Composer Jacques Offenbach was so taken with Parker House rolls that be burst into spontaneous song when he and his friends enjoyed them. That song was later used as a theme is his unfinished opera The Tales of Hoffman. Those must have been some rolls!
To my delight, I learned to make Parker House rolls at a recent Sur La Table (Costa Mesa) cooking class taught by talented chef Kristin Leonard. The rolls were a hit with everyone in the class and I’ve since made them at home. They are pretty wonderful. Light. Tender. Ever-so-buttery! Easy.
The Parker House Hotel where the rolls originated is an American institution, by the way. It was opened in the 1850s and is currently operated by the Omni chain. It has been in continuous operation as a hotel longer than any other hotel in America.
Emerson and Longfellow stayed (and ate) there. Charles Dickens reportedly recited A Christmas Carol to the literary Saturday Club that met at the Parker House. Ho Chi Minh claimed to have been a baker there during his brief sojourn in the United States. (I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the idea of Minh being a baker.) John Kennedy proposed to Jacqueline Bouvier at table 40 in the hotel’s dining room. (The hotel reports that romantics still book table 40 when they plan to propose. That’s a very nice romantic tradition, if you ask me.)
Gastronomically, the hotel has left its mark. The Boston Cream pie originated in its kitchens. Scrod, too. And then, there were the glorious Parker House Rolls that were first served there in the 1870s.
The story of the rolls origins strikes me as a bit dubious but it is fun, so I’ll retell it here. As the tale goes, a baker at the hotel had a crush on one of the hotel’s chambermaids. The chambermaid was accused to stealing a diamond necklace owned by a wealthy guest who ran hysterically through the hotel shouting her accusation against the chambermaid. Hearing his true love falsely accused, the baker, in a fit of pique, grabbed handfuls of prepared dinner rolls and threw them into the oven where the rolls rested haphazardly and many folded over on themselves. By the time things settled down, it was too late to make more rolls for the dinner hour and the baker decided to serve the misshapen rolls to the hotel’s guests. They were a hit. (The diamonds were found and the chambermaid was exonerated. No word about whether the rich lady apologized.)
Tomorrow, November 17, is Homemade Bread Day. Why not give these rolls a try. If you like them as much as I do, you will probably want to add them to your Thanksgiving menu. Who knows? Your guests might just break out in song.
Buttery Parker House Rolls for your table
2 hrPrep Time
25 minCook Time
2 hr, 25 Total Time
- 1 T. vegetable oil
- 1 C. whole milk
- 3 C. unbleached all-purpose flour
- 2 1/2 t. instant yeast
- 1 1/2 t. sea salt
- 3 T. granulated sugar
- 3 T. unsalted butter (cut into 1/2 inch dice)
- 1 large egg (beaten)
- 4 T. melted unsalted butter (for brushing rolls)
- 1 t. flaky sea salt (we used Maldon salt)
- Grease a large bowl and a 13 by 9 inch baking pan. Set aside.
- Heat milk to a warm 100 degrees F.
- Using the paddle attachment, mix flour, yeast, salt, sugar and butter in a stand mixer (Kitchen Aid if you have one) until the butter is broken down into pea-sized pieces. This will only take a minute or so. Pour the warm milk into the mixer bowl with the flour mixture and then add the beaten egg. Mix to combine. Take off the paddle attachment and attach the dough hook to your mixer. Knead the dough for 7 or 8 minutes until it is smooth and elastic. Transfer the dough to the oiled bowl you have already prepared. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and set in a warm place to rise and double in size. This should take about 90 minutes
- Once the dough has doubled, remove it from the bowl and put it on a lightly floured work surface. Divide the dough in half. Roll one of your two dough balls into a 8 by 12 inch rectangle. Brush the rectangle with melted butter, saving the rest to be brushed on top of the rolls after they are baked.
- Cut the 8 by 12 inch rectangle in half lengthwise. Working with one rectangle at a time, fold the long side of the dough over to about 1/2 inch of the other edge, so that the bottom edge sticks out about 1/2 inch beyond the top edge. Folded, your rectangle should now measure about 2 inches by 12 inches. Repeat with the other pieces of dough.
- Cut each of your folded rectangles into four 3-inch pieces so that you have 16 rolls.
- Place the rolls, smooth side up, in a lightly-greased 13 by 9 inch pan. You should place the rolls so that you have 4 rows of 4 rolls in the pan with the longer side of the rolls going down the longer side of the pan,
- Gently flatten the rolls to spread them out a bit so that they cover the bottom of the pan.
- Cover the pan with plastic wrap and let the rolls rise for about 45 minutes to 1 hour. The rolls should be puffy but not doubled.
- While the rolls are being allowed to rise, preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
- Bake rolls for 20 to 25 minutes. They are done when they are golden brown and feel set.
- Remove rolls from oven, brush them with melted butter and sprinkle with sea salt.