Ettie's Eats: Parker House Rolls
Fill up on weekly kitchen experiments, recipes and local cooking tips from our assistant editor, Ettie Berneking.
Yeast breads have never been kind to me. I tried to make focaccia once, and the bread rose maybe one inch. Another time my mom and I tried to make my grandmother’s famous cheese Danish, but those didn’t rise either. My dinner rolls are always too dense. The cinnamon rolls I tried to make actually cooked after I set the dough on a heat vent to rise. I eventually added a bread machine to my arsenal of kitchen appliances and filed away my many bread recipes in the do-not-attempt section of my recipe box.
As fate would have it, my boyfriend, Ryan, is a whiz at making yeast breads. Many years ago he bought himself a teeny tiny cookbook called Beard of Bread and baked his way through each and every recipe. He’s started his own sourdough cultures, regularly texts me photos of perfectly browned loaves, and at one point he sold his bread at the farmers market. Oh and of course he does all of this while tip-toeing around recipes.
So when a recent trip took me back home to Kansas City, my mom and I enlisted Ryan’s help making Parker House Rolls for Thanksgiving. We snagged the recipe from the November issue of Bon Appetit magazine. The rolls sounded easy enough: activate yeast, melt vegetable shortening in warm milk, mix, knead, rise, roll, bake and voila! But being a bit of a yeast pessimist, I was pretty sure it wasn’t going to be that easy. Surpisingly, it was.
According to Ryan, my many failed bread experiments were a result of not enough kneading. He says the trick to a successful loaf is applying plenty of muscle. Once the dough was formed, he spent a solid five minutes kneading, and every once in a while he’d poke the dough to see if it would spring back into shape. Once he felt like the dough was smooth enough, he placed it in a buttered bowl, covered it and let it rise for an hour and a half.
The rest of the process was painless. Divide the dough into quarters, roll out each quarter into 6x12 rectangles (my mom busted out the tape measurer to make sure we achieved the exact sizing). Cut each rectangle into thirds in both directions (Nine small rectangles in all). Butter one half of each rectangle and fold in half with a quarter-inch of overhang. Line a baking sheet with the rolled rectangles, butter again and bake.
The end result was wonderful—flaky, buttery, airy and oh-so-delicious. I might have to drag out all those recipe cards yet again.
Recipe for Parker House Rolls:
1 envelope active dry yeast
¼ cup warm water (110°–115°)
1 cup whole milk
¼ cup vegetable shortening
3 tablespoons sugar
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
1 room-temperature large egg
3 ½ cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup unsalted butter, melted
flaky sea salt
To Prepare Rolls:
- Whisk the yeast and warm water in a small bowl, and let stand for 5 minutes.
- Heat the whole milk in a small saucepan over medium heat. Be careful not to boil the milk. It should be warm to the touch.
- Combine vegetable shortening, sugar and kosher salt in a large bowl, add the warm milk, and whisk to blend. (If the shortening doesn’t melt all the way, that’s fine.)
- Whisk in yeast mixture and the egg.
- Stir in flour, and combine with a wooden spoon until dough forms.
- Knead dough on a lightly floured surface until the dough is smooth and firm.
- Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl, and cover loosely with plastic wrap.
- Let dough stand at room temperature until it has doubled in size, about 1½ hours.
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Coat a 13x9 baking pan with the melted butter.
- Once dough is finished rising, remove plastic wrap, and punch dough down.
- On a floured surface, cut the dough into 4 equal pieces.
- Working with one piece at a time, roll into a 12x6 rectangle.
- Cut lengthwise into thirds and crosswise into thirds. (9 rectangles total)
- Brush half of each of the 9 rectangles with the melted butter.
- Fold the unbuttered side over and allow one-quarter-inch overhang.
- Place in baking pan with folded edge against the short side of the pan. Add remaining rolls, and brush with melted butter.
- Loosely cover with plastic wrap, and chill for 30 minutes.
- Bake rolls until golden and puffy for 20–25 minutes.
- Brush with more butter, and sprinkle with the flaky sea salt.
- Serve warm.
Makes 36 rolls.