right. Yay for forgiving recipes!!

  • Rachel

    Made these this weekend—yum!!!! One question–is the filling supposed to be runny? I cut back a little on the sugar but it was really sloppy. I wondered as I flopped the runny rolls into the pans, but the overnight in the fridge made the rolls rise nicely and saved my poor construction. Maybe the filling wasn't mixed enough? Advice? (And I had big lemons so I added the extra juice to the glaze–that was fabulous). I'll definitely try these again!

    • Jennifer Jo

      Yes, the filling is a bit sloppy. Though when I made them on a cool night, the filling was a little more set up and easier to handle. So maybe it'd help to chill the filling for 20 minutes or so before spreading it on the dough? The thing is (as you noticed), no matter how messy it gets, it always seems to straighten out over night.

  • A.S.U.

    Do you think you could freeze half the dough, after filling and cutting it? How would you bake it then – let it defrost in the fridge overnight?

    • Jennifer Jo

      According to Julie (the author of the blog from whence this recipe came), yes. To quote Julie:

      Note on freezing: To freeze some of the unbaked rolls, just wrap them well before the second rise and freeze them. Once frozen, pop them out of the pan all together and store in the freezer, wrapped in plastic wrap and in a zip top bag or wrapped in foil. When you want to bake them, stick them back in a greased pan, thaw them in the fridge overnight, proof for the instructed amount of time, and bake like usual.

  • Becky

    I cut the butter there too, because otherwise you wind up using close to a pound of it in those things. Not that I ever think twice about making anything that uses a pound of butter.

  • Camille

    You know I'm in…right? It may take a few days…but, it will happen. Thank you for sharing your food successes with us…my children know you as my blog friend who has the greatest recipes. 🙂

  • Margo

    lemon cheese danish?! sounds wonderful!

    I routinely make overnight yeasted things and we don't think they're heavy or off-tasting – BUT perhaps it's just because I love the smell of that fresh baking at breakfast in a chilly, dark house so much that I don't notice. . .

    • Jennifer Jo

      There's a VERY good chance that I simply haven't experimented enough! But I do wonder how much the other leaveners played a role in making this yeast bread a success. For all my baking, I really don't have the greatest understanding of yeast breads…

    • Margo

      have you ever made Angel Biscuits? They're divine (hee he) and they have the triple leaveners, too. They sit in the fridge as dough until you want to bake them.

      It's my understanding that a yeast dough can be refrigerated if it has enough sugar to feed on. I never worry about covering it extremely tightly, either – a dishtowel laid over french bread, or the metal lid on the metal 9×13. Also, I leave it out at room temp for at least 10-15 minutes before I fire up the oven (so, another 5 minutes or so) and then bake.

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