Learning how to make easy Parker House rolls may be the best thing that’s ever happened to your bread basket.
But first things first. What are Parker House rolls? Let’s get you acquainted with this unique yeast bread. The dough contains both butter and an egg, which means that when you take a bite, it simultaneously calls to mind the butteriness of a croissant, but with the feather-lightness of a challah bread, all delivered in a roll with a unique, pocketbook-looking shape.
Parker House rolls history
The rolls are named for the Parker House Hotel in Boston, a legendary establishment that’s also the birthplace of another culinary classic, Boston cream pie. As legend has it, the rolls were a serendipitous baking mistake: following an argument with a guest, a ruffled hotel baker angrily slammed a batch of rolls into the oven. Some of the rounds of dough folded over and baked up into the puffy shape we know today, which is perfect as a pull-apart-style bread.
The oldest known recipe in print for the rolls dates back to an 1874 newspaper article; the recipe proliferated in the 1880s following its publication in many important cookbooks of the era. The baking method caught on, and the buttery rolls have been a mainstay at fine dining establishments and on dinner tables ever since.
This recipe is easiest if you use a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook attachment. You can do the kneading and mixing by hand, but it will take significantly more time to prepare.
Freezing the dough
Although the rolls are best when baked directly after preparing the dough, it is possible to freeze some or all of the dough for later use. Wrap it tightly in plastic and freeze it for up to a week. Let the dough thaw to room temperature before rolling it out. The rolls may rise slightly less, but will still be extremely good.
Use fresh yeast. Be sure to check the expiration date on your packets. The rolls won’t rise properly if the yeast isn’t good.
Although these are a classic dinner roll, they’re no less delicious served split, with butter and jam for breakfast. They’re also a fantastic sandwich bread, with a pillow-y texture that absorbs flavors in a wonderful way.
Parker House roll recipe
Adapted from Yankee Magazine
Yields about 2 dozen rolls
- 6 cups all-purpose flour, divided, plus extra for work surfaces
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 packages active dry yeast
- 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, divided
- 2 cups hot tap water (120 degrees F)
- 1 large egg
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine two cups of the flour with the sugar and yeast.
Melt 1/2 cup (1 stick) of the butter with the salt. Combine the melted butter mixture with the flour, sugar and yeast in the bowl.
With your mixer on low speed, gradually pour 2 cups hot tap water (120-130 degrees) into the dry ingredients. Add egg. Increase the mixer speed to medium, and beat for two minutes, or until fully combined.
Reduce the speed to low and beat in 2 more cups of flour. It will form a thick batter. Scrape the sides of the bowl. Stir in the rest of the dough. You may find that it’s easier to incorporate the remaining dough using a wooden spoon, as it will be getting rather thick. You’ll have a very soft dough that will come out of the bowl in one mass if you try to lift it.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board. Knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Shape the dough into a ball, and place in a large, oiled bowl. Lightly oil the top of the dough. Cover with a kitchen towel, and let the dough rise in a warm place until the volume doubles, about 90 minutes to 2 hours.
Remove the towel and punch the dough in the center. The dough will sort of stay where you punch it, so push the outer edges into the void. Form it into a smooth, seamless ball. Return to the bowl for 15 more minutes.
Toward the end of your rising period, heat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Melt the remaining butter in a saucepan. Once melted, remove from heat. Place a large pan or baking sheet next to the saucepan. Leave to the side for the moment.
On a lightly floured surface with a floured rolling pin, roll the dough out to about ½” thick.
Using a 2″ to 3″ round cookie or biscuit cutter, cut the dough into circles, taking care not to twist the cutter as you remove (this will keep the rolls from getting a perfect rise).
Holding the dough by the edge, dip each side in the melted butter. Transfer to the nearby roasting pan, folding it in half so it looks kind of like a taco shell. Repeat, and arrange the folded circles in rows. They can be near one another, or they can be lightly touching.
Cover the pan with a towel; let dough rise in a warm place until it has doubled in volume, about 45 minutes.
Bake 15 to 18 minutes, until browned. If desired, brush the rolls with butter immediately after removing them from the oven. Serve warm.
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