16 July 2007

Parker House Rolls (with how-I)

Being on an international forum like the eGullet forums can really mess you up. You get all sorts of ideas in your head about things you've never done before, and things you've never eaten, and how actually making them can satisfy both hungers-- for experience and for taste. The problem is, my skill set is limited. So I thought before I venture into the land of bread-baking, I might start with something not too equipment-intensive, and with a taste I actually crave for-- Dinner Rolls. As a kid I saw a recipe for Parker House Rolls in the Betty Crocker Encyclopedia of Cooking (ca. 1960), which is really a shape "invented" by the folks at the Parker House Hotel in Boston, Massachusetts. (Recipe can be found here). Note I called this a "How-I", not a "How-to", because I'd recommend a heavy-duty mixer, not what I did here. Oh, and bread-making know-how. But I'm getting there.
Parker House Rolls
Here's where it starts. All your ingredients and materials, ready for use.

Here's the initial mix: 2 1/4 cup of flour, a stick of unsalted butter, 4 1/2 tsp instant yeast, 2 tsp salt, 1/2 cup sugar. I blended it with my hands, because it's very dry and my hand mixer won't be able to handle it.

Add in 2 cups of hot tap water (60°C) gradually. In retrospect, since humidity is high in this country, I should have added much less. It'll turn into a runny batter, so the whisk is okay for use after a while.

Stir in the rest of the 6 cups of flour (minus 1/2 cup) with a strong spoon.

Plop it onto a lightly floured surface and start kneading, incorporating 1/2 cup of flour in the process. The prescribed time is 10 minutes, but due to the excess water, softness of flour (all-purpose flour has less protein than bread flour, so gluten development leaves a lot to be desired), I KNEADED IT BY HAND FOR AN HOUR. Lesson: buy a heavy-duty mixer. I needed the exercise, so I think I'll keep doing this.

By the way, I didn't just use one hand. The other was taking a picture. But I was really mean to the dough, abusing it. After an hour, it kind of passed the "window test" (you should be able to stretch it thin), I said "fuck it, I'm so tired."

Turn it into a ball by stretching the surface towards the underside and place upside-down in an oiled bowl. Leave it alone to proof. After you've let it double, 2 fingers should leave a depression. This happened in half the prescribed time, but a slow rise is actually preferred, so minus points for our climate (despite the fact that yeast multiplies better here).

Deflate carefully by bringing the edges to the center while pushing it gently down, then knead it for a while till it comes to a smooth ball, then cover with the bowl and rest again for 15 minutes. It'll rise again.

Roll it out on the floured surface into half an inch thickness, then use a floured 2 3/4 inch cutter to cut out circles. Unfortunately, the dough was still rising even while I was cutting it, so it didn't stay half an inch for long. Not good if you want a nice, recognizable Parker House shape.

Dip it in the melted butter in the roasting pan and lay them out in rows, then bake in a preheated 205°C (400°F) oven for 17 minutes. I baked mine for a little longer (around 20 minutes) but they're still pale.

If you notice, the bottoms are still quite greasy. There was too much butter left over at the bottom of the pan. I'm not the type to slather butter over rolls, so I didn't appreciate this, not to mention it made them a little soggy at the bottom, which I'm not a fan of either.

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