Parker House bread rolls, the iconic dinner rolls look a bit like Pacman, a lot like Dali's lips sofa and taste delicious.
Parker House hotel, Boston
A few years ago I was travelling along the East Coast of America and found myself in Boston on the 4th of July. Tremendously excited, I was looking forward to seeing the celebrations and, above all, the firework display.
Indeed it was sumptuous* although the city has a staggering number of extremely tall trees lining the coast which, lovely as they are, quite obscure the view. So unless you own a boat or set up camp on Harvard or Longfellow Bridge in the small hours of the morning, you’re not likely to gain a vantage point.
Never mind: what great luck to be in the Cradle of Liberty on Independence Day! That is, if you’d booked a hotel.
I hadn’t. Thoroughly stupid, I know.
So the best part of the day was spent on driving around the city centre’s annoyingly one-way system in tremendous traffic, popping into all the hotels only to get the ‘fully booked’ answer before the question was even asked.
Until finally, miraculously, we found a room at the Parker House Hotel. Needless to say, in exchange for a small fortune. A cramped but opulent room and Parker House rolls for breakfast.
Parker House bread rolls
They are the classic dinner rolls which get their name from the very hotel I stayed in, where they were created in the 19th century.
They are delightful: the shape which is a folded half-round makes each roll look a bit like Pacman in profile and like Dali's lips sofa up front. All-white and milky, the texture is crusty-crispy on the outside and soft inside. A perfect accompaniment to a bowl of fine soup, but I do adore them for breakfast with boiled eggs: broken into chunks to dip into the egg instead of soldiers.
How to make Parker House rolls
The dough is firm, but if made softer, it wouldn't keep the shape as well. It is rolled out flat after a long rise and cut with pastry cutters like biscuits.
The shaping is all about trying to stop them opening during the rise and the bake, which they infuriatingly love to do. The trench across the middle of each round, brushed with butter, helps it fold but the lip needs to be brushed with water and pressed together firmly. Some will still insist on opening up during the second proof and a stubborn one will come agape in the oven but that's clearly their character.
Most of the butter involved in the recipe goes on the outside of the rolls: brushed after shaping and then again out of the oven. Delicious, though not really suited to make sandwiches with due to the shape.
Don't waste the dough
The only bothersome aspect is that once a batch is cut, it is really hard to re-knead and re-roll the offcuts. I do it anyway as I abhor waste, but that secondary batch is the most misshapen lot imaginable. The dough is firm so it won't knead back up into a smooth ball nicely. They taste gorgeous as well but I reserve them for myself rather than for show.
Alternatively you could freeze the offcuts and use them another time to make a savoury tart, making the dough more pliable by adding lots of olive oil and re-kneading.
*although to give the Canadians their due, a few days before I saw the Montreal firework display on Canada Day and that was an amazing experience. Possibly better than Boston’s. Or perhaps they just have fewer trees in Montreal.