Lemon Sugar Crunch Buns: a non-traditional take on Tiger Bread

Add a little lemon to your favorite sugar cookie recipe, and you’ve got lemon cookies. Add a little sugar to your favorite dough recipe, and you’ve got basic sweet dough. But what would happen if they were to collide head on?

You would get Lemon Sugar Crunch Buns, that’s what. A tender and soft sweet dough bun with a crunchy lemon sugar cookie style topping. A funky, chunky, crazy pavement of lemon topped with the extra crunch of coarse sugar makes for an addicting taste and texture that keeps you coming back, bite after bite. Quite a few of our taste testers said it was the crunch that kept them coming back for more, not just the amazing flavor.

Looking at the buns, you may be reminded of classic Dutch Crunch Bread, aka Tiger Bread, Alligator Bread, etc. Those breads have a yeasted rice flour batter spread over them before baking, and have a very distinctive flavor and texture. While the texture has the addictive crunch quality, the flavor of Tiger Bread can be an acquired taste if it’s not something you grew up with. Frank, our pastry chef, has Midwestern roots and knows Tiger Bread from way back, but the rest of us were definite neophytes. Hopefully you Tiger Bread lovers in the crowd will still love us even if we didn’t love the bread right away.

After a few batches were met with a lukewarm reception, I decided to break tradition and go for a flavored topping with more of a cookie base. My original idea was a snickerdoodle-style cookie, but there are SO many cinnamon-type buns to be had, lemon seemed a different direction to take. Cake flour keeps the cookie dough topping nice and tender, egg is a great binder, and a pinch of baking powder gives it just enough puff. The version we tried with baker’s ammonia had a crisper crust, but the flavor of the ammonia lingered a bit, so we went with the traditional baking powder.

Making these buns is no harder than making cinnamon buns and the timing is very similar, so let’s give it a try.

Let’s bake Lemon Sugar Crunch Buns.

For the dough, put the following in your bowl:

• 2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
• 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
• 1/4 cup sugar
• 3 cups (12 3/4 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
• ¼ cup Baker’s Special Dry Milk or nonfat dry milk

• 3/4 cup lukewarm milk
• 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1 large egg

Mix and knead by hand, machine or on the dough cycle of your bread machine. Allow the bread to rise for 60 minutes, or until full and puffy.

Divide the dough into 8 equal portions.

Roll each piece of dough into a ball and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

To prepare the lemon crunch crust dough mix together:
• 1 ¼ cups (5 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached Cake Flour Blend
• ½ cup sugar
• 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, very soft
• 2 tablespoons lemon juice powder (or lemon zest)
• ¼ teaspoon baking powder

Combine until you have a crumbly, coarse mixture. Blend in 1 large egg and 1 tablespoon cream or milk until the mixture is a soft, wet cookie dough consistency.

Dip your hands in cold water and scoop up about two tablespoons of the lemon dough. Gently mold it over the buns, trying to get each bun completely covered. The water will help keep the dough from sticking to you too much and makes the lemon dough nice and smooth.

Sprinkle with coarse white sparkling sugar, if desired, and allow to rise, covered, for another 25 to 30 minutes.

Bake at 350°F for 25 to 30 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 190°F and the buns are just beginning to turn golden around the bottom edges.

As the buns bake, the lemon dough will break open and crack on the surface.

With or without the sparkling sugar, these buns are each unique and make a wonderfully different breakfast or snack. We tried them warm from the oven, barely warm, and even cold the next day.

I preferred them barely warm, with the crunch of the lemon sugar cookie over a sweet, airy dough. I imagine if you divided the dough into smaller portions, perhaps 16ths, you could get a very tiny little tea sized bun that would be excellent filled with a little schmear of cream cheese or clotted cream and a dab of raspberry jam.

Next time you’re looking to brighten up the breakfast table or turn up the teatime treats, give these lemon sugar crunch buns a try. You’ll be pleased as punch.

If you’re still hooked on Tiger Bread, check out our community pages. I know several of our members are fans, too.

Please bake, rate and review our recipe for Lemon Sugar Crunch Buns.

Print just the recipe.

MaryJane Robbins

MaryJane Robbins grew up in Massachusetts and moved to Vermont 20 years ago. After teaching young children for 15 years, she changed careers and joined King Arthur Flour in 2005. MaryJane began working on King Arthur Flour's baker’s hotline in 2006, and the blog team ...


  1. Gambles

    This was one of the first recipes I found on KAF, and I’m finally going to try it today, hopefully.

    My one question is about the cookie coating. I’m planning on dividing my sweet vanilla dough into 12 pieces instead of 8 – which I guess makes them somewhere in between the regular size and tea size discussed above. Since we are talking about surface area coating, I have no idea where to start in terms of how much extra crunch dough to make.

    Since I’d rather have extra and throw some away, should I start with double or would 1 1/2 recipes be enough? Also, about how thick is the crunch layer on the original bun size? A reviewer on the recipe page mentioned having trouble getting the “hats” to not slide to the side so I don’t want to make it too thick though perhaps that reviewer only put the crunch on top…. I couldn’t tell for sure.

    Thanks for any opinions,

    1. Gambles

      Oh, I just noticed the plate in the picture at the top of this blog. I realize it has been a year, but does anyone have any idea what the dimensions of the plate are? I’m just trying to gauge size.

    2. Amy Trage

      You would still make the same amount of topping even if you are going to decrease the size of the buns. ~Amy

  2. MelonNet

    Ah! It’s definitely a melonpan variation! Actually my name comes from my two favorite sweet breads: MelonPan and Chocolate Cornets!

    It’s definitely easier than my usual recipe. I want to try it.
    Cool, I’m really hoping you like it. Let me know! ~ MaryJane

  3. bistokidsfan

    I have to say these are totally wonderful. I made them and my kids ate almost the whole batch at once. I used fresh lemon zest and baked them on my Silpat. Most excellent! Thanks for all the great recipes. I’ve been baking more since I found this site 😀

  4. Anne

    Hi, MJ. Char Sui Bun – why not?! That would be a fun digression from Sugar Crunch Bun. Char Sui Bun, a quintessential favorite of dim sum houses all over the world, comes in either baked or steamed. Between the two, I find it more rewarding to make the baked version at home – success is more likely and the baked buns keep better. Not to mention most home kitchens in the U.S. are not equipped with a big steamer, required for making steamed buns. We live in the Bay Area and are fortunate to have dim sum houses in many neighborhoods. But of uneven quality. It’s still worthwhile to make Char Sui Buns at home, especially if the kids are there to help shape the buns. For me making Char Sui Buns is a two-day affair. Day 1 to make the filling and let it chill in the fridge. (A good roux is the key here. We want the buns gooey yet savory.) Day 2 is for the dough and baking. For the dough, try KAF recipe for Portuguese Sweet Bread, New Bedford version, but use only about 40% of the sugar called for. I use potato water and Baker’s Special Dry Milk when I have these handy. The richness of butter and eggs gives the buns a lot of favor. The milk, sugar, and fair amount of yeast keep the baked buns spongy soft – something prized and remembered from childhood. Surely this is a bit of work, but these buns will turn out so much more wholesome, tasty and economical than restaurant-bought. (Half of the PSB recipe – that’s what I do – yields enough dough to make eighteen buns, each weighs about two ounces before filling and baking.)
    Thanks for all the hints Anne. I know Susan did a Char Sui bun in the Baking Sheet a few years ago too. Good thing I have an order of dumplings for my dinner, or I’d have a serious Chinese food craving right now! ~ MaryJane

  5. junglejana

    These do look very similar to Pan Dulce. A recipe I will have to make again this week. The topping on those is a crumbly egg sugar and flavor mix sometimes lemon or cocoa. Mmmm Anne, my recipe came from an old “Sunset book” on bread but I found several similar on the web. They are a family favorite and what my husband takes in as treats on his birthday.

  6. Anne

    Hi, MJ. This posting of yours triggers some interesting comments from your fellow bakers. Great reading! Tiger Bread, Melon Pan, or Pineapple Bun, whatever you call these, they look good in these photos! I used to make these more often when we lived in a neighborhood where children were free to visit each another and could safely play in front of the houses. May I put in my bit of comment regarding Melon Pan and Pineapple Bun? The key ingredients for the topping of these buns are pretty much the same as what you use here. (No rice flour.) I put vanilla extract in mine. (But I think lemon zest is a breakthrough variation!) The primary difference is how the topping is scored. The Melon Pan scoring lines go horizontal. The Pineapple Bun goes crisscross. (Can you imagine the respective fruits of their namesakes?) The scoring is done before the topping goes on the bun. Firstly we need to make the topping into a flattened circle. This could be easily done, as follows: Divide the topping into individual pieces, and roll each piece gently between palms into a smooth ball. Place the ball between sheets of wax paper or Stretch-tite, and run a rolling pin lightly over the ball. The ball is flattened to fit over the bun. Score, top, and ready for the oven. So Melon Pan has no melon and Pineapple Bun has no pineapple. But, as bakers everywhere would agree, recipes are made to be improvised. I don’t see why we can’t add melon puree, pineapple jam, or something like these into the buns. (Some dim sum houses serve Pineapple Roast Pork Buns. Now they do put roast pork in those. Another popular offering from Asian bakery is Pineapple Buns with some sweet filling, such as red beans, taro – what they use to make “poi” in Hawaii – all mashed into a paste. ) I first made these over forty years ago, using a recipe from a Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. They simply called these Pan Dulce. And indeed they can be found at Mexican bakeries here in the Bay Area. (But, not so good, unfortunately.) I no longer have this recipe. But I remember one variation is to add cocoa powder into the topping mix. Maybe a bit more sugar to offset the bitterness of the cocoa. Quite good.

    Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge with us all Anne. So many variations to try. I’ve made Char Sui buns, but never with a topping like this. Time to plan out more blogs!! ~ MaryJane

  7. "said the hobbit"

    This is when eating from the pantry makes me crazy. I’ll have to save this recipe for a later date. Powdered milk and lemon powder are not currently on the shelf,but, they will be when restocking time comes. Tiger bread is new to me as is pineapple bread. Thanks for the info.

  8. Natalia Rivera

    In addition to resembling bo lo bao/pineapple buns, they also resemble conchas, a Mexican sweet bun. Omnomnom!

    They do indeed, Natalia – and I’ll bet they’re a similar taste/texture, too. Hope you give ’em a try and let us know what you think – PJH


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