With their fluffy crumb and butter-glossed tops, Parker House rolls didn’t need Instagram to become a viral sensation. Ever since their debut in the 1870s, at the Parker House Hotel in Boston, they’ve been the “it” rolls of the breadbasket, as splashy a contribution to the pantheon of baked goods as the Cronut was more than 100 years later.
I take on Parker House rolls in the latest installment of my YouTube show, “Shortcut vs. Showstopper.” In the episode, I bake two versions of the rolls, one entirely from scratch and another, easier version using prepared pizza dough.
Both recipes are superb, and each resulting batch is delightful in its own way.
The challenge for the shortcut version was getting lean pizza dough to act like it was enriched with milk and eggs. By its nature, pizza dough wants to balloon in the oven, developing large bubbles in the crust that singe, blacken and crisp in high heat. Parker House rolls should have a finer, more cakelike crumb without the air pockets you’d expect in a pizza crust. The rolls should also be buttery, which pizza dough is inherently not.
To compensate, I incorporated the maximum amount of butter I could into the dough, adding it in three stages. I brushed some in the center of the dough while forming it into buns, slathered some on top before baking and did that again after baking. Then, to keep a crisp crust from forming after baking, I covered the pan with foil to let the rolls steam as they cooled, softening them.
They turned out remarkably tender and perfectly buttery — in half the time as the classic recipe and without having to fuss with yeast.
For the classic rolls, I tested several recipes, landing on one that mixed instant potato flakes into the dough. Adding potato — flakes, flour or mashed potatoes — to bread dough is a time-honored way to make it moist-centered and pliable.
I tweaked this basic recipe by seasoning the butter with black pepper and crunchy Demerara sugar. The seasoned butter gave a sweet-spicy complexity to the rolls, and the sugar caramelized and became candylike wherever it met the metal of the pan. (You can also use the same seasoned butter with the shortcut rolls.)
Rich but not heavy, with a nuanced flavor, this showstopper recipe produced the best Parker House rolls I’d ever had, especially when served warm from the oven.
Either of these recipes would be an excellent addition to your Thanksgiving table. If you have any left over, save them to make the best and most adorable turkey sandwiches the next day.