Friday, February 25, 2011

Parker House Rolls

I have a love affair with yeast -- the bloom, the aroma, the risen mass of pale flour, salt, leaven and water that will eventually turn into something truly delicious. I love it. I have actually been known to moan with delight at seeing the glossy dough as the gluten develops and strengthens. My husband might actually be jealous, but he forgives me since he loves these rolls.
If given the option between quick bread and yeast bread, I'll choose the yeast version every single time. So, when I read this Parker House Roll recipe from Alex Guarnaschelli in the November 2010 issue of Food Network Magazine, I knew it was a must-try recipe. I tried it out on my neighbors at my annual soup night. It was such a hit that I served it with Thanksgiving dinner two weeks later ... and then for Christmas ... and a New Year's Eve party ... and a teacher appreciation lunch ... and any other opportunity I can find to make these absolutely fabulous rolls. It needs no substitution or embellishment. It's perfect just the way it is.

Parker House Rolls

1 1/4-ounce packet active dry yeast (or 2 1/4 teaspoon yeast)
1/2 cup sugar
7 1/2 to 8 cups all-purpose flour
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus more for brushing
2 cups whole milk, half-and-half or cream, at room temperature
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tbsp kosher salt, plus more for sprinking

1. Measure 1/2 cup warm water (between 110 and 120 degrees). Sprinkle yeast into large bowl (not the mixer bowl), add the warm water and whisk in sugar. Let sit 1 minute (it should bubble and froth slightly), then gently stir in 1 cup flour. Set aside to bloom (develop) in warm place while you prepare the dough.
2. Mix the melted butter and milk in a mixer with dough hook on low speed. Add eggs and mix until blended. Scrape yeast mixture into mixing bowl and mix until incorporate. Add 6 1/2 cups flour and 1 tbsp salt. Mix until dough forms a ball, 2-3 minutes, adding up to 1/2 cup more flour is the dough is too wet and sticky. (It should still stick to your fingers slightly.)
3. Brush large bowl with softened butter (or spray with cooking spray). Transfer dough to the bowl, flip so that all sides of the dough are covered with the butter (or spray), cover with a towel and let rise in warm place 2 to 2.5 hours or until double in volume.
4. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. (I prefer to spray the parchment with cooking spray, but it's not really necessary.) Dust a clean flat surface with flour and turn the dough out into it. Flour your hands, then gently press the dough into a 16-by-8-inch rectable, about 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick (do not use a rolling pin!).
5. With the short side of the dough in front of you, cut the dough in half lengthwise with a floured knife. Then slice crosswise into 12 strips.
6. One at a time, fold each strip of dough unevenly in half so the top part slightly overlaps the bottom half, then tuck the overhang underneath. Place the rolls seamside down on the prepared baking sheet in 3 tightly packed rows (the rolls should touch each other in each row, but not between the rows). The rows should be only an inch or two apart. (If making in advance, wrap the baking sheet tightly in plastic wrap and freeze up to 3 weeks.)
7. Bake until the rolls are bursting at the seams and golden brown, 18 to 20 minutes. (If frozen, bake 25 minutes at 325, then 10 minutes at 375.) Remove from oven and brush with softened butter. Sprinkle with salt and serve immediately. Store leftovers in sealed bag to maintain softness.

Substitution Suggestions: One word -- don't! OK, you can substitute cream for the milk and the milk really doesn't need to be totally at room temperature, but if it's cold, the butter will harden into clumps when you combine them. In the end, it's not a big deal. I don't use margarine, so I don't know if the results will be as good with the oleo.

Lessons Learned: This makes the most beautiful dough I've ever seen. The milk and eggs are what makes this dough so glossy.
I typically have to add a little more flour than what the recipe calls for, but I live in a humid climate, so my flour has more inherent moisture in it than if I lived in a dry climate. Just remember that the flour will continue to absorb the liquid while you knead it, so if you add so much flour up front that it refuses to stick to your fingers, you've added too much flour. It's easier to add more than to take some out. And, using less flour will yield a more tender roll.
The recipe is somewhat mute on how long you should mix/knead the dough. I shoot for 7-10 minutes so the gluten has time and movement to develop. I always do the window pane test on my yeasted breads. Alton Brown explains it best (Google it for a variety of instructions.) Here's my version: Pinch (never tear) off a piece of dough and start pulling it in opposite directions. If it tears, the gluten isn't fully developed. If you can start to see light through the dough (like an translucent window pane) as it gets thinner and thinner before it tears, you're golden. Throw the dough back into the mixer and mix it back into the dough. Keep in mind that if you overmix the dough, it will also tear, so try the window pane test every minute or two until you're happy with the result.
I've successfully doubled the recipe. In fact, I usually do a 1.5 version of this recipe. I also cut my rolls smaller so they last longer. (Hey, you eat a whole roll at a time, regardless of the size, right?)
Bottom line -- these rolls are incredibly tender and have a beautiful crumb. There's a subtle sweetness inherent in this recipe thanks to the sugar and butter. They work great with thinly-sliced roast beef and creamy horseradish, with soup, with chili, with salad, with pasta sauces, with just about anything. They'd probably even taste good with green eggs and ham.

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