Monday, September 29, 2008

The Timeless, Famous and Delicious Parker House Roll

Article by Eric H., at

As a little boy growing up in the Boston suburb of Arlington, MA, in the 1970s, I remember Mom and Dad occasionally taking us into Boston in their phony, wood-paneled Mercury Marquis station wagon. What a treat it was parking at the Park St. underground parking gararge and waiting for a bus to noisily take us to all the famous-and-not -so famous attractions in the "Hub of the Universe."

With WVBF-FM 105.7 (now WROR) disc jockey Major Tom Lewis playing all the top 40 hits on the bus driver's low-quality radio, we soaked in the Boston atmosphere from the fresh fish smell at Haymarket Square marketplace to the baseball games at Fenway Park where Sonny Siebert, Ray Culp, Gary Peters and Jim Lonborg headed our good-but-not-good-enough Boston Red Sox pitching rotation.

Perhaps one of the highlights was dining at the Parker House Hotel in Boston. Everything looked so fancy and organized at this elegant place with the fancy window dressings and high ceilings. The Parker House was built in 1855 and had some famous employees, according to Wikipedia -- "Ho Chi Minh who was a baker in the bakeshop from from 1911 to 1913, Malcolm X who was a busboy in the early 1940's, and Emeril Lagasse... John F. Kennedy announced his candidacy for Congress in the hotel's Press Room, proposed to Jackie Kennedy, as well as held his bachelor party here."

The hotel indeed beamed with historical and political-attracting tradition (and an amazing $80 million renovation in 2000 and additional $30 million renovation in 2008) and the 1970s dining room featured what I remember as traditional New England fare -- clam chowder, pot roast, Boston scrod (the Parker House invented this dish) and Boston Cream Pie. Our favorite aspect of the Parker House was what many other people loved it for, too -- the famous Parker House Rolls with its buttery, soft and sweet taste in a oval shape. You couldn't just eat one, two or three of these great rolls. It always had to be more!

It's funny how a creative chef can make something as simple as a roll that much better than the others. The Parker House certainly accomplished this magic, and Bertucci's, to a degree, did pretty much the same thing with their tasty rolls in the next dining generation. The amazing thing is that it wasn't rocket science, just a knack for turning simple ingredients into something special.

The Parker House lives on today with a slightly more refined look, but with the traditional Boston feel that put its lodging and dining on the Boston map. The Omni Parker House certainly stands on its own as a traditional New England travel and vacation attraction. The Parker House is located at 60 School St., MA, Phone: (617) 227-8600.

From the Omni Parker House Web Site, we found the recipe for those famous Parker House Rolls:


6 cups All-purpose flour
1⁄2 cups Sugar
2 tsp. Salt
2 pkg. Active dry yeast
1 cup Margarine or butter (2 sticks) softened
1 Large egg

Method: (about 3 1⁄2 hours before serving)

1. In large bowl, combine 2 1⁄4 cups flour, sugar, salt, and yeast; add 1⁄2 cup
Margarine or butter (1 stick). With mixer at low speed, gradually pour 2 cups hot
tap water (120 degrees to 130 degrees F.) into dry ingredients. Add egg; increase
speed to medium; beat 2 minutes, scraping bowl with rubber spatula. Beat in 3⁄4
cup flour or enough to make a thick batter; continue beating 2 minutes,
occasionally scraping bowl. With spoon, stir in enough additional flour (about 2
1⁄2 cups) to make a soft dough.

2. Turn dough onto lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about
10 minutes, working in more flour (about 1⁄2 cups) while kneading. Shape dough
into a ball and place in greased large bowl, turning over so that top of dough is
greased. Cover with towel; let rise in warm place (80-85 degrees F.) until
doubled, about 1 1⁄2 hours. (Dough is doubled when two fingers pressed into
dough leave dent.)

3. Punch down dough by pushing down the center of dough with fist, then pushing
Edges of dough into center. Turn dough onto lightly floured surface; knead
lightly to make smooth ball; cover with bowl for 15 minutes and let dough rest.

4. In 17 1⁄4 inch by 11 1⁄2 inch roasting pan, over low heat, melt remaining 1⁄2 cup
Margarine or butter; tilt pan to grease bottom.

5. On lightly floured surface with floured rolling pin, roll dough 1⁄2 inch thick. With
Floured 2 3⁄4 inch round cutter, cut dough into circles. Holding dough circle by
the edge, dip both sides into melted margarine or butter in pan; fold in half.
Knead trimmings together; re-roll and cut more rolls. Cover pan with towel; let
dough rise in warm place until doubled, about 40 minutes.

6. Bake rolls in a 400-degree oven 15-18 minutes until browned.

Yield: About 3 1⁄2 dozen.

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