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.
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
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
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…?