Lemon Rolls

There’s a whole history behind these rolls

These lemon rolls are adapted from an old family recipe, and I have so many, many feelings about them. I get really intense and emotional about food, okay?

They span three generations, and the story starts with my parents.

When my mother was still in college back in China, studying agricultural science, she met an older American couple (a professor at Kansas State University and his wife) who graciously sponsored her to travel to the States. She ended up studying and working at K-State and lived with them in their home in Manhattan, Kansas. A few years later, my father came over with baby me, and the rest is history.  That couple grew to think of my mother as their own daughter, and I grew up calling them my grandparents. They welcomed us into their family (already a large one) and, as melodramatic as it sounds, changed our lives forever.

Equally life-changing, though I couldn’t comprehend it at the time: my grandmother’s cinnamon rolls. Her cinnamon rolls were my first introduction to the world of baking, and from that first bite all those years ago, I was instantly hooked. Growing up, my mother never baked sweets, save for the occasional cake from a box for birthdays. I’ve always wondered where my obsession with baking comes from, and it wasn’t until a couple years ago when I stumbled upon this recipe for cinnamon rolls that I realized it came from my grandmother.

The funny thing is, I no longer remember anything about these rolls – I have no idea what they tasted like, how they smelled, or what they looked like. What I do remember very distinctly is the reaction they inspired in other people. My grandmother was famous for these rolls (as I’m sure all grandmothers are) and it was tradition for her to bring these to town gatherings at the local church, much to the delight of the community. People loved her rolls, not because they were the best cinnamon rolls, but rather, I think, because they were such a selfless gesture that made them feel loved and cared for. This is what I strive for with my own baking and cooking – food that is made with love and that makes others feel loved.

So let’s get on to the recipe, shall we? This recipe is for a basic roll dough that can pretty much be anything you want, from bread to pizza to actual rolls. The recipe for cinnamon rolls will come later, since I’ll be making those to bring into the office. Today, I was craving something light and citrusy, so I made lemon rolls.

Grandma Hahn’s Basic Roll Dough

  • 2/3 cup margarine or butter at room temperature
  • 1 cup mashed potato flakes
  • 2 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 1/4 tsp dry yeast
  • 6 cups flour
  1. Scald 1 cup instant mashed potatoes with boiling water. Add butter and stir until it’s completely melted into the potatoes.
  2. Add the sugar and salt. Let the mixture cool for 5-10 minutes so that the eggs don’t curdle. Beat in the eggs and stir until mixture is uniform.
  3. Mix the dry yeast with 1 cup of the flour mixture and mix into the potato mixture. Mix in the rest of the flour and knead with a dough hook or by hand. Dough will be very sticky. Let rise until double in bulk.

Lemon Rolls

  • 1 recipe Basic Roll Dough
  • Zest and juice of 2 lemons
  • 1/4 cup melted butter
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup of sugar for filling
  1. Preheat oven to 375F.
  2. Prepare the basic roll dough, adding the zest from 1 lemon into the potato mixture. Add the flour and knead until uniform.
  3. Let rise until double in bulk.
  4. Divide the dough into four sections. Dough will be very sticky, so generously flour all your equipment. Roll each section out into a rectangle and brush with butter. Sprinkle with sugar, lemon juice, and lemon zest.
  5. Roll the dough, making sure the filling doesn’t squeeze out of the sides. Cut with a pastry scraper and place, roll side down, into muffin tins or in a baking dish. Let rise for an hour.
  6. Bake until tops are golden brown, about 20-30 minutes.

These rolls are perfectly light, with just the right touch of lemon to add some brightness. I don’t know that this is the best recipe for rolls I’ve ever had, but it’s the only recipe I’ll ever use. The nostalgia is strong with this one, and making this recipe feels like I’m partaking in a piece of history, given the generations that have been involved in its story. My grandmother passed away from cancer four years ago, so this recipe is even more special to me, as it’s a way of keeping her legacy alive.

Lemon Roll Dough

Lemon zest is an instant pick-me-up

Lemon Roll

The spirals are the best part

Mini Lemon Rolls

Baking them in a mini muffin tin keeps them tiny and adorable