Sweet, Flaky, Jam-Swirled Rolls You Can Make (& Eat) in 1 Hour

I have three sisters, and we are all lucky to have a mother who regularly cooked and baked for us as kids. We came together for family dinners every night, regardless of soccer practices or homework or bad moods. Sometimes dinner was simple: brown rice and sliced green beans, sautéed chicken and pasta, or spaghetti with broccoli. Sometimes it was fancier. Regardless of the meal, there was always dessert. My mother excels at dessert. She makes the perfect oatmeal cookie (packed with chocolate chips and raisins and Grape-Nuts cereal). She can make a flawless peach pie, the most ethereal angel food cake, and a chocolate pudding you'd want to bathe in. She makes homemade vanilla ice cream, brownies that teeter between fudgy and cake-like, and an apple cake that would make anyone want to eat an apple a day.

But one of her best recipes is one that rarely made an appearance in our kitchen: Orange Sweet Rolls. Loosely tied to special occasions or long weekends, but sometimes just by surprise, these rolls are exceptional—and as an avid baker, I do not say that lightly. Their rarity rendered them famous (with me and my sisters).

They have all the sophistication and decadence of a cinnamon roll, along with the fun swirled shape, but none of the fuss. Instead of making a yeasted dough, you make a quick, one-bowl biscuit dough. You pat the dough out into a rectangle and spread it with a layer of orange filling.

Doesn't it look like a little flower? Photo by Posie Harwood

The filling is even simpler than the dough: Just cook together butter, flour, orange zest, orange juice, and sugar for a few minutes until it thickens slightly. It's very sweet, but the biscuit dough itself has no sugar, so it balances out perfectly. When the filling bakes, it thickens even further into wonderfully jammy, marmalade-like swirls within the buttery dough.

Photo by Posie Harwood

My mom used to bake these rolls in a 9" x 13" glass pan, nestling the rolls up against one another. If you do that, they'll be softer and doughier, which I personally love. If you choose to make them in a muffin tin like I did here, though, they'll get crispy, buttery edges with a sticky, jammy base where the filling pools. I recommend the muffin tin if you're planning to transport them, but the one-pan approach is better if you're serving them at a brunch or breakfast table.

But with the muffin tin, you get these flaky edges... Photo by Posie Harwood

This is an excellent recipe for any novice bread baker. It turns out perfectly every time without any fancy technique, but it looks complicated and tastes like you spent years in a French bakery honing your skills. Be sure to reserve some extra filling to brush over the tops of the rolls once they're baked. If you want to up the citrus factor, you could add some lemon or lime zest to the filling as you cook it.

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I won't be with my mom on Mother's Day, but if I could make her a batch of these to thank her for all the times she baked, cooked, and nourished us with such love and enthusiasm and good food, I would.

What are some of your favorite recipes from mom? Let us know in the comments!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Sabine
  • judy
  • Emily
  • Posie (Harwood) Brien
    Posie (Harwood) Brien
I like warm homemade bread slathered with fresh raw milk butter, ice cream in all seasons, the smell of garlic in olive oil, and sugar snap peas fresh off the vine.


Sabine May 14, 2017
Don´t know what I love more here: your mother´s recipe, or the way you introduce us to it, praising her way of bringing you kids together around the table and her passion for baking. With this article, you must have made her the perfect m´s day gift!
Posie (. May 14, 2017
Aw thank you Sabine! That means a lot.
judy May 13, 2017
Looks amazing. I had the same question about baking powder. 1 Tbsp + 1 tsp I would imagine is what you were going for. Now about my Mom and cooking. Sadly, she didn't cook. My dad did a few things like steak on Saturday night, WITHOUT FAIL. Took me a few decades to want to eat steak after I grew up. My Dad also did parties--huge parties for summer and New Year's Eve. But everyday cooking. No one did. And that is how I learned to cook. We grew up on government commodities like grated parmesan cheese (like the kind in the green canister), eggs, cheddar cheese, and bread. Lots of al of those. I make the most amazing black pepper and parmesan pasta (cace de pepe?--I can't remember the current fancy name going around) long before it was fashionable. Still do. By the time I was 8 years old I made meals 4 nights a week. That was my main chore--but I also had to clean up and make sure my brother and sister did their chores as well. But I loved to cook. I soon learned that if I wanted a sweet, I would have to make it myself. And I learned to bake. I was finally given permission to bake one thing a week on Saturday. It was the family treat that week. Oatmeal cookies, bread pudding ( with powdered milk-as that was a commodity as well as the oatmeal). I learned to make a treat out of whatever came in the commodity box that week. We had a staple recipe that was a take on kedgeree with egg, rice, tuna, canned evaporated milk and canned curry powder. i still remember the HUGE -at least to me- can of curry powder that we got one week. Mom made kedgeree on Sunday nights for a year. It wasn't until I was in my 50's and I explored Indian cooking that I learned how close and how far my Mom was with this dish. I now make the proper Indian version of this. But hers was homey and delicious. My brother still makes that for his kids. So I guess Kedgeree is my best Mom food item that I remember. But the gift of learning how to cook and bake, because neither of them did. That is the best memory of a lifetime. It has brought me joy, fun, release, lots of well received food gifts. And my kids are both pretty good cooks as I made sure they have food memories from thier Mom. I didn't want them to miss out. Except Tim (my youngest) and I were talking a few weeks back. About decorated sugar cookies. We never made them. He wishes we had. You see, I have NO artistic talent. And both my kids are artists. So he is beginning his own tradition for his kids......
Emily May 13, 2017
Looks so tasty! Could you clarify the amount of baking powder?
Posie (. May 13, 2017
Yes sorry 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon of baking powder! I'll update that.