Lemon Sticky Buns with Lemony Cream Cheese Glaze

I have to admit, my expectations were on the very low end when I made these lemon sticky buns. I desperately wanted a fun, new take on the almighty cinnamon roll for an upcoming breakfast-brunchy-thing I have next week but was skeptical lemon could really make a sweet roll as enticing as an ooey gooey cinnamon roll (or even be as delicious as my much-loved orange sweet rolls).

As if it’s not obvious enough by the fact that I’m posting (hopefully you know by now I really only post the best of the best from the millions of recipes I make), let me be very clear: these light and refreshing lemon sticky buns are outrageously delicious.

Lemon Sticky Buns with Lemony Cream Cheese Glaze

If asked how they manage to exceed expectations, I would say it’s the lemon zested buttermilk dough (a riff from this yummy buttermilk cinnamon roll recipe) that makes them wonderful. But then I’d feel like I ought to add a major point in favor of the buttery, sugary, fresh lemon filling because it wows me in unspeakable lemon-sugar-forever ways. All of which would be followed by instant regret for not mentioning the ethereal and luxurious lemon-spiked thick cream cheese glaze that finds its way into every little twist and turn of the fabulous little rolls.

Basically all this is to say: lemon sticky buns rock. And: you should make them.

My only regret is wishing I had shaped them like the clever twist-method in these orange sweet rolls. It’s what makes those orange rolls extra-special and I think it would take this lemon version over the top. But as my insightful husband remarked whilst eating his third lemon sticky bun: I can’t honestly see how the shape has anything to do with the taste; don’t change a thing. So there you have it. Discerning palates say it doesn’t really matter but I’ll let you be the judge if you decide to venture out.

Lemon Sticky Buns with Lemony Cream Cheese Glaze

One Year Ago: Homemade Flatbread {Greek Pocketless Pitas with a Simple Tutorial}
Two Years Ago: Sweet Baked Ham {The Most Unique and Delicious Ham I’ve Ever Had}
Three Years Ago: Butternut Squash Risotto

Lemon Sticky Buns with Lemony Cream Cheese Glaze

Yield: Makes 12 buns

Lemon Sticky Buns with Lemony Cream Cheese Glaze

You'll need three lemons for this recipe - you'll use the zest of all three and the juice from about two of them, depending on how big they are.


  • 3/4 cup buttermilk, warm (I pour the buttermilk in a glass liquid measuring cup and microwave for 1 minute on 50% power) (here is a guide for making your own buttermilk)
  • 6 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 cups (17.5 to 22.5 ounces) flour
  • Zest of 1 lemon (about a tablespoon)
  • 1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces) sugar
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • Lemon Filling:
  • 1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar
  • Zest of 1 lemon (about a tablespoon)
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 6 tablespoons butter, softened
  • Lemony Cream Cheese Glaze:
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, light or regular, softened
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice (from 1 lemon)
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) powdered sugar
  • Zest of 1 lemon (about 1 tablespoon)


  1. For the dough, whisk the warmed buttermilk and butter together in a large liquid measuring cup. Combine 3 1/2 cups of flour, lemon zest, sugar, yeast and salt together in a standing mixer fitted with dough hook (or you can use a large bowl and mix with a wooden spoon). With the mixer on low speed, add the buttermilk mixture and eggs and mix until the dough comes together, about 2 minutes. Increase the mixer to medium speed; if the dough is still very sticky and hasn't cleared the sides of the bowl yet, add a little flour at a time until the dough has pulled away from the sides of the bowl but is still slightly sticky. Knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic, about 5-6 minutes (knead for 10 or so minutes by hand). See this tutorial for a visual. Don't over flour the dough or the rolls may be dry - you're going for a soft, slightly tacky dough that gives when pressed with your fingers but doesn't leave a lot of doughy residue on your hands.
  2. Place the dough in a large, lightly greased bowl and cover the top tightly with greased plastic wrap. Let the dough rise in a warm place until doubled, around 1-2 hours, depending on the warmth of your kitchen.
  3. Meanwhile, lightly grease a 9X13-inch baking dish and set aside.
  4. For the lemon filling, combine the sugar and lemon zest and rub the mixture between your fingers until well combined and fragrant (the smell will kill you with deliciousness). Add the nutmeg and lemon juice and stir until combined.
  5. When the dough has risen, turn it out onto a lightly greased countertop and press it into about a 16- by 12-inch rectangle (doesn't have to be perfect).
  6. Spread the softened butter across the dough. Sprinkle the juicy lemon filling mixture over the top and spread as evenly as you can. Again, it doesn't have to be perfect.
  7. Starting with one long end, tightly roll up the dough cinnamon-roll style and pinch the seam to seal. Cut the dough into 12 equal pieces. Place the buns in the prepared pan - three across and four down. Cover with greased plastic wrap and let rise until very puffy so the sides of the buns are touching each other.
  8. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Uncover the buns and bake for about 20-25 minutes until very lightly golden (don't over bake or they may be dry).
  9. Let cool slightly before frosting. I like to frost them when they are just a bit warm.
  10. For the frosting, whip the cream cheese and lemon juice together with an electric mixer (I often use my Blendtec blender to whip frosting like this) until smooth and creamy. Add the powdered sugar and mix until well-combined.
  11. Spread the glaze (or frosting or whatever you want to call it) evenly over the lemon buns and sprinkle with the fresh lemon zest.

Recipe Source: inspired from this recipe at The Kitchn (used this delicious buttermilk sweet roll dough in place of theirs, altered the filling just a bit)

42 Responses to Lemon Sticky Buns with Lemony Cream Cheese Glaze

  1. Cindy says:

    BEST bun recipe ever! I am not a yeast bread baker, and any time I try, nothing turns out how I want or expect. Your recipe and excellent instructions were golden! The lemon buns are wonderful of course, but I will use this for everything. Thank you so much!

  2. Katie says:

    These are…To. Die. For!! So yummy. I’m not a huge cinnamon roll fan but these are amazing! Prepped them last night and baked them this morning after letting them sit out for a few hours. Worked perfectly!

  3. Rachel says:

    I made these last night and baked them this morning (because there was no way I was getting up early!) it worked like a charm, and they were delicious! My birthday is tomorrow, so it was an early present to myself and the ladies in my Bible study. Thank you!

  4. Brian C. says:

    Fantastic receipt!
    Followed exactly and these sticky rolls were great. Crunchy tops, chewy moist insides, and a wonderful slightly sweet lemon flavor!
    Than you.

  5. Tessa says:

    I would love to make these for conference this weekend! Do you think I could make these through until Its time to bake and then stick them in the fridge over night? Hopefully that made sense!!

    • Shannon says:

      I’d also love to know the answer to this – I’m not much of a morning person, so it’d be perfect to do the prep the night before!

    • Mel says:

      I haven’t tried that with this particular recipe but I have with cinnamon rolls so I’m giving you the go-ahead to do it – I think it will work just fine!

      • Megan G says:

        To do it this way, do you put them in the fridge immediately after forming them into rolls and putting them in the pan? And do you let them sit at room temp at all before baking or do they go straight in the oven? Total newbie with that method.

        • Mel says:

          I usually pop them in the fridge after I put them on the pan. They usually puff just slightly in the refrigerator overnight. If I’m on my a-game, I pull them out of the fridge about 3 hours before I want to bake them. But sometimes (ok, a lot of times) if I’m too lazy, I take them straight from the fridge and put them in the cold oven and keep them in there (take the plastic wrap off of course) while the oven preheats and until they are done baking. The preheating action helps finish up that rising they need before baking.

  6. Jane says:

    These are SPECTACULAR (sorry, had to shout, simply had to) and waaaay more exciting than cinnamon rolls (which I like,too) – thanks so much!

  7. Liz says:

    I made these this morning …SO good!!

    I don’t usually mess with your doughs, but I wanted a bit of whole grain so used:
    1/4 whole wheat pastry flour
    1/2 white pastry flour
    1/4 white all purpose

    They came out tender and flaky, just not as pretty as yours as mine are light brown 🙂 !

    I also subbed goat cheese for cream cheese in the glaze. I sub goat cheese for cream cheese everywhere and like it. I use a very mild goat cheese and the “tang” is slight and goes especially well with the lemon.

    I just ordered some dried blueberries and will try those. I also think currants or dried tart cherries would be good. I see jaesi added fresh blackberries. I didn’t have the nerve to try fresh blueberries thinking I would get purple rolls.

    Wonderful recipe and easy as well – Thanks, Mel.

    • Mel says:

      Love your variations, Liz!

      • Liz says:

        Round 2 I used your vital wheat gluten “trick” :

        1/2 white whole wheat flour**
        1/2 all purpose white flour**
        1/4 cup vital wheat gluten

        I only measure the first bit of flour mixed with the wet ingredients and then added a mix of white/white whole wheat until the dough was soft and not overly tacky…maybe a bit stickier than if I was using all white flour. I think a bit more moisture helps with whole grains.

        It worked! – good rise, good tender texture and good taste!

        I also reduced the sugar in the filling to 2/3 cup, the butter to 5T and used 1/2 the amount of glaze but that is my preference for not liking super sweetness or too much glaze and also because these are too easy to make and I don’t want to weigh 900 pounds!

  8. Becky says:

    These were so good that I wanted to weep in culinary joy 🙂

    The dough was really cooperative, too. A win all around in my book!

  9. jaesi says:

    Just made these and they are killer! I had fresh blackberries on hand so I added them. Beautiful and delicious!

  10. Jen T says:

    Made these yesterday and they were DIVINE!!! Thank you soooo much! Finished up the last roll for breakfast this morning. Yummy!

  11. Liz says:

    Another lemon lover here, so these will be made this weekend, if not sooner. I envision asparagus, ham and poached egg with these!

  12. Holly says:

    Just in time for conference weekend/Easter! Definitely will try them then.

  13. Oooh, those look fantastic! I love trying different sweet roll variations. Cannot wait to try this one!

  14. Faith says:

    I love anything lemon and I can’t wait to make these! If I shape them like your orange sweet rolls, how much do I let them rise?

  15. Amanda_ab says:

    Had to make them immediately today. They are amazing!!!!

  16. CjR says:

    Mel, have you ever frozen the shaped rolls, then thawed and baked them later?
    Just wonderin’ . . .

    • Mel says:

      I haven’t done that with these particular lemon sticky buns so I’m not sure how it would work out but it’s definitely worth a try (I have, however, frozen the baked and frosted rolls and they heat up really well in the microwave or on low heat in the oven).

  17. Lafayette says:

    My husband loves lemons. We will try it Easter morning during a special television program. 🙂

  18. Lindsay says:

    Mel, I’m a lemon lover and these look and sound fabulous. Reading this post had me drooling all over my keyboard. I think we’ll be making these for Easter weekend! Thanks for another awesome recipe!

  19. Ellen says:

    Yep. On my list for the week. The lemony cream cheese glaze sounds beyond! I’ve tried lemon/blueberry, but I honestly think plain lemon would be better. Thanks!

    PS, I tried your pretzel rolls over the weekend. And.. (my fault)…they flopped. Though not completely, because we managed to finish off the batch by nightfall. I didn’t post a comment because I knew it was of my own error. I’ll try them again soon, when I have my wits about me.

  20. Laurel says:

    I woke up to a rainy cold day and thought, I need cinnamon rolls today. Although maybe I’ll switch it to a cream cheese jam mixture for a
    Fruity change. Low and behold this recipe shows up. Jaw falls to the floor. Mel’s at it again. Lemon rolls it is. Home run for mel.

  21. Mickie says:

    Oh lemon, how I love thee. Mel this is so perfect! I just made a batch of Gloria’s cinnamon rolls yesterday, but I see lemony sticky bins in my very near future.

  22. Kate says:

    I’ve made these several times since they were posted on the Kitchn, and they turned out wonderfully! I’ll have to try your dough variation, and I’m sure they’ll be just as good! My one caution to those about to embark is: don’t over bake! Otherwise, enjoy!

  23. Teresa R. says:

    I love lemon. This would be perfect for Easter morning. Thanks for another great recipe!

  24. Jen T says:

    Yum! Great for Conference and Easter weekend coming up. Thanks Mel!

  25. Holly says:

    We usually have cinnamon rolls in the mornings before general conference. These might be a fun Easter morning surprise to change things up a bit. Thanks!

  26. Susanj says:

    these look amazing and I have lemons that need to be used up. I think I will make these today. Thanks!

  27. Oh my goodness! I love lemon so much and I know I would adore these. What a perfect Easter breakfast!

  28. Lemon. I love lemon. I have a homeschool meeting at my house tonight. I wonder if I can get these made today.

  29. These are making my mouth water! Must be all that lemon! Yum Yum!

  30. Kim in MD says:

    I love lemon anything, but have never had a lemon sticky bun. These look amazing, Mel!

  31. Lemon buns sound amazing! Lemon seems to make everything luscious. So why not cinnamon rolls?!
    Fantastic. Pinned.

    Have a great week Mel!

  32. Cyndi B says:

    Looks like a perfect Easter brunch addition!

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