For the love of rolls

Published 2:53 pm Monday, November 3, 2014

Americans seem to have a sort of love affair with soft-crusted, lightly-sweetened, rich-dough white bread. This is one of the reasons Parker House Rolls became so popular. And they are good, when they are done right.

For a long stretch of time in early America, there was little flour available to cook with; and what there was had a high price tab, due to the trouble and expense of shipping it over from Europe. Resourceful cooks learned how to handle the most abundant grain, corn, by playing to its strengths and turning it into various quick breads.

Parker House Rolls themselves appeared in the 1870s, at the posh Parker House Hotel in Boston. They are one of those rare foods whose origins can be traced to a specific time and place. The story of its creation has (of course) been lost to time, but tales generally involve an angry chef grabbing handfuls of made-up rolls, and slamming them into a hot oven. With no more time to make more, he was forced to serve them, and they were a hit.

The unique shape is what sets these rolls apart; they are rounded, or cut of a thick sheet of dough, then flattened in the middle, and folded over to make a sort of clamshell shape. As they rise and bake, they puff and open up a little, making for more surface area to turn into a lovely crust. The dough usually contains milk and butter, and is slightly sweetened. When made correctly, the rolls taste rich and light at the same time, soft and gently chewy, and just plain good.

Parker House Rolls are therefore one of those New England trademark culinary offerings and one that is perfect for this time of year. These rolls would be great with your holiday dinners so I thought you might want to give then a trial run. Whether you are serving roasted turkey, hearty soup, or spaghetti, these rolls would be a wonderful addition to help clean your plate.

‘Food and Wine’ October 2014 had a recipe for Parker House Rolls, but it was not so different from one I found in the cookbook, Joy of Cooking.


Parker House Rolls

Makes 3 dozen (can freeze unbaked rolls)

One ¼-oz. package active dry yeast

½ cup warm water

½ cup sugar

2 sticks unsalted butter, melted and cooled (1 cup)

2 cups whole milk, at room temperature

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1 Tbsp. kosher salt

7 ½ to 8 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for shaping

Flaky sea salt, for sprinkling

Step 1: Make the Dough

In a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, mix the yeast with the water and 1 teaspoon of the sugar. Let stand until foamy, 10 minutes. Beat in the remaining sugar, ¾ cup of the butter and the milk, eggs and kosher salt. At low speed, stir in the 7 ½ cups of flour until the dough comes together; add more flour by the tablespoons if necessary. Mix at medium speed until the dough forms a loose ball around the hook, 3 minutes. Brush a large bowl with some of the melted butter. Transfer the dough to the bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let stand in a warm spot until doubled in bulk, 1 ½ hours.

Step 2: Form the Rolls

Preheat the oven to 375° and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Scrape the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and shape it into a 9-by-16 inch rectangle. Using a floured knife, cut the dough lengthwise into 3 strips, then cut each strip crosswise into 12 small strips. Working with 1 piece at a time, fold it unevenly so the top half overlaps the bottom half. Tuck the overhang under and place the roll seam side down on a baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough, forming 2 rows of 9 rolls on each baking sheet. Each roll should just touch its neighbors, but leave about 4 inches between the rows.

Step 3: Bake the Rolls

Bake the rolls for about 18 minutes until browned; rotate the baking sheets from top to bottom and front to back halfway through baking. Immediately brush the rolls with the remaining melted butter and sprinkle with sea salt. Transfer the rolls to a rack and let cool for 15 minutes before serving. To reheat, toast in a 350° oven for about 10 minutes.

The fully formed unbaked rolls can be frozen for up to 1 month. Bake from frozen.