Lemon Poppy Seed Sweet Rolls

published May 8, 2021
Lemon Poppy Seed Sweet Rolls

These fluffy sweet rolls boast lemon poppyseed flavor three ways: in the dough, in the filling, and in the tangy cream cheese glaze.


Makes15 rolls

Prep40 minutes

Cook25 minutes

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someone is removing a lemon poppyseed roll from
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Anna Stockwell

Don’t get me wrong: I love a classic cinnamon roll. But in the springtime, when I’m in the mood for something a little lighter and brighter, I always turn to these lemon poppy seed sweet rolls. The plush, buttery dough is studded with poppy seeds; the sugary filling is flavored with lemon zest; and the tangy cream cheese glaze is made with poppy seeds, lemon zest, and lemon juice, ensuring every single bite is packed with lemon poppy seed flavor. They’re fluffy, lofty, and not too sweet — which means seconds are a requirement.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Anna Stockwell

3 Tips for the Best-Ever Lemon Poppy Seed Sweet Rolls

  1. Make the dough the night before: Instead of letting the cut rolls rise at room temperature, pop them in the fridge to rise slowly overnight. The next morning, all you have to do is turn on the oven and bake. Instant gratification!
  2. Use dental floss to cut the dough. Slicing the rolls with a knife is a surefire way to smoosh them. Instead, take a foot-long piece of unflavored dental floss and slide it under the dough log. Bring the ends up and around the log and pull together until the roll easily separates. 
  3. Glaze them twice. This is a tip I learned from Sarah Keiffer: Pour half the glaze over the rolls as soon as they come out of the oven, then add the rest 10 minutes later. This allows the glaze to seep into all the nooks and crannies, keeps the rolls moist, and, infuses each bite with zesty lemon flavor.

Lemon Poppy Seed Sweet Rolls

These fluffy sweet rolls boast lemon poppyseed flavor three ways: in the dough, in the filling, and in the tangy cream cheese glaze.

Prep time 40 minutes

Cook time 25 minutes

Makes 15 rolls

Serves 15

Nutritional Info


For the dough:

  • 1 stick

    (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, plus more for the pan

  • 1 cup

    whole milk

  • 3

    large eggs

  • 1/3 cup

    plus 1 teaspoon granulated sugar, divided

  • 1 (1/4-ounce) packet

    active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)

  • 4 cups

    all-purpose flour

  • 3 tablespoons

    poppy seeds

  • 1 teaspoon

    kosher salt

For the filling:

  • 1 stick

    (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter

  • 2

    medium lemons

  • 3/4 cup

    granulated sugar

For the glaze:

  • 1 stick

    (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter

  • 4 ounces

    cream cheese

  • 2

    medium lemons

  • 1 cup

    powdered sugar

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 1 tablespoon

    poppy seeds


Make the dough:

  1. Coat a 9x13-inch baking dish with butter.

  2. Melt 1 stick unsalted butter in a medium microwave-safe bowl or large measuring glass. Add 1 cup whole milk and microwave until warm to the touch (about 100ºF).

  3. Add 3 large eggs and whisk to combine. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of the granulated sugar and 1 packet active dry yeast over the milk mixture and let sit until bubbly and frothy, 5 to 7 minutes.

  4. Add the remaining 1/3 cup granulated sugar, 4 cups all-purpose flour, 3 tablespoons poppy seeds, and 1 teaspoon kosher salt to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Mix on low speed until combined, about 1 minute.

  5. Turn the mixer to medium speed and add the milk mixture. Continue to mix until the dough comes together in a ball and is smooth and elastic to the touch, about 10 minutes.

  6. Remove the dough from the bowl. Wipe out the bowl and coat it with butter. Return the dough to the bowl and cover with a kitchen towel. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours. Meanwhile, let the 1 stick unsalted butter for the filling sit at room temperature to soften.

  7. Punch the dough down, then place on a work surface. Roll out to a 16x22-inch rectangle with a longer side closer to you.

Make the filling:

  1. Finely grate the zest of 2 medium lemons into a medium bowl. Add 3/4 cup granulated sugar and use your hands to rub the zest into the sugar.

  2. Spread the softened stick of butter evenly over the dough. Sprinkle the sugar mixture evenly over the butter.

  3. Starting at the bottom, tightly roll the dough up into a 22-inch long log. Cut the log crosswise into 15 (about 1-1/2 inch-wide) pieces. Arrange the rolls cut-side up in the baking dish, 5 across and 3 down, evenly spaced apart. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

  4. Meanwhile, wash and dry the stand mixer bowl. Add the 1 stick unsalted butter and 4 ounces cream cheese for the glaze to the bowl and let sit at room temperature to soften. (Alternatively, place in a large bowl if using an electric hand mixer.) About 30 minutes before the rolls are ready, arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 350ºF.

  5. Uncover the rolls and bake until golden brown, about 25 minutes. Meanwhile, make the glaze.

Make the glaze:

  1. Finely grate the zest of 2 medium lemons. Juice 1 of the lemons (about 2 tablespoons).

  2. Beat the butter and cream cheese with the paddle attachment on medium speed until smooth, about 1 minute. Sift 1 cup powdered sugar and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt into the bowl and beat until combined. Add the lemon zest, lemon juice, and 1 tablespoon poppy seeds, and beat until smooth, about 10 seconds.

  3. When the rolls are ready, place the pan on a wire rack. Immediately spread half the glaze on the rolls. Let cool for 10 minutes, then spread the remaining glaze on the rolls. Serve warm.

Recipe Notes

Make ahead: The rolls can be filled and placed in the baking dish, then covered and refrigerated unbaked overnight. Let sit at room temperature for 45 minutes to 1 hour before uncovering and baking.

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Making the dough by hand: If you don’t have a stand mixer, this recipe can be made by hand. Stir the dough together with a wooden spoon in a large bowl, then knead the dough on a work surface until smooth.