Put a little sunshine in my soul: Sticky lemon rolls

The perfect Saturday is an elusive thing, not least because it is so fluid by nature; everyone’s perfect is different, and everyone’s perfect is totally subject to circumstance. Sometimes the perfect Saturday is a sunny barbecue in the park; others, it involves a cup of cocoa, a good book, and a howling rainstorm outside that you don’t have to go out into.

If you’re talking last Saturday, however, I’d say you’d be hard pressed to come up with a better combination than the one I had, which started with a visit to see King Tut with Biscuit (causing my inner Egyptophile to squee with delight) and ended with japanese food and homemade lemon rolls in the company of delightful Lady A. It was a multitiered day, and I’d be hard-pressed to tell you which was my favorite part.

So, we’ll just talk about the lemon rolls.

These rolls have been a minor obsession since the first time I stumbled across them on The Kitchn–constructed like cinnamon rolls, these yeasty critters are a direct shot of sticky, sweet, summery goodness, oozing lemon-nutmeg (yes, lemon nutmeg. Unconventional, but so, so lovely) syrup and slathered in a cream cheese frosting; they’re unlike anything you’ve ever tried. They’re light (but not too light), chewy, and delicious. And, I suspect, they’ll freeze pretty well.
At least, I hope they will–these are meant to be my contribution to A’s upcoming baby shower (of which I am, ostensibly, one of the co-chairs), but a smirking god of scheduling saw fit to schedule a very important Band Event in Las Vegas for the same weekend, which will place me in a completely different time zone during what would have been prime baking hours. And so, I’ll be doing it in advance, parking the rolls in A’s freezer, and hoping for the best when I show up at her doorstep, fresh off the redeye, full of travel-induced goodwill and charm.
I’m really not too concerned, though–in my experience, yeasty things such as this tend to do alright in the freezer; just thaw them out in the fridge overnight before baking, if you can. They might emerge a little chewier for wear (which is probably better than I’ll be able to say for myself at that point), but hey. If they stay even half as good as they were fresh out of the oven, I think it’ll still be mighty fine–which will help me ensure that that Saturday makes its way onto the list of perfect Saturdays, leading (with luck) into what I hope will be a perfect Sunday.

Sticky Lemon Rolls with Lemon Cream Cheese Glaze
Makes 12 large breakfast rolls
(Shamelessly cribbed and copied verbatim from The Kitchn)

Lemon Roll Dough
1 envelope (0.25 ounces, or 2 1/2 teaspoons) yeast
3/4 cup milk, warmed to about 100°F or warm but not hot on your wrist
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, very soft
1/4 cup white sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
2 lemons, zested
2 eggs

Sticky Lemon Filling
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon freshly-ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger
2 lemons, zested and juiced *
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, very soft

Lemon Cream Cheese Glaze
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
Juice of 1 lemon
1 cup powdered sugar
1 lemon, zested

  1. In a medium-sized bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the warmed milk and let it sit for a couple minutes, until it’s dissolved.
  2. Then, stir in the softened butter, sugar, vanilla, and one cup of the flour.
  3. Once that’s incorporated, add the salt, nutmeg, and lemon zest.
  4. THEN, add the eggs and enough of the remaining flour to make a soft yet sticky dough; this amount will vary depending on the size of the eggs, the moisture in the air, the angle of the sun, etc. Start conservatively, and add it in small increments at a time.
  5. If using a stand mixer, now is the time to bust out your dough hook and mix the dough for about five minutes–it will be elastic and glossy, and should not stick to the dough hook–keep adding flour in small increments (seriously, like a teaspoon at a time) until it de-stickifies.  If you’re working by hand, turn it out onto a floured surface and knead until it’s stretchy and pliant.
  6. Brush the top of the dough with vegetable oil and then swish it around the bowl so it’s coated in oil; cover with plastic and a kitchen towel, and put it somewhere warm to rise for about an hour–until it’s doubled in size.
  7. Meanwhile, make the filling–mix the sugar with the nutmeg and ginger, and then mix in the lemon zest. Do this with your hands, like you’re rubbing together a pastry crust. It will resemble wet sand. Add the juice of 1 lemon–it doesn’t sound like much, but it will turn the filling into a thick, granular syrup. yum!
  8. Lightly grease a 13×9 pan. Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and pat it out into a big rectangle (about 10×15). Slather it with the remaining softened butter, and then smear the filling mixture on top of that.
  9. Starting on the long end, roll the dough tightly (it will resemble a long snake) and then cut into 12 even slices. Place the slices, cut side up, in the baking dish. Cover with a towel and allow to rise until doubled.
  10. Bake at 350 for about 35 minutes, or until puffy, fragrant, and slightly golden. While it’s baking, mix together all the glaze ingredients; when the rolls have cooled a bit, slather that cream cheese frosting on like there’s no tomorrow!
In baking, lemon

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