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!
Video: How to Make Parker House Rolls
How to Make Parker House Rolls
What Are Parker House Rolls?
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.
How to Make Parker House Dinner Rolls
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.
Why Are Parker House Rolls Shaped This Way?
The classic shape—the one that Fannie Farmer writes about in the dog-eared copy of "The Boston Cooking School Cook Book" that sits on my shelf (a second-hand edition from 1934)—is a half-moon made by folding a flat round of dough in half, as shown here.
Today, bakers make the rolls all kinds of ways, like forming balls and packing them into a baking dish so the edges touch and become soft. Or, cutting squares and baking them the same way. These methods are quicker than folding, which is probably why they became popular. You also see Parker House dinner rolls sprinkled with salt before baking; salt and butter together are certainly irresistible.
None of these are traditional, but does that matter? If you want to make a different shape, the dough comes together easily and you'll enjoy working with it.
Storing and Freezing Parker House Dinner Rolls
Serve them warm. They’ll make you smile when you bite into one. Leftovers will keep for a few days in an airtight container at room temperature.
You can freeze these rolls after you've made them. Let them completely cool, and then tightly wrap them in a double layer of plastic (or aluminum foil and plastic), and freeze. They should be fine in the freezer for up to 3 months.
To reheat, remove the plastic, wrap loosely with foil, and warm in a low oven until hot. You can brush the warm buns with a little melted butter as well, if you'd like.
You might be tempted to freeze the dough, thaw it and then bake them. I wouldn't recommend it. Freezing unbaked and thawing these rolls is tricky because the half-moon shapes might open up in the oven and wreck all your hard work.
Troubleshooting Tips for Making the Dough
- Too much flour will keep your rolls from rising properly. Be sure to just use enough flour to keep the dough from being sticky, but not so much that the dough is too stiff.
- To make rolls that are light and fluffy, be sure to knead the dough just enough. Kneading the dough allows the gluten to mix with the yeast to create that beautiful texture. Over-kneading can cause dense dough. So, be sure to just knead it enough, only until the dough is smooth.
- If your dough doesn't rise, it could be for a number of reasons. Make sure that your yeast is not too old. You test old yeast by proofing it before adding it to your dough. It may also mean that your kitchen is too cold. In that case, just pop the dough in the oven (do not turn it on!). Just place a pan of boiling water under it, and the warmth and steam should turn your oven into a proofing chamber.
- Another reason your dough may nor rise, could be there is too much flour, too much sugar or even too much salt in your dough. If your dough hasn't risen in an hour, put it in the oven (as suggested above) and let it proof another hour.
Can I Use Other Yeast in This Recipe?
Yes! If you don't have any active dry yeast, you can substitute instant yeast in the recipe. Just use 3/4 of what they ask for, since instant yeast is more powerful. In this case, use 1.75 teaspoons of instant yeast in place of the 2.25 teaspoons of active dry yeast.
Here are more yeast tips from our Baker's Guide to Yeast.
Substitutions and Variations
- You can replace whole milk with low-fat milk or even powdered milk.
- For a healthier alternative, you can substitute half the flour with whole wheat or white whole wheat flour. However, you will need to let the dough rest i the liquid before kneading, and also let it rise an additional 30 to 60 minutes to preserve the fluffy texture.
- You can use another fat in place of butter, such as margarine, olive oil, coconut oil or even shortening. However, the flavor will change, of course.
- The recipe calls for unsalted butter, since salt can be a yeast killer. You can substitute salted butter, but be sure to reduce the salt in the recipe.
- You may be able to substitute the sugar with honey, maple syrup or molasses. The taste will be different, of course, but you may want to mix it up. However, you can't really use artificial sweeteners, since the yeast needs the sugar to feed on.
- If you're making these for a dinner party, you can liven them up mixing in some herbs, like chopped fresh rosemary, dried oregano, parsley or basil.
- For additional flavor, mix in some chopped fresh garlic and/or top with some grated Parmesan after brushing the rolls with butter.
More Rolls and Bread Recipes to Try!
Parker House Dinner Rolls
The rolls do not need to rise a second time once shaped.
2 1/4 teaspoon (1 envelope) active dry yeast
3 tablespoons lukewarm water
1 1/2 cups (355 ml) whole milk
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks
3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
4 1/2 cups(630 g) flour, plus more if needed
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, for brushing the rolls
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.
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. If the milk gets too hot, remove from the heat and let it cool to lukewarm.
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.
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 too sticky.
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 or plastic wrap, and set in a warm place to rise for 1 hour, or until it is puffy (it doesn’t need to double in size).
Preheat the oven to 425°F:
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
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 re-roll the scraps to make more rolls.
Transfer the rolls to the baking sheets, leaving 2-inches between rolls. Brush with more melted butter.
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.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 3g||4%|
|Saturated Fat 2g||10%|
|Total Carbohydrate 15g||5%|
|Dietary Fiber 1g||2%|
|Total Sugars 2g|
|Vitamin C 0mg||0%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|