Giant Lemon Roll

updated May 11, 2021
Giant Lemon Roll

This single, giant lemon roll cake has soft, pillowy dough and a lemony-brown sugar swirl that you can pull apart layer by layer.

Serves8 to 10

Makes1 (9-inch) cake

Prep35 minutes

Cook30 minutes

Jump to Recipe
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lemon roll cake in a pie dish, frosted
Credit: Photo: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Styling: Ben Weiner; Prop Styling: Stephanie De Luca

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My favorite way to enjoy a cinnamon roll is to slowly unravel the pillowy coil and eat it “Fruit by the Foot” style. Eating it this way seems to take longer, effectively stretching out the enjoyment I get from sweet dough covered in icing. Now how about turning sticky lemon rolls into one gigantic roll that’s all coiled in a pie plate? Chock-full of lemon zest and juice, this lemon roll is as fun to eat as it is to make.

This lemon roll cake starts out just like most cinnamon roll recipes: Make a soft yeasted dough, roll it out, spread on some filling, then roll it into a coil. But instead of cutting the coil into individual pieces, the dough is cut into strips that are then swirled up snugly together in a pie plate. The end result is beautiful — especially when topped with cream cheese glaze.

Go for a Longer Second Rise

Most yeasted doughs need to rise twice: the first after the dough is mixed together, and then a second time after it’s shaped in the pan. Unlike most cinnamon roll recipes, however, the first rise for this cake is a short one. The dough just needs enough time to relax and puff up a bit, about 30 minutes. After it’s filled and shaped into the pie pan, the second rise is longer, about 2 hours, which gives the dough plenty of time to puff and fill the pie pan with its marshmallow-y squishiness.

Use a Pie Plate

This cake is made in a pie plate because it has nice sloped sides and is also just pretty to bake in. You can use a regular or deep-dish pie plate, and I like to use ceramic or glass rather than metal because it’s easier to clean after. If you don’t have a pie plate, a 9-inch round cake pan will also work just fine; it just has higher sides.

Credit: Photo: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Styling: Ben Weiner; Prop Styling: Stephanie De Luca

Lemon, Lemon, Lemon

The main flavoring here is lemon, and it’s not shy. Every single part of this cake has lemon: There’s zest in the dough, filling, glaze, and even the garnish, and there’s juice in the filling to mingle with the sugar and bake into a sticky caramel underneath. All this lovely tanginess is a fine partner to some nutmeg and ground ginger, and it’s also great for those who aren’t cinnamon-lovers, but still want all the other tasty parts of the cinnamon roll. You can use regular or Meyer lemon here — whatever you can find.

The best time to eat this lemon roll cake is when it’s still warm and the lemony cream cheese frosting drips down into each ring. Slice the cake into traditional wedges if you’d like for serving, but if you’re going for a more casual breakfast or brunch, start from the outside and unwind your way in — it’s way more fun and you get to lick icing off your fingers.

Giant Lemon Roll

This single, giant lemon roll cake has soft, pillowy dough and a lemony-brown sugar swirl that you can pull apart layer by layer.

Prep time 35 minutes

Cook time 30 minutes

Makes 1 (9-inch) cake

Serves 8 to 10

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

For the dough and filling:

  • 8 tablespoons

    unsalted butter, divided

  • 1

    medium lemon

  • 2 1/4 cups

    all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

  • 1/2 cup

    plus 2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar, divided

  • 1 (1/4-ounce) packet

    active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    ground nutmeg, divided

  • 1/2 cup

    whole or 2% milk

  • 1

    large egg

  • 1 teaspoon

    vanilla extract

  • Cooking spray

  • 1/8 teaspoon

    ground ginger

For the glaze:

  • 2 ounces

    cream cheese

  • 1

    medium lemon

  • 1/2 cup

    powdered sugar

Instructions

  1. Soften the butter and cream cheese: Place 4 tablespoons of the unsalted butter and 2 ounces cream cheese on the counter and let sit at room temperature until softened, at least 1 hour.

  2. Make the dough: Finely grate the zest of 1 medium lemon (about 1 1/2 teaspoons). Juice the lemon until you have 2 tablespoons juice.

  3. Place half of the lemon zest, 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, 2 tablespoons of the packed dark brown sugar, 1 packet active dry yeast, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg in the bowl of a stand mixer and whisk to combine.

  4. Place 1/2 cup whole or 2% milk in a medium microwave-safe bowl. Cut the remaining 4 tablespoons unsalted butter into 4 pieces and add to the milk. Microwave in 20-second intervals, stirring between intervals, until the butter is just melted and the mixture is warm to the touch (100 to 110ºF), about 50 seconds total. Add 1 large egg and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and whisk to combine.

  5. Attach the dough hook and turn the mixer on to the lowest speed. Slowly pour in the milk mixture and knead until the dough forms a mostly smooth, pliable, and stretchy ball that does not stick to the sides of the bowl, about 6 minutes.

  6. Lightly coat a medium bowl with cooking spray. Transfer the dough into the bowl and turn the dough over so it is coated in oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and let the dough rise in a warm place until slightly puffed (not doubled in size), about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, wash and dry the stand mixer bowl, but do not make the filling until the dough is ready.

  7. Make the filling: Add the softened butter, remaining lemon zest, 1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar, 1/8 teaspoon ground ginger, and remaining 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg to the stand mixer. Beat with the paddle attachment on low speed until the butter is completely incorporated into the sugar, about 1 1/2 minutes.

  8. With the mixer still running, slowly pour in the reserved 2 tablespoons lemon juice and beat until well combined, about 1 minute.

  9. Assemble the roll: Coat a 9-inch pie plate with cooking spray.

  10. Transfer the dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Roll out into a 15x12-inch rectangle about 1/4-inch thick with a longer side closer to you. Spread the filling evenly onto the dough. Using a sharp knife or pizza cutter, cut the dough horizontally into 6 (15-inch long, 2-inch wide) strips.

  11. Roll up 1 strip into a tight coil and place cut-side up in the center of the pie plate. Coil the remaining 5 strips around the center roll, starting each strip at the end of the previous one to make one large roll.

  12. Cover the pie plate loosely with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until very puffy and doubled in bulk, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. About 30 minutes before the roll is ready, arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F.

  13. Bake and glaze the roll: Uncover the roll. Bake until golden brown or a thermometer inserted into the center registers 190°F, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, make the glaze.

  14. Finely grate the zest of 1 medium lemon. Place the softened cream cheese, half the lemon zest, juice from 1/2 the lemon, and 1/2 cup powdered sugar in a medium bowl and whisk until smooth and combined, about 3 minutes.

  15. When the lemon roll is ready, place the pie plate on a wire rack. Spread the glaze evenly over the roll and sprinkle with the reserved lemon zest. Let cool for at least 10 minutes before cutting and serving while still warm.

Recipe Notes

Making by hand: To make by hand, stir the wet and dry ingredients together until combined, then knead on a work surface until the dough is mostly smooth and stretchy, 6 to 8 minutes. To make the filling, smash the butter, spices, and sugar together with a fork until the butter is incorporated evenly into the sugar, then stir in the lemon juice.

Make ahead: The lemon roll cake can be assembled, covered and refrigerated for the second rise for up to 24 hours. Let sit at room temperature for 1 1/2 hours before baking.

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days. Rewarm in a low oven.