One day in Home Ec class when I was younger, we learned to make Parker House rolls. As they came out of the oven, we grabbed the hot rolls off the baking sheets even though the teacher protested that we’d burn ourselves.
Of course they were too hot to eat, but that didn’t stop us. Tender, buttery rolls with a hint of sweetness shaped like puffy half-moons – who can wait? They looked like Pac-Man, and they were delicious!
The Parker House in Boston (now called Omni Parker House) was a grand old hotel built in the mid-19th century. Many politicians and famous people stayed there, and legend has it that John F. Kennedy proposed to Jacqueline Bouvier in the dining room.
Parker House rolls, which the hotel became famous for and which I later learned to make in Home Ec, are made from a yeast dough made rich with milk, butter, and a little sugar. The dough is rolled out, stamped into rounds, spread with even more melted butter, and folded in half.
They puff in the oven and look quite charming. Every once in a while, a roll or two will fan open completely while baking, but don’t fret. They’ll still taste just as good.
I let the dough rise for an hour, but have found that you can bake the shaped rolls right away without a second rise. I think that helps them keep their shape, plus they’re just as feathery without the second rise.
Serve them warm. They’ll make you smile when you bite into one.
Parker House Rolls Recipe
Note that the rolls do not rise a second time once shaped.
- 2 1/4 teaspoons (1 envelope) active dry yeast
- 3 tablespoons lukewarm water
- 1 1/2 cups (355 ml) whole milk
- 3 tablespoons butter, cut into chunks
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 4 1/2 cups (630 g) flour, plus more if needed
- 6 tablespoons melted butter, for brushing the rolls
1 Dissolve the yeast: In a bowl large enough to hold all the dough, sprinkle the yeast over the water and let it dissolve, about 5 minutes.
2 Warm the milk: In a saucepan over low heat, combine the milk, 3 tablespoons cut-up butter, sugar, and salt. Heat just until the butter melts and the milk feels warm to the touch of a fingertip. If the milk gets too hot, remove from the heat and let it cool to lukewarm.
3 Mix the dough: Stir the yeast mixture with a wooden spoon to mix the dissolved yeast and water. Tip in the milk mixture, still stirring, until smooth. Add 2 cups of the flour and stir again until the mixture is almost smooth, with just a few lumps.
Continue stirring in flour, 1 cup at a time, until the mixture forms a dough. It will be very soft.
4 Knead the dough: Turn the dough out onto a floured counter and knead for a few minutes until the dough is smooth, adding more flour as needed if the dough is very sticky.
5 Let the dough rise: Clean and dry the bowl, then grease lightly with a little vegetable oil. Set the dough in the bowl and turn it all around so it is oiled all over.
Cover with a clean, damp kitchen towel and set in a warm place to rise for 1 hour, or until it is puffy (it doesn’t need to double in bulk).
6 Preheat the oven to 425°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
7 Shape the rolls: Punch the dough down in the bowl, then transfer it to a lightly floured counter or pastry board. Knead until all the air is out.
Roll the dough to a 1/4-inch thickness. If it springs back as you try to roll it, let it rest for 5 minutes and then try again.
Use a 2 1/2-inch round biscuit or cookie cutter to stamp out rounds. Dip the cutter in flour often to avoid sticking, and stamp the rounds as close to each other as possible.
Press the back of a butter knife down the center of each round to form a crease; this is where you will fold the rolls in half. Dip the knife in flour if it starts to stick to the dough.
Brush the rounds with melted butter. Fold each round in half to make half-moon shapes and press the edges together lightly to seal them. Gather and reroll the scraps to make more rolls.
Transfer the rolls to the baking sheets, leaving 2-inches between rolls. Brush with more melted butter.
8 Bake the rolls: Transfer the baking sheets to the oven and bake for 15 to 18 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through baking, until the rolls are puffed and golden. They're best served warm and fresh, but leftovers will keep for a few days in an airtight container at room temperature.
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