Parker House Rolls – An American Classic

Parker House Rolls

A friend asked, irreverently, if there were any rhyme or reason for the posts we have been doing.  I told him that he had missed the point, as he had most of his life.  For others of you also wandering in the wilderness, 2012 is the year of the Great Bravado Classics.  We will be looking at famous dishes from France, Italy, Spain and America.  We’ve already done a number of French classics (Tarte Tatin, Beef Bourguignon, Onion Soup, Coq Au Vin, Gratin Dauphinois and Coquilles St. Jacques).  We’ve done two Spanish classics – Gazpacho and the Tortilla Española.  We’ve also done two American classics –  Mac and Cheese and Chicken Noodle Soup.  By the end of the year, we will try to do 12 from each area – 48 great classics.

I had two other interesting comments from followers.  One said that she really loved the “yummy” pictures, but she couldn’t get herself organized to try the recipes.  Another guy friend said he loved reading the posts but wasn’t even considering cooking anything.  They are both unclear on the concept – Bravado cooking is fun.  You have to get yourselves off your lazy duffs, try these dishes, and report on your progress.  Get with the program and proudly proclaim yourself proficient in the Bravado Classics by year end.

Today we will look at another American classic – Parker House rolls.  “They were created at the Parker House Hotel in Boston in the 1870s, and were greatly appreciated by its patrons, which included famous ones such as Offenbach, Dickens, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. They have been popular ever since.” (

“Legend has it that a disgruntled hotel baker threw a batch of unfinished rolls into the oven after an altercation with a hotel guest. When the rolls emerged from the oven, they had a distinct folded “pocketbook” shape that made them light and puffy on the inside, while staying crisp and buttery on the outside.  The oldest printed Parker House Rolls recipe on file is from an April 1874 issue of the New Hampshire Sentinel, and they have been a favorite in homes and restaurants ever since.” (

The Parker House is still a luxury hotel today located near Boston Commons (60 School Street, Financial District, Boston).  Their website stills brags about Parker House rolls.

Bravado Breadmaking:  The Bravado philosophy is to get back to the basics and make the things from scratch.  So, just as we do the famous One-Handed Pie Crust, true Bravado chefs like to make their own bread by hand – no bread machines or dough hooks on elaborate mixers.  Maybe it’s a little bit of the Luddite tradition, but we want our hands in the dough.  We want to become one with the bread.

I was talking with a couple of guys about how much I enjoyed making bread, especially the kneading process.  There were a few smiles and they said they could think of a number of things they would like to knead, but bread dough wasn’t one of them.  I sat and thought to myself that (1)they needed a lot of work before they could be accepted into the Bravado Cooking Society, and (2) they didn’t understand how kneading bread was really a very sexy thing to do.  Let me clarify.

Bravado chefs don’t cook alone – we cook as much for the banter and the show as for any other reason.  So, when you start to make bread, make sure there are people around.  Mix you ingredients and gather up the dough into your hands.  Walk around the room and let everyone see the gooey mess that you have sticking all over your hands.  Let them watch as becomes a warm, moist and pliable ball of dough after about 10 minutes.  Everyone will see the chemistry that is taking place.  Women won’t swoon, but everyone’s mind will wander a little and all will suddenly understand why Bravado chefs knead their own bread.

Start of the Kneading

End of the Kneading

Bread Basics:  The simplest of all breads is the basic French baguette, which has only flour, water and a little salt.  Your fancier breads, like the Parker House rolls we describe below, add some butter, an egg, and a little sugar.  For sweet breads, you simply add more sugar, butter and eggs.  Add some whole wheat flour, seeds and nuts and you have a whole range of other breads.  If you want to make pizza dough, use very fine “00” flour and add a little olive oil to the mix.  If you are making a “flat bread” like Naan or Roti, you will skip the yeast and add a little baking soda to get a few bubbles in the final product.  The whole thing really is not complicated.

The key to making most breads is yeast.  This micro-organism is activated by moderate heat (warm water or warm bread dough) and it consumes sugars and excretes CO2 which makes the bread rise.  These little guys get tired after about an hour after they have made the dough roughly double in size.  If you press the dough down again, expelling the CO2, the yeast wakes up and starts over again.  Very often you will form the dough at this time and let the dough rise a second time as a loaf or rolls ready for the oven.

Parker House rolls are great for the holidays and children love to help make them.  They are small and easy to handle for little hands.  For any family meal, there is nothing better than hot, homemade rolls.

Bravado Level of Difficulty:  6.5

Time Required: 2 hrs. 30 minutes

Ingredients: ( for 32 rolls)

  • 1 pkg. active dry yeast (Red Star)
  • 4 tbsp. warm water (about 110 degrees, which is usually the temp of hot tap water)
  • 4 cups unbleached bread flour (King Arthur)
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • 8 tbsp. unsalted butter (one stick)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup whole milk warmed to about 110 degrees


  1. Stir the yeast into the warm water and let sit for at least 5 minutes.  This is called “blooming” the yeast.
  2. Grease the bowl where you will let the dough rise.
  3. Melt 6 tbsp. of butter on low heat.
  4. Heat the milk on low heat and test with your pinky.  If it feels like hot water, you are at about 110 degrees.
  5. Mix the dry ingredients (flour, sugar and salt) in a large mixing bowl
  6. Make a well in the middle and add the egg, milk, butter and yeast.  Stir with a wooden spoon to incorporate all of the flour.
  7. With a rubber spatula, scrape the dough into one heap and grab with your hands.  Knead the dough while walking around the room philosophizing about the importance of finding your roots.  Women love this stuff.
  8. After ten minutes, the gooey mess will become soft and pliant and will no longer stick to your fingers.  You are finished.
  9. Put the dough in the bowl, cover with a dishtowel and set in a warm place – ideally about 72-78 degrees – and let rise for one hour.  The dough will double in size.
  10. Grease two baking sheets with butter.  Melt the remaining 3 tbsp. of butter and get out your basting brush.
  11. After rising, punch the dough down, knead lightly for about 30 seconds and then begin dividing the dough into 32 pieces.  Roll each piece between your hands to make a nice ball and place onto a lightly floured cutting board.
  12. Flatten each ball with a rolling pin, leaving the edges thick and the center thin.  Brush the flattened balls with butter and fold over.  Save some of the butter.

    Rolling and Basting

  13. Transfer to the baking sheets and cover with a dishtowel and let rise for about one hour.
  14. Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees.
  15. Brush tops with butter and bake for 12 minutes.  If not nicely browned, continue for another 3 minutes.  These burn easily, so be careful!

    Ready for the Oven

  16. Serve with more butter.

Parker House rolls are surprisingly good for breakfast.  Open the hot rolls and add some jam or peanut butter.

Categories: Classic American Dishes, Classic Recipes by Type


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